So this interview with Douglas Coupland was my first article for Blowback magazine. With the writing guides, I’d set the ambition bar of the articles quite high and now utilised my newly re-discovered artistic licence to reconstruct the three parts of the ‘Doug experience.’
The first part was a phone interview that took place in the daytime, which was fabulously un-tethered and forms most of the speech section here. The second was the book reading which took place in the evening and seemed to be inspired by my ‘You must get bored of typical questions’ line. The third part was an after show drink that I had together with Georgina Wilson-Powell, who came along too.
I guess I tried to make the matchstick game represent this reconstruction even though we really played it as nothing more than an ice-breaker. I play it out like an anxiety dream. And looking back, there’s a few metaphorical meanings at work here.
He also helped with ideas for editorial and gave us both encouragement that night. Including the contact for Rex Ray which is also included on this site. I asked him on e-mail and he didn’t respond, which could just mean he is hugely busy, or it could mean he hated it. I know he dislikes interviews (and has done only a select few since) but hope I did something unconventional and revelatory with this.
‘I’ve been working on this new game whilst I’ve been travelling do you want to play it?’Sculptor and writer Doug Coupland empties a box of matches with ‘Strike it rich’ written on the side, onto the glass table on the ultra swanky but highly vacuous Malmaison bar.
George: ‘What’s it called?’
‘I don’t know I haven’t been working on a name for it…it’s called the er Doug Game.’ Doug starts to meticulously split the matches into equal piles and Blowback gets a little worried that it’s turning a bit into the scene with toothpicks in Rainman.‘Right now there’s two separate piles. Now I make a random structure.’
George: ‘How long have you been playing this?’
‘I invented it in the train yesterday. You’re the second group of people to play the Doug game. Now what you have to do is try and replicate the structure.’
We’ve already downed a couple of nervous Chardonnays but despite this, Doug is alert and ready for the challenge and no signs of jet-lag at all. There is a story attached.
‘Yes! Drugs to the rescue!’ he fanfares ‘There’s an amazing new drug they have that the politicians take which is why they look so bouncy, not like amphetamined up, but fresh when they come off airplanes. I went to my doctor and demanded he let me in on the secret. And it really works!’ Doug thinks then adds, ‘Having said that today is the first day when I actually feel like I’m here, which is a nice feeling.’
‘So before today you’ve been in an anxious state of arrival?’ I ask.‘Not anxiety. Before I came here there was a lot of anxiety about being marooned because of September 11th then the power failure back east. I decided I would only go to cities where I would want to get stuck which means Birmingham. What is the daily paper here?’ he asksDan: ‘The Evening Mail.’
Doug looks down at George’s pile, ‘Very good!’ he extols. From my half soaked angle it looks alright – but the matches were only really heaped into the approximate shape that Doug wants us to replicate.
‘Now you try,’ attention shifts to me suddenly. I start trying to find matches that will correlate to the ones in Doug’s structure. I lay them out like tent poles. Suddenly on this close inspection, the matches seem imperfect – and dirty.
‘A friend of mine – actually my first editor – is 60 something, he’s got oesophagus cancer, which is invariably fatal. I just found out 3 days ago and he’s from Birmingham. So I’m putting together a chemotherapy fun pack which is a copy of today’s “Evening Mail” a bunch of Mars bars which I bought at 10.51 this morning which I was reading in The Times is the closest we’ll be to Mars for the next 60,000 years – so ‘conceptual art.’ And he loves Lulu so I put inspirational pictures of her to help him through.’ Doug lets out a sigh, ‘He’s got a very dark sense of humour it’s the only way you can really show concern is through all of this crazy shit.’ Conversation turns to the anticipation of the British Beagle probe which is due to land, as I start to arrange the matches a layer at a time.‘Do you remember that probe from the seventies… called the Mariner or something which took the landscape shot of the Martian landscape? I always wanted to have a wall of my house which was of the Martian landscape. I’ve tried to figure a way of doing it which isn’t low resolution. Put the word out Doug is looking for a enormous file size image of the Martian landscape. 10 by about 15’ Looking up from my matches, I pipe up with, ‘I’d imagine you’d have to reconstruct it in some way.’ ‘No that would be cheating!’ Doug bangs his hand down on the table causing my pile to collapse slightly ‘I’d imagine there would be transparencies out there. That was in the seventies when one meg files were huge. So maybe the whole thing is a one meg file. And of course they airbrushed everything out of it originally anyway you know, the litter. Because there’s litter on mars too!’‘Mars bars wrappers probably!’
(laughter) I consciously put the Doug game to one side. I am faced with the reality of the interview rather than a casual conversation with someone I like. The sobering thought is that I’m here to do a job.
‘So shall we get the book thing out of the way now,’ I suggest. Doug: (incredulous, mocking) ‘Get this “book thing” out of the way?!’
Slightly flustered, I babble an explanation, ‘Because I read somewhere that you were amazed at Hollywood actors for there capacity to say the same thing over and over?’ ‘I remain equally. I have no idea how they do it, none. If you find the answers on the internet. Just use it and I’ll attach my name to it or something.’Several internet rumours have abounded about Doug over the years. One is that Doug is Scottish and the other is that he collects meteorites. Both are completely untrue.
‘I read Hey Nostradamus! really quickly. It wasn’t until the next day when I saw the sculptures you did, that I emotionally linked to the book. It was then that it hit me The full enormity and the symbolic weight of the event…’
‘Those foam pieces are very strange because if you put them facing out they’re praying but if you put them toward the wall they look like they’re being executed. So placement is everything with them. They have this airport-pictogram-sprung-to-life essence.’
‘They appear on the book cover,’ I add, ‘I guess it’s a theme in the book the knelling and being humbled. From the prayers of the first chapter to Reg’s kneeling and confessing in the last. The moment is assessed and re-lived from many different angles. This one incident has reverberations across generations in an entire community.’
‘It’s kind of like the chemotherapy fun pack, some situations are just so grim you have to have some lateral tactic with dealing with them. If you deal with them head on, nothing happens. I can’t say “Mac how’s the cancer,” it’s the Mars bars and the Evening Mail.’
Doug pauses for a moment then adds, ‘When something happens in high school in America everyone lives it. In the book I kept the description quite generic because whatever I wrote, people are going to set it in their own high school anyway. It’s like when you’re describing characters everyone has in there head of a universal hero and a universal heroine and you can’t fight it.’
We keep drinking. I attempt to erect my pile, it doesn’t really look like Doug’s original. Doug and George take it in turns to take the piss.
‘Of course for this to be a pub game there has to be some element of betting so you have to get a bar steward to judge it.’
Then Doug strikes again, ‘I know, they have to say which one they think is the original!’