There aren’t so many nights you can watch a clear starry sky over good old Londontown – there’s just too much light in this city, and too much pollution. You know this oh-so-well – you’ve spent enough nights out on your roof garden staring into the universe, exhausted, but still sleepless. Every now and again, though, while you’re out there, trying to bridge the distance between everyone’s-asleep-but-me and sunset, you get rewarded with the sprinkle of a thousand glitzy stars above you – some bigger, some smaller, some bright and others dim, all of them burnt out millions of years ago, but still vividly lighting up the sky for you. Tonight is one of those nights and you feel tremendously grateful for them fighting the smog, shining their little lights on you, making you feel less alone, less shattered, less crushed.
You’ve only just returned home from what was supposed to have been the biggest and best and most emotional performance since the reunion: the very first live performance of “Never Forget” as a five piece. You had been looking forward to this since…you can’t even remember how long. It was supposed to be awesome, breathtaking, heart-stopping. And it had been, kind of. Howard had been brilliant, Gaz had been radiant, Mark had shone, and Robbie had had a ball. Only you had screwed up. Massively. You’ve got not more than two lines in this song and still had managed to ruin them. So far off key that you were nearly in tune again. Two fucking lines! Seriously, how difficult can it be to NOT screw up two. Fucking. Lines??
The lads were far too nice to say anything afterwards, and you know it’s one of those very few things none of them will ever joke about... but you still feel so embarrassed, so mortified, so ashamed. Just thinking about it makes your insides churn. You’d felt sick immediately, like you wanted to throw up there and then, right in the middle of that stage and all the people and the ticker tape. You couldn’t wait to get off the stage, out of the studio, away from everyone, all of them well-meaning looking at you with that weird mix of it’s-not-that-bad and we-love-you-still. You wanted to scream at them “Don’t you look at me that way! You don’t know what it’s like!” But you didn’t, of course not, your mum's taught you better than that.
No, they don’t know what it’s like. No one knows what it feels like to be the most useless one, the easily replaceable one, the what’s-he-in-this-band-for-anyway-one. The Ringo Starr. The Fozzy Bear. The muppet in the back, whose microphone is best turned off. And what does being ridiculously handsome and indecently rich help, when all you want is to be loved by everyone? When all you want is to be able to sing two fucking lines of a song without screwing up? When all you want is to be happy, but you fail, time after time, recurring, like a nightmare, like a bad deja-vu. And then you sit on your roof top, the one that belongs to the flat in Kensington that you couldn’t even have imagined owning if it wasn’t for that strange luck you had in life that made you a popstar, you sit and you wonder and you try to fix yourself. Tell yourself it’s not that bad. Tell yourself that this is the life you wanted, because you love to dance and sing and show-off. Tell yourself that it’s worth it, even though it makes you feel exposed and insecure and vulnerable. Tell yourself that this isn’t important, that it’s just the price you’ve got to pay for the opportunity of being part of this madness, this life-less-ordinary. Tell yourself you’re going to laugh about this when you’re grey and old.
You just don’t know if you’ll be able to leave your pretty posh apartment tomorrow morning to go and do your job. Because there’s no escaping it. Bloody YouTube! It’ll be all over the internet in no time… That thought alone makes you cringe, and you know you’ll spend the rest of the night wondering why the bloody hell you fucked this up. Why? (You know why. It’s called negative affirmation. You read about it in the books back in the 90's, on tour buses and charter planes and luxurious but still lonely hotel rooms, where books were all you had to keep you from going insane. You learned about it in your courses, in college, where you thought you'd find the answers to all the questions your books refused to answer. You talked about it with your therapist, the one you consulted after you finally acknowledged to yourself you couldn't do this on your own and accepting an expert's help was nothing to be ashamed of. You know all about it. But knowing doesn’t help you all that much now. Knowing shit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to cope with. You know that as well. No, knowing isn’t helpful at all tonight.)
Briefly you wonder if “I-read-YouTube-you-know?”-Rob will read the comments to this video as well. The “Jason Orange screws up Children-in-need-performance”-video. The one that, once you’ve watched it, recommends the videos “Jason Orange daft dance move” (13.234 hits since November 2007) and “Jason Orange drops his trousers in Manchester” (15.678 hits since July 2009). You cringe some more.
You return to more inward thoughts, the ones that cause the frown that mercilessly deepens the wrinkles on your forehead. The ones that make you forget the rest of the world, so much, that the sudden buzz of your mobile somewhere in the depths of your pocket makes you jump slightly. Who'd send you a message at this ungodly hour? You check, only to notice it’s a number you don’t know. Goodness, not again and not now, please? You could’ve sworn you hadn’t passed this number to a bird lately? As much as you’re battering yourself (once more), you’re still curious. After all, it’s strangely soothing to know you’re not the only one still awake. You touch the screen of your mobile and capital letters jump out at you:
REMEMBER WHAT THE CAPTAIN SAYS:
DON’T READ THE COMMENTS ON YOUTUBE.
JUST DON’T! IT DOESN’T MATTER! ROB.XX
You read and a small smile creeps onto your lips. There’s a cool breeze blowing over the roof garden and it ruffles your hair and makes you shudder. With it comes a memory, a little piece of conversation from earlier this month. A question you asked, for reasons unbeknown to you, and of which you didn’t really expect a proper answer to.
“Rob, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, Jay, what’s up?”
“Do you really read comments on YouTube?”
“Why? You mean why do I read comments on YouTube about you?”
“I’m interested what people think about you.”
“Because…I dunno… I don’t get you…not completely, y’know? Dunno, but there’s a part of you I just don’t…get. But I’d like to. And sometimes hearing what other people think helps. Sometimes not, though.”
“And did reading those comments help you any?”
“Nope. They don’t get you either.”
“No. Either they admire you so much, they can’t write logical comments, or they get you completely wrong.”
“What d’you mean ‘completely wrong’?”
“Like...mmmh, they think you’re a miserable git. Or a moody cunt.”
“Oh...but that’s not ‘completely wrong’.”
“Yes, it is! We’re all miserable gits and moody cunts at times. You don’t have the monopoly on this, y’know? You’re not more or less moody than anyone else in this band. And you’re hardly ever miserable. You’re just….mmmhh…”
“…’complicated’ was more the word I was looking for. But that’s nothing bad, is it? You’re…3D, you know? Only most people don’t have the glasses to see it properly, you know?”
“Jay, the thing is, it’s not so much about what they write…it’s that they write. It’s the fact that there are so many people out there who care. They may think you’re a moody cunt or a useless prick – that’s what most people call me, y’know? – but still they care enough about you to write a comment. People from everywhere on the planet, all ages, all sexes. They may say they hate you, or that you’re a waste of space, but they take the time and go to this place, watch a video, read the other comments, log in, write a comment. Lot of effort, innit? And these are only the ones who claim they don’t like you! Now, you go figure – you’re supposed to be the clever one in the band, right?!”
The mobile weighs strangely heavy in your hand and still you can’t stop staring at the little text on the display. It’s true. No matter how hard you’ll try to please everyone, there’ll always be people out there who’ll hate you. Who will despise you. Who will be…envious, obviously, won’t they? Because why tell the world you really don’t like someone if you can’t be bothered? They’ll have a ball tonight, warming their fingers right now, getting ready to spread their spite and malignity. But they don’t matter. What matters is, there are people out there who care for you. People who saw you tonight, screwing up big time, and still love you. You don’t have to understand why, they just do. And they’re thinking of you right now, while you’re worrying on your roof garden, some far, some near, all of them hoping you’re doing all right, hoping you’ll get some sleep anyway. Some of them will write encouraging comments on YouTube. Some of them will give your lower back an extra warm and caring little touch next time you’ll be fretting before performing. And some of them text you in the middle of the night when they really should be fast asleep instead.
You figure (because after all you’re the clever one in the band, aren’t you?) all these people are like the stars up above you: you can’t always see them, but they’re always there.
You wish you could always keep that in mind. You promise yourself you'll try. Without knowing it, you smile.
And you know you can sleep now.