Rock and Hard Places: Travels to Backstages, Frontlines and Assorted Sideshows by Andrew Mueller (1999)
I can’t remember the last time a book actually compelled me to laugh out loud whilst riding on public transport and really tickled the place deep in my gut where I can actually feel irony.
The book is all first-person narrative about Mueller’s experiences in places as diverse as Canadia and Afghanistan. Mueller is a journalist of an odd sort and has travelled all over the world to meet with rock musicians, sports figures, aid workers and the Taliban – to give you some idea, or sometimes just to have a look round or try something new.
Mueller’s stories are indeed interesting, but it is his use of language that has captured my devotion. The way he tells a story, his tone, description, metaphor, use of irony – as I wrote to him yesterday, I am in awe.
That’s right, I sent fan mail to a writer. The thing is that everyone needs praise, and Mueller had an email address on his website, which I took as an invitation. Also, I needed to ask him which side he had taken in his argument with Billie Joe Armstrong about ranking Replacements albums. And he wrote back, which was wicked.
But back to Mueller’s book. I am leafing through to find some of my favourite bits, which are mostly those that illustrate how sublimely absurd everything is. As an example, here is the answer that Mueller did not give in May 1998 when an Afghan customs officer asked him the purpose of his visit:
“Well, think about it: you’ve got a country with no rule of law, other than that dictated by the whim of a bunch of crazy students, and not only that, but crazy students who control the world’s richest natural resources of recreational drugs – on paper, Afghanistan should be one gigantic Glastonbury. But, if we believe what we read, it’s a total no-fun zone populated by ill-educated peasants living in perpetual fear of bearded whackos with rocket-launchers who think they’re working for God. What’s that all about?”
Then Croatia in August 1995, and Mueller perfectly illustrates the comedy aspect of Croatians speaking Serbian as a point of dissent:
“There’s one especially bohemian squat in Pula whose residents make a point of speaking nothing else, even if this does seem a little like aggrieved Londoners trying to make a political point by affecting Yorkshire accents.”
Mueller’s descriptions of his rides on the Cresta Run almost make me feel as if I am on the toboggan. And the picture he paints with his words of the posh membership of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club is hilarious.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. And I may be missing some of the best bits – I am only halfway through the book as I write this (just like when I was at school).
Mueller has a website – check it out. And he’s got a new book coming out later this year. I’d keep an eye out for it if I were you.