Most people have a story about meeting someone famous—and most of those stories are dull. So why is an entire Tumblr site devoted to the most banal ones—”Did I ever tell you about the time… ?” is the header, but it’s better known by its URL, Rock and Roll Tedium—such a riot? The deadpan tone has a lot to do with it—thrilling tales about nearly killing Neil Finn’s Dalmatian (“It went around the other side of my bike from Neil as he was crossing the road, and it nearly got tangled. I had to stop for a bit”), being waved to by Badly Drawn Boy (and, conversely, failing to nod back at Jimmy Page), and stealing food from rock stars (shoving Van Morrison aside to get some cakes, stealing chips from John Oates) are short, to the point, and swim with everyday absurdity.
Launched by Englishman Craig Hamilton on December 17, the site quickly went viral by gently puncturing myths (Lisa Loeb “didn’t really wear glasses,” according to someone who once fetched her a guitar strap) and reducing legends to schlubs (at an L.A. Trader Joe’s, the Doors’ John Densmore “was buying a LOT of cat food”) without an ounce of rancor. SOTC spoke with Hamilton via Skype last Thursday.
Tell me the brief version of your life story.
I’m 37, and I live in Birmingham, England. I’m married. At the moment I look after our two-year-old boy. I do various bits of work for small record labels, and I’m studying for a master’s degree, part-time, in music industries.
Is the Tumblr an offshoot of those things?
It was actually nothing to do with anything that I do for a living. It came about as a bit of a silly idea, really. A couple of friends and I were talking one Saturday evening, and we were just swapping boring anecdotes about meeting pop stars, and one of my friends said, “That’s such a dull idea, it’s not even worth doing a Tumblr for it.”
And you took that as a challenge?
I said, “Yeah? We’ll see about that.” I set it up a week ago last Saturday night. The site’s only actually been about up 12 days now. Obviously, a Tumblr site takes two or three minutes to put together. So I set that up, I set up a Twitter account for it, and a couple of us just tweeted it around, and from there it just went absolutely crazy.
How many followers do you have?
On Tumblr, it’s 520 at the moment. Twitter’s about 130, 140, something like that. I put it up on Saturday night. Obviously Sunday was quite quiet, but where it went really kind of big was on the Monday, when everybody went back to work. A few music journalists in the U.K. must’ve seen it through their feeds, and they retweeted it, so it got picked up a lot on Monday. Then on Tuesday I got a call from a BBC National Radio Station, 6 Music, and I was interviewed on 6 Music by Huey Morgan from Fun Lovin’ Criminals. That was on the Wednesday. So within not even four days of putting the site up, all of these stories had come in: lots of followers, and I went on the radio. It was quite strange.
The first time I looked at the Tumblr, I couldn’t stop laughing because the stories are just so tedious, and they’re so nothing, and you can tell the people who are writing them are just grinning.
Absolutely. And I think that’s what people like about it, because I think most people have one, don’t they? Most people have encountered a famous person, if not a rock star or a pop star, then certainly a famous person of some kind. It’s very rarely, “I saved children from a burning building with the drummer from R.E.M.” It’s normally, “I was at a petrol station with somebody,” or, “I saw somebody in a supermarket.” I think everybody’s got quite a dull story, and also I think what’s kind of tickling people’s funny bone is just the idea of things like Mick Jagger in Tesco, or the guy from the Human League leaving his headlights on. I think that’s what’s really getting to people. That’s the main thing, the absurdity of it.
It seems to me like that’s a certain mean-spiritedness to things. There are tabloids in England, and in America the idea is, “Stars, they’re just like us.” That’s the phrase Us uses. The idea is to humiliate them. And this is a much more humane and not mean-spirited way of doing it.
I think that’s true as well. And I don’t want to [do that]. I mean, I’ve had a couple through where it’s pointing fun at the person, but I don’t really want to put those up because I’d rather the feel of the site to be just gentle and banal and odd. We have it in Britain as well. Obviously there’s a lot of celebrity magazines, and the last decade has been quite celebrity-obsessed, hasn’t it? So this is a bit of an antidote to that, maybe, or it’s us being over that, I suppose. They’re just normal people, aren’t they? They go to the supermarket.
Do you just put them up as they arrive or as you get to them?
At the moment, there’s 119 posts live. I’ve got 64 in the queue, and there are 252 messages that I haven’t processed yet. So yeah, it’s getting on for 500 all told.
Do you queue them regularly?
At the moment I’ve got eight going through a day. I use the Internet quite a lot, and things can be funny for a very, very brief amount of time and then they can get annoying. Particularly because I set up Tumblr so it sends the posts to Twitter, I don’t really want to be bombarding people with 25 a day. If nobody sends me another story, it’ll run until the end of February with what’s in there. But the stories keep on coming.
Once more people from America started to become interested, I tried to schedule the ones that are more British-focused—perhaps low-level pop stars that might not register in America—I scheduled during U.K. time. There’s one about a guy from Creed. Now Creed, they’re reasonably well known over here, but it would mean a lot more in America than it would here. So that one would be scheduled to go live sort of late in the evening U.K. time, so daytime in the U.S.
Generally, I’m trying to do them in the order they came in, because I’ve had a few emails from people saying, “I sent you a story and it’s not there.” So in fairness, I’m working through the backlog, but there are one or two that I just see that I think, “Right, that’s going in the queue.” “Bryan Ferry elbowed me in the groin“—that was a relatively recent one, so I couldn’t resist putting that one up. That went up almost straightaway. So if something really tickles me, then I’ll put it up.
What’s really nice [is that] people seem to have settled on a house style. I do a little bit of editing to try to correct grammar and spelling mistakes and stuff, and any sort of extraneous stuff to take out, but nine times out of ten the post that you see on the site is basically what’s been sent in. There’s very little done to them. People have caught on to what’s making it funny.
Right—the banality of the phrasing. You were talking about your background, knowing biz folk. Are you getting stories from people in the record business?
There’s a couple from music journalists, and a couple of those music journalists have asked to remain anonymous. There’s an FAQ on this site. I’ve said if you want your name on it, I’ll put your name on it, and if you don’t, I won’t. Sometimes people have given me Twitter names so I’ve linked it back to their Twitter page. There’s stuff in there that is from people who would have been in a situation where they regularly encounter pop stars, I suppose, but a lot of them are from the general public. I don’t know whether the Jackson Browne one’s gone up yet, have you seen that one? I don’t think it had, but [it’s] “Jackson Browne can’t work the petrol cap”—sorry, the gas tank. This guy helps him and makes sort of a comment about, “Life’s tough when you’re running on empty.” I don’t think that’s gone live yet.
People seem to… I’m just absolutely amazed, really, for something that was started as a half-hearted joke between friends has just taken off like it has. It’s quite astonishing.