Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Confessions of a Celebrity Stalker Tour

Some tours are pure industry products: profitable, predictable and more or less pointless. They only become interesting when they start to go wrong and off script. Other tours, however, are a world away from the tourist industry and their existence is far from inevitable. This quasi celebrity stalker tour was clearly one of the latter. Given its slightly deviant nature, which I have chosen to focus upon, I have anonymised both the guide and the celebrity who he focuses upon in the tour. We'll call our guide Steven and the subject of the tour Morrissey.


Steven gives guided tours and told me he is working on a new one: Morrissey in Birmingham. As Brum is not the cantankerous Mancunian's typical stomping ground I was wondering whether he could pull this one off, given the tenuous connection. I needn't have worried, if you are used to being creative about giving tours you could give a tour of the neighborhood's public toilet and it would still be better than the tedious local history tour of the church. We began informally: at his front door. 


We made a number of stops along his road; a building with an interesting window; a wall upon which small objects are habitually left; a junction with an unusually far view. We arrived at the first Morrissey stop. This house, or one of the neighboring houses, is where a former partner of Morrissey once stayed for several months. That was before they were together so it is most unlikely that Morrissey himself ever visited this road but the vaguest scent of Morrissey is attached to the building all the same. I think that the slightness of this connection made the tour all the quirkier for it was really trying hard to find someone where they were not.


These abandoned suitcases seemed like a gift to the tour: objects just itching to be dragged into the web of stories and observations about the neighborhood. It turned out Steven only had four Morrissey themed stops on the tour so these other signs were taken up eagerly. They were not deliberately spun into Smiths stories however, they were allowed to just be whatever they were. To have done so would have tuned this into a display of storytelling and ingenuity rather than to have retained the stalker feel that it was slowly accumulating.


This was an interesting stop because he confessed to having met Morrissey's niece here. She has become an acquaintance of his and through her he got to finally meet the man himself, albeit fleetingly as he departed from her birthday party. This sort of connection is purely about Morrissey the private individual and not about his music. It is here that I started to see the transgressive potential of this tour. This is not a tour about the music such as those that run regularly in Manchester, this is one that invites you into the invasive and obsessive point of view of the stalker.  


What made the tour bearable was his self-consciousness that this really was not upright material fit for a regular tour and the fact that he was playing at it much more than actually living the life of the celebrity stalker. Tours that genuinely slipped over the edge and became an invitation into a criminal or certifiable person's mental geography would be a difficult sell. The film Man Bites Dog, however, does precisely this through following a charismatic and funny serial killer and Gogol's Dead Souls does something similar, both the two of these twisting the knife in half way through, becoming darker and testing the viewer/reader. Thinking this through further then, this would be an original way to go about a Jack the Ripper Tour. Yes it would inevitably be slammed as sensationalist and unethical unless you found a very clever way to both do it and to not do it at the same time. This tour did not try to do anything of the sort and was instead wrapped up in a set of observations, local insights and invitations to observe closely. As a tour that was by far the safer choice, for a performance, this does incline me to stray into the more transgressive space, albeit with a very solid alibi.

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