page 7 of the Festival of the Imagination 1996 Souvenir Book had an appreciation of Neil Gaiman, written by Stephen R Brust. At the bottom of the page, it gives the following mini-bio of Brust: “Stephen Brust is the author of the enormously popular Vlad Taltos series of novels, as well as The Phoenix Guards: 500 Years After, Agyar and others. A rock star himself, Mr Brust has recorded several albums with Cats Laughing (with Emma Bull).
Neil Gaiman: Rock Star
First of all we need to understand what a Rock Star is. Huey Lewis is not a Rock Star; he’s a guy who plays music. Alice Cooper is a Rock Star. George Harrison is a musician; Mick Jagger is a Rock Star. Okay? Are you with me?
You don’t need to be a musician to be a Rock Star. Harlan Ellison, for example, is a Rock Star. So, in an entirely different way, is Alan Moore.
How do you identify a Rock Star? Well, in the first place, check out the black tee-shirts. Wearing black tee-shirts is a sign of Rock Stardom. So, of course, are shades. And besides the surface stuff, anyone who writes comic book scripts, novels, and some wonderful songs clearly has the whole Rock Stardom thing working for him. Obviously, I am claiming that Neil Gaiman is a Rock Star. It seems so obvious, in fact, that I will waste no more time proving my case.
So the question comes up: Exactly how does one deal with a Rock Star? If you walk up to him and say, “Yo, Dude, how they hangin’?” you’re liable to reflect back on the interaction later and feel that maybe you didn’t make the best impression. Similarly, falling on your knees and chanting, “I am Unworthy” will make you as having seen Wayne’s World too many times: a sure sign of Uncoolness.
So, let me make a few modest suggestions.
I’ve given a great deal of thought to the question of first contact with Rock Stars, and I’ve decided that all attempts to impress them are doomed. They are preternaturally cool; if you try to make them think you are cool too, you will merely appear feeble. The only thing worth trying to impress them with is your good taste and affability. I recommend saying something like this: “I really like your work. May I give you a check for a million dollars U.S.?” If your bank account doesn’t support this degree of affability, you might modify the second sentence to, “May I buy you a drink?” and see how it goes from there.
Now, let us suppose our Rock Star accepts, and you suddenly find yourself in a conversation with him. What do you talk about? First of all, don’t, for God’s sake, tell him about yourself. Your puny life is of no interest to the Rock Star. And don’t try to impress him by making a sharp, detailed criticism of the flaws in his latest work; he knows very well that there are no flaws in his latest work, so you’ll just make yourself look stupid.
You may try the Astute Observation And Penetrating Questions Technique, but make sure your observation is actually astute; your question truly penetrating. Something like, “It was damn clever the way you allowed us, in the first few issues of Sandman, to fool ourselves into thinking Death was male,” isn’t bad, because Rock Stars know they are clever and it is a sign of your intelligence if you know it too. A question such as, “Did you always plan to make the relationship between Dream and his son an oblique comment on the family’s relationship to Destruction, or did that emerge as you did the work?” might convince him you were the sort of reader he was aiming for (if it didn’t instead convince him you were a pretentious twit). On the other hand, something like, “In Number 47, on page two, what brand of knife is the guy cutting the onion with?” is likely to make him wonder if you wouldn’t rather be at a Star Trek convention.
Once you’ve made it that far, you can take a few chances by using him about influences and tastes in other media, and you might even venture to mention a couple of your own. Alternately, you may want to keep quiet about your own; Rock Stars aren’t usually interested in hearing about reruns of “The Brady Bunch”.
Dealing with Rock Stars can be tricky. I wish you all the best.
Note: In case the irony above isn’t obvious, I really out to say for the record that Neil is a sweetheart, a joy to talk to, and one of my favourite people in the world, as well as one of my favourite writers. Honest. If I let it go out without making it clear I’m kidding, he’ll probably break my neck.