September 26th, 2009


"Nick, you're a legend!"

Did you ever dream that you died, but were somehow able to hover on somewhere overhead, eavesdropping on all the heart-rendingly appreciative things people were saying, things that summed up all your good points and glossed over the bad? That's how I'm beginning to feel now, what with the big Guardian article about me last week (which felt weirdly like an ideal obituary, or a lifetime achievement award address) and now this full-page review of The Book of Scotlands in the October edition of Art Review magazine:

Now, I've flown under the radar so long that I've started taking it for granted that nobody in Britain will ever listen to me -- not the way they listen to other people -- or take me seriously. And yet suddenly it seems as if it might be starting to happen. Not with records, but with books. Not in the music world, but in the art world, or rather the place where the art world crosses over with the world of publishing. It does feel like a vindication of sorts after a long time in the wilderness, and I'm glad it's happening later rather than sooner. But not too late; I'm glad to be alive while it happens rather than rotting in my coffin, for sure.

This is where unfamiliar new anxieties begin; not that I'm underrated, but that I might well start to be overrated. That I'll be invited to sit on panels with people who really know what they're talking about (rather than wild cards good at injecting interesting lies) and be found sorely wanting. That I'll be over-exposed and start to annoy or bore. That I'll be thrust in front of passive aggressive people who've been told that my ideas are "good for them", and sit there grinding their teeth. That my provocations will somehow become new orthodoxies. That I'll burn out or get swell-headed (all right, more swell-headed!) or be treated with so much belated respect that I'll die of boredom, and the late me will get cremated on a heap of hagiographies, with Festschriften fluttering around the charring, flaming remains of my body, soon to be recreated in bronze and hauled into position on a plinth in the town of my birth.

Do you want to know something funny? The man who wrote this review -- John Quin -- is the same man you hear at the beginning of the Ping Pong album shouting "Nick, you're a legend!" He really is. I only learned this a year or so ago, when I met him by chance on Gipstrasse in Berlin. Back in 1997 it seemed like a deeply ironic remark. Now, with all this surprising, incredibly nice stuff being said, not so much.

Then again, what is a legend except something a bit dubious that's hung around for a very long time?