Discovering AA Gill
Someone far wiser than me once said that many people are often not appreciated in their own time. I would imagine, in this age of instant knowledge and social media that this is truer now than ever. If I see a name trending on Twitter or Facebook, my automatic fear is that the person in question has died. Often, when that is the case, I realise I don’t know much about that person except that I should be aware of them. This was the case recently with AA Gill. I knew of the work of the critic and columnist who is most often described as “acerbic”, but I didn’t know much about him and his catalogue of work. I had read snippets of his reviews and I, like many, reveled in his Uncle Dysfunctional column in Esquire, but I knew this was just scratching the surface. This might seem like a strange confession for a journalist, but the truth is I was not inspired to write by reading the works of the literary and journalistic titans of our age. I wanted to do journalism because I’m curious, I enjoyed writing stuff and my godfathers were both in the vocation and I wanted to be like them. If I’m honest, for a journalist I am fairly poorly-read.
So it was that I set out to find out more about AA Gill. Both GQ and Esquire had written personal tributes to him and his back catalogue is fairly easy to find. Now I would not dream to write a tribute to AA Gill. I don’t know anywhere near enough about him. But I would like to note down what I consider the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my reading – be difficult but reasonable and enjoy it. In an interview with the BBC’s Five Mintues With… series in 2012, Mr Gill – christened Adrian Anthony, was asked if AA Gill was his “real name”, he replied it’s “a real name” and “it’s not an imaginary name”. Half a minute of the timed interview had elapsed before he cleared up his moniker. In eloquent and full form taking up more than the first minute with the first question. The interviewer then asked: “Didn’t you start out as an artist, before the writing?” To that Mr Gill responded: “Well I started out as a baby.” Such pithy replies might seem snarky, or rude, and to an extent they are. But the point is they are true and accurate. This is not sarcasm for the sake of being difficult – though Mr Gill seemed to be having great fun – it is a useful insight into asking questions and a good point.
In Alex Bilmes’ tribute in Esquire he remembers how readers would ask if his Uncle Dysfunctional column questions were real: “They are real. The fact they’re written by me doesn’t make them unreal.” That captures it. The column was great and people felt better by pretending the questions were real – the “truth” is what people want it to be, and Mr Gill was letting them have it. He was being, as he put it to the BBC, “firm but fair”. And loving every second of it.
Main photo by @vfphoto on Instagram