In order to get into the right frame of mind to interview Dickon Edwards, I decided to venture to South Kensington to see John Currin’s exhibition at the Serpentine. I thought that Currin’s combination of superficiality and unease would be perfect for meeting the self-styled “dandy gadfly” of N6. However, a burst water main in Colliers Wood unravelled my schedule, giving me only enough time for a brief tour of the Natural History Museum. This fortuitous deviation, I now see, was far more apposite. For Dickon is – like the dodo and the duckbill platypus – an oddity of nature, unlikely to be perpetuated. Looking at his feathers through the glass cabinet of the computer screen (that is, his popular online diary) had fascinated me but, like the evolutionist, I wanted to know how and why he had come to be that way.
Dickon on Solipsism
‘I am the oldest son of two brothers and I think I’m a typical older son in the way that I am more solipsistic. When you are the younger child you have to admit that the world doesn’t revolve around you, whereas I had four years of undivided attention from my parents.
‘I did actually try to hurt my brother at one point. I broke his bone. I’m not a violent person, but thinking about it now . . . I asked him to jump from the top of the stairs onto a mat, with me pulling away at the mat just to see what would happen. What happened is that he broke his ankle and had to go to hospital.
‘I can’t quite agree that the world was not created for my own design. And so I’ve had to create my own world.’
It was interesting to note, as we walked back to the tube station after the interview, the inquisitive stares drawn by Dickon. You can see people thinking: who? what? why? where? how? when?
Dickon on Dropping Out
‘I went to a very small primary school where I was the brightest kid in the class, which was very easy in a small village. But when I got up into A-levels the kids were there because they wanted to be there. Therefore, it hit me hard that I wasn’t this fantastically bright person. I was marginally above average. I dropped out halfway through my A-levels, because it involved hard work, which I’d not really heard about before and admitting that I might not be this super genius I thought I was. The idea of mediocrity frightened me more than anything else. It’s the idea of being part of the crowd – of being one of the many – that always terrified me. But always in a very quiet, passive way, just so that I could be noticed more.
‘After I dropped out, I ran away from home to the nearest village. My parents found me the next day: that was my mild attempt at rebellion. All my attempts at violence – or doing violently impulsive things – have never been particularly impressive.’
We met in the Highgate Wood cafe. He wore the classic Dickon Edwards look: peroxide blonde hair, black suit, tie, white shirt, black shoes and white socks. Literally and figuratively black and white, seemingly without any of the grey areas suffered by other people. Or was he?
Dickon on Religion
‘I had a very strict agnostic upbringing. But, by having that, I went through a rebellious, religious phase. When the Gideon people came round to school I thought it was very good that they gave out free books; it was very nice of them. I slept with the Gideon Bible under my pillow for years, and I read it and thought it was wonderful. I didn’t believe in it because I didn’t find God in my heart. Believers that I know always seem to have that, but I don’t. I remain a strict agnostic, never an atheist. All the evidence is against it. Someone with an incredible sense of humour has created, you know, the Duckbill Platypus or the Pelican. I mean [incredulous] . . . the Pelican!’
It is of marginal significance that, after dropping out, Dickon found his way to Bristol Old Vic theatre school, where he trained as a stage manager. Instead of acting in his own life, you get the feeling that he is attempting to stage manage it.
Dickon on Stage
‘I couldn’t be an actor because, for one thing, I have this pronounced speech impediment and another thing is I have a monotonous voice which makes Ken Livingstone sound like John Gielgud. Oh, and I do still get stage fright. For some people performing on a stage is very instinctive thing, but I’ve never had that.’
Dickon on his Career
‘It’s more of a career in the sense of the verb, to career about. Side to side, rather than “career” as in getting a job.’
I first became aware of Dickon via the Melody Maker’s coverage of Romo. His band, Orlando, were the leading lights of the scene; indeed, they were the only ones who managed to release an album, but it wasn’t their music which made me sit up and take notice, it was their interviews. I remember when Dickon and Tim (Chipping, Orlando’s Singer) were taken by Select magazine for a pizza and Dickon compared eating to excretion, saying it should be done in private, whilst also noting Philip Larkin as someone who survived on Complan and red wine. I was delighted: here was a band with opinions, intelligence and wit.
Dickon on Orlando
‘With Orlando, Tim and I specifically tried to become real pop stars . . . and failed. But we reached more people than we would have done with Sarah records. Just getting that album out at all was a miracle. Then getting really good reviews: 8 out of 10 in the NME.’
Dickon on Leaving Orlando
‘Tim was taking over the band more and more but hmmm . . . That was one of the reasons I left, to be honest. I’m trying to think, it’s all getting rather blurry, I can’t really think . . . Maybe I’ve just blanked it out. Denial. I honestly don’t remember that much about it all. I was definitely unhappy that Tim was in the driving seat and I was in the passenger seat. And that was the main reason. A general helplessness.
‘Thinking back more carefully now, however, with the wood far more visible than those wretchedly solipsistic trees, I do concede that I was absolutely impossible to work with at the time, so I don’t blame Tim in the slightest. Ultimately, I remain proud of Orlando – we may have only been famous for fifteen people, but those fifteen hearts beat very fondly indeed.
‘I wasn’t sure who I was either. I changed my name to Richard Edwards then to Dickon Angel. That’s always a sure sign that you’re not happy with yourself, when you’re changing your name.’
Dickon on Being Himself
‘I get the most consolation from being myself more. Which is sometimes a struggle. There are long periods when I don’t write anything at all and that is when I am not so happy.’
Dickon on Live Journal
‘It is very difficult to commit suicide when you’ve got friends and when you’ve got people who listen to what you say. The Samaritans is wonderful for that . . . when they’re not engaged.’
I know people who insist that Dickon is a failure. They say that his voice is poor, his bands mediocre, performing songs that will never see the charts in a million years. They say that his bon mots are watered-down Wilde, colourless Crisp; they call him derivative. To all these accusations I proffer a defence, as we must defend that which has given us pleasure. I point to his diary as a fascinating read on the internet, a distinctive view on the world amidst so much that is drab. But gallingly, for us defenders, there is no masterpiece to point to, no play or album or book that says: at least he did this. At the moment, all that he has to show for his thirty-two years on the planet are a few obscure records and an internet diary.
Dickon on Writing a Novel
”I know it’s a cliche to write a novel but I don’t think I’ll be successful at anything else. Certainly as opposed to music, which I don’t think I can be successful at, realistically. Not by myself. Unless I had someone else – but I can’t sing that well, and I’m not that happy being lead vocalist, it’s not really me. I would like Justin Timberlake to cover one of my songs, he would do it much better and people would listen more. I’m rather trapped in my physical frame, which isn’t the best. But the fact is that I really can’t sing as well as I’d like to and I have this silly speech impediment. And I just look very odd and I don’t really hold myself very well. It doesn’t feel right. Even if by some miracle I became a great vocalist, it still wouldn’t fit with me, whereas if I were a great novelist: that works with me, that fits with me much better.’
Dickon on Research
‘In the past my narcissism prevented me from looking at other people. Lately I have found myself observing and listening to other people and looking at other people’s diaries, which for a writer is fascinating. Finding out what goes through a 15 year old girl’s head in the year 2003.’
Dickon on Friends (1)
‘”Have I got any friends . . .” ? Finish the sentence there. I’ve got many acquaintances. I am putting together an album called The Dickon Edwards songbook by Dickon Edwards and Acquaintances.
‘I don’t have the sort of people who would help me out. I have family who would help me out. I don’t like to get too close to people. I like to write as if I am the readers’ only friend. Or at least give the impression that you’re their only friend.’
Unlike the witty, emotionally clarified journal entries he writes these days there was a time, before Live Journal with all its community spirit, when things were quite raw:
I was meant to meet Howard at First Out. It didn’t happen, so I propped myself up at the bar, alone, and got quickly, cheaply drunk. Swapped numbers with a beautiful blond Norwegian. Phoned him the next day. Number unobtainable. Took some pills.
Got maudlin and upset and paranoid. Took more pills. Thought seriously about cutting my arm up. New low for me. Ridiculous, so I phoned Simon. Picked up the guitar to stop myself crying. This really must end.
Dickon on Self-Harm
‘No, I haven’t. I have always thought about it, but ultimately I think I have a fear of pain which stops me. Hmmm, yes there have obviously been times when I’ve felt bad and I’ve absolutely dreamt of fading from existence, just when being alive is much more painful than anything else.’
Dickon on Depression
‘In the case of depression, there has always been a problem. I am officially too depressed to get a proper job, which I haven’t mentioned in my diary, mainly because I fear judgement. People going “why aren’t you getting a proper job” and there is a side of me thinking that. That’s what I live upon. Once a year I have to go to a big Kafkaesque building in Kings Cross.’
Dickon on Therapy
‘I have had therapy, counsellors for the mind, and though I enjoy them I tend to put on a bit of a performance. The fact that they are getting paid for it always puts me off. I’m enjoying talking to you much more and would probably tell you more. They’re not really interested in me; they’re just being paid for it. I might go back again. But just thinking about myself and writing it down does help.’
Dickon on Paroxitene
‘It does curb panic attacks and thoughts about suicide. It has helped me to balance things more.’
A toddler approaches Dickon and Dickon says hello in a childish voice. The toddler, dismayed, runs away frowning.
Dickon on Friends (2)
‘I do have friends, of course I do. But I don’t like the idea of picking someone out from the crowd and just staying with them . . . I would never shun anybody because they’ve got the wrong haircut or are ugly. What if they turn out to be the messiah! People who are drunk or on drugs are the only people I wouldn’t talk to, for reasons of personal safety.’
Dickon on his Life’s Trajectory
‘My life’s trajectory takes into account achievement combined with being at the mercy of others.’
Dickon on the Past
‘The past is a foreign country and they do things differently there, especially you. The Dickon of a few years ago would not be formed enough, it’s a progression. I’ve never been more confident and out-going than I am now. I certainly feel more free. The thing which helps most is that I have an appalling memory.’
Dickon left Orlando in 1997. He sank into a clinical depression, whilst attempting to start up a new band, Fosca Later, he played guitar for indie band, Spearmint, and wrote articles for obscure magazines and e-zines. The sense of time slipping away without making a significant mark has, in recent months, become an enormous burden. This summer he even stopped going out so that he could concentrate on writing a novel (80 pages in so far), all the while refining and solidifying who and what is Dickon Edwards.
Dickon on Competition (1)
‘I hate the idea of fashionable syndromes. The whole Dickonism goes against anything fashionable, because again it’s competition. And you can never win in a competition. The only competition you can ever really win is being who you are. Being Dickon Edwards: it’s not easy to win, but it’s the only one I have a hope of winning.’
Dickon on the Body
‘I’ve never really felt at home in my body, that is a given really. My body has never really felt the way I wanted it to be and it’s always been aching. I’ve got aches and pains in my legs, of late, which I am convinced is serious because I am a valetudinarian. Some might say a hypochondriac. I have ailments, but I blow them up. I’m going to see a Doctor about it on Friday.’
Dickon on Competition (2)
‘I am my own worst enemy. The competition is myself, when I let myself go and try to be like other people. The essence of style, as opposed to fashion, is telling yourself what to think, not someone telling you what to think. And so I have to write within character, otherwise it wouldn’t seem true or believable. I had to think about the character of Dickon Edwards. That’s what I am talking about being in competition with myself.’
Dickon on Existentialism
‘You do the things that you did accidentally on purpose. The old existentialists used to say: use your free will to swim with the tide but faster. Realizing what nature is but getting there first.’
Dickon on Fluid Selves (1)
”I am very not fluid, because my persona is very unsupple. I can’t touch my toes; I’ll never be supple. There are maybe other sides in my writing. If there are potential sides of me which don’t fit in with this fictional character, Dickon Edwards, I’ll take them out and put them on the fictional page. But they are of no use for me as I am. It is straying from the point. Why be this watery mess when you can be this rock solid form that everyone can see?
‘A fluid self can get mixed and fit into any character, basically losing that which makes you stand out. It is more important to be an individual rather than part of the crowd.’
Dickon on Compromise
‘Sometimes I will, like not always wearing a suit to go to the shops because the shop is about to close. But, for the most part, fitting into my little box has made what’s within make more sense. There were parts of my personality that I thought existed which turned out not to exist. The box enhances and brings out sides of myself that I didn’t know existed. I am more me.’
When I think of Dickon I think of people like Philip Larkin, people from another time, pre-Bowie, when an identity was something that you couldn’t change: you just had to endure your faults. Nowadays people are fluid, they wear jeans when they feel lazy and get tarted up on Saturday, something which rankles him slightly.
Dickon on Sensation
‘It is one reason for being alive. But because I am fearful of pain, I wouldn’t try strange, fearful or painful things like bungee jumping. I do like being out of context, being a fish out of water, trying different things. Any idiot can dress up like me and go out on a Saturday night or go to Trash on a Monday night. And a lot do. That is the place where I am photographed least.’
Dickon on Fluid Selves (2)
‘It points to a weakness of character: you are a poorly written two-dimensional character. And if you were in a novel, you would be written out. The more I’ve written down my parameters – the more I’ve limited myself – the more it all becomes natural. If there are things that are over the edge, then it is always laziness on my part. They are outgrowths of my personality which just needed clipping.’
Dickon on Travelling Abroad
‘I do become more English. I have met people who have come home from a week in San Francisco and have this incredible accent [puts on appalling American voice] “half from Bradford, half from San Francisco” and you think: “oh, really, you’ve got that strong a personality that you can be hammered into shape that quickly and easily.”‘
Dickon on Wednesday
‘I get up every Wednesday at 7.30 AM and watch the dustmen, and think: they have to get up and do that at half past seven, how dare you think that you’re so much better? You could be doing that . . . Badly.’
Dickon on Private Life
‘In my case I don’t think there should be one. I don’t think you should become public property, you have a duty to become public property. If you have some little secret, then it’s only ever going to be found out. You should play up everything, so that you can’t be caught out.’
Dickon on his Look
‘I’ve inherited from my mother the ability to cut to the chase. Like my look, you can tell more about me from the way I look than even doing an interview. Everything you need to know can be found by just looking at me. Not the case entirely, but it helps. I’m not giving any wrong signals.
‘I’ve made this active, aggressive statement by looking the way I do. But it’s not that aggressive. I’m not physically hitting or shouting at anyone. But it is enough for people to say that they palpably won’t stand for it.’
Dickon on Self-Consciousness
‘Well, I spend a lot of my waking hours looking in the mirror. I’m pretty nervous and self-conscious all the time. Hmmm, very much so . . . always. To the extent of almost paralysing myself with fear, which is why I often need a drink for Dutch courage. Sometimes I’m too self-conscious because it does stop me writing sometimes. I think too much, so that it stops me doing anything at all. So, I have to let a little bit of that go. I think I have too much self-consciousness, far too much.
‘I’m self-conscious to the point of insanity, taking drinks and drugs, just to balance things out a bit. To the extent that I might have a heart attack just from being too self-conscious. Which does worry me. Another reason I shouldn’t smoke.’
Dickon on Sex
‘I am at the mercy of my own physicality, but it is not part of my character and because it is not part of my character it doesn’t feel right.
‘I have, unfortunately, dabbled. But I tended not to enjoy it very much, so I won’t really enjoy it much. If I enjoyed it I would have to change my character into this sexual athlete; as it is I find it amusing to project this image of not being into sex.’
Dickon on Porn
‘It’s hard not to [look at it] on the Internet. I haven’t paid for it. I don’t like all the exploitation, but I do like erotica, like fan fiction, where Dr Who will have sex with his various assistants. I am a creature of words. I prefer fiction rather than photographs. I wouldn’t say I was a prude, but I do object to exploitation.
‘I’m not embarrassed by it. It is depressing rather. I have a friend who e-mails me some passwords if I’ve lent him money or a DVD . . . I don’t know why he sends them to me. His ultimate ambition is to have at least two girls on the go and do what he wants to do with them. He’s a Dionysian, a frustrated swinger. Trouble is, people who are arty and go to gigs aren’t into orgies and things. Suburbanites do it. He has an immense pornography collection. I had never seen any before. He did lend it to me.’
Dickon on his Gimmick
‘My gimmick is my own character. Being the outsider’s outsider. Being the fish out of water’s fish out of water.’
Dickon on Dickon Edwards
‘I am my own fictional character.’
When I originally thought about who I wanted to interview in The Mind’s Construction, the name Dickon Edwards recurred again and again. This is partly because he is accessible, far more accessible than say, Brett Anderson or Muriel Spark. But the main reason is that he is interesting, far more enigmatic and intriguing than countless other better known celebrities. He is an experiment in living that will never be repeated. Don’t you want to know what happens next?