Sat here attempting to claw out my review for last week’s Arcade Fire gig, I get a text message from a friend:

‘Do you write music reviews for the Big Issue? Review of Arcade Fire with your name on it.’

For a moment i wonder if I’ve somehow slipped into an alternate reality, identical to this one but for my life actually going right and finding me in a position where I get to spend my time writing stuff that people actually read. But then I remember that this person isn’t actually me; indeed, I’ve encountered his machinations before. Here’s his profile:

Cottingham, Chris
London-based writer Chris Cottingham grew up in the North West of England. He studied Molecular Biology at Manchester University before giving up academia to pursue his life-long passion .. music. He is Music Editor at The Big Issue (London) and has written for Q, i-D, Word, Arena, The Observer, The Guardian and Clash, amongst others. He also edits Dummy magazine, a fabulous music quarterly he helped co-found in 2005.

It’s always frustrating to find someone else living out the life that you’re striving for. It’s far worse when they have your identity as well. Like John Proctor in the Crucible – ‘How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! – I feel as though I’ve had something actually ripped away from me, as though some malevolent force is dangling a simulacrum of the ideal right in front of me for their own amusement, like Dickens’ ghosts but without the possibility of my own redemption.

At least before, when I first learned of his wretched existence four years ago, he had the decency to only review stuff I hated, so I could mask my resentment with a smug contempt for his terrible taste. But now that he’s going to the same damn gigs as me it’s just getting creepy… I’m starting to see him in shadows: the bastard at the bar that spilt beer on me? The guy on the train who chatted up my wife with tales of his ‘guest list’ lifestyle? The fucker in the red top who stood exactly in front of me the whole way through, his rainforest hair obscuring my view precisely for a full two hours?

I guarantee he was the one that got the entertainments journalist job at the Brighton Argus. He didn’t even need it, and he still applied. Or maybe I did get the job, but in my application-form haste i forgot to append my contact details, so they Google’d my name, found a number and gave it a try. And he answers, ensconced within his lair, framed and candlelit portraits of me all around. (maybe he’s the guy who keeps checking my MySpace profile…)

Which is why, when I hear the lady on Battle high street cry ‘Biiiiiiig Isssssuuuuuu’ in her Eastern-European drawl, I don’t rush to furnish her with £1.40. I fear my gritted teeth and low-end growl actually emit a sizeable electro-magnetic pulse, possibly responsible for last week’s market downturn. But it’s fine. I’m ok about it, really. I’m glad he’s happy.

And at least people think it’s me. That’s something. Just so long as the guy never, ever, grants Coldplay a positive review. My rage would bring down an airplane.


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