"A gung-ho Candide with a taste for places it is wiser to avoid. . . the reports collected in 'I Wouldn't Start From Here' are graphic, comic, bemused and properly contemptuous of faith and ideology."
- Jonathan Meades, Books of the Year, Evening Standard
"An utterly sui generis report from the world's plague-spots."
- Michael Bywater, Books of the Year, New Statesman
"I can think of no more entertaining companion on a perilous journey than the ever hopeful, wildly optimistic yet clear-thinking Andrew Mueller."
- Rory MacLean, The Guardian
"A tour-de-force of hilarious, harrowing and ultimately enlightening reportage that will remind readers of the work of P.J. O'Rourke, Jon Ronson and David Foster Wallace."
- The Washington Times
"Unafraid to portray the world's warring people not just as victims and sufferers of legitimate grievances, but also as bloody-minded bastards and ill-informed fools."
- The Kathmandu Post
"A mix of dark humour and incisive political discourse."
- CNN Go
"His sardonic, self-deprecating perspective makes for unstuffy company."
- The Los Angeles Times
"Peppered with trenchant observations that reflect a nimble, cut-to-the-chase practicality, Mueller's interviews with everyone from terrorist warlords to international peacemakers are refreshingly irreverent yet astute."
"Travel writing in the danger zone that maintains its hipness and humanity."
- George Dunford, Books of the Year, Readings Monthly
"An addition to the genre founded by P.J. O'Rourke's 'Holidays In Hell', but it is one that pushes the boundaries."
- The Australian
"Mueller is the embodiment of what can happen with a fire in the belly and a desire to write out loud."
- Australian Book Review
"Mueller's travel writing is as incisive and entertaining as anything he's ever written about music."
- Financial Times
- The New Statesman
"Alternately chilling, funny and surprising, there's some great reportage here as Mueller struggles to reach an understanding of the world, quizzing the highest minister and the lowliest peasant."
- The Glasgow Herald
"His acerbic wit is matched by true empathy. . . we need this kind of gonzo journalism more than ever."
"Mueller spins what could have been the grimmest geopolitics into the finest black comedy. Like a print version of 'The Daily Show'."
"Lively reporting from a gently humorous narrator."
- Chris Ayres, The Times
"Touching, often blackly comic reportage."
"Brilliantly observed, articulate, often funny and immensely readable."
- The List
"Snappy, self-deprecating and sometimes outright hilarious."
- The Age
"Indelibly humorous and heartfelt."
- Sydney Sunday Telegraph
"An instructive ricochet between cities and continents and war zones."
- Time Out
"He brings to his material the mixture of rage and earthy irony that is the mark of a great satirist
. . . rewarding, thought-provoking and ludicrously funny."
"Mueller's book is an excellent example of why today's brave, lucid hacks are forced to admit fear and confusion."
- South China Morning Post
"His reporting is sharp, his experiences terrifying and funny."
- Melbourne Herald-Sun
"If you enjoy your international affairs and politics with a good dose of cynicism and black humour, then this book is one to read."
- Brisbane Courier-Mail
"Often laugh-out-loud funny, the writing is utterly engaging."
- Launceston Sunday Examiner
"Mueller's irreverent reportage from abroad is fundamentally a clever cover for the author's ruminations on race, religion, revolution, rock'n'roll and other important issues since September 11, 2001."
- The West Australian
"As hilarious and sardonic a host as this ridiculous world of ours demands."
"Mueller busies himself with finding the odd, the surreal and the laughable as much as the shocking and upsetting."
- New Zealand Herald
"A real eye for surreal moments of black humour. . . Mueller's work here digs much deeper than the standard newspaper travel essay."
- Sydney Sun-Herald
"His best story, about his brief, bizarre jailing in Cameroon, reads like a 21st century 'Goon Show' script."
- Good Reading
"A rollicking ride through some of the world's scariest scenarios."
- Kalgoorlie Miner
"A strikingly funny book about some seriously unfunny places."
- Perth Sunday Times
"Not bad for a guy from Wagga Wagga."
- The Wagga Wagga Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller's piece about my band's tour with The Hold Steady is my favourite thing ever written about us. The fact that he is a war correspondent (though he claims otherwise) and music journalist and
approaches both with a similar slant makes him one of the most interesting
writers out there to me."
- Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
"The most important critical anthology on popular music from a single author in a long time, its humour and insight equal with collections by Nick Tosches or Robert Palmer."
- KEXP Seattle
"The most enjoyable travel book of 2010."
- Sydney Morning Herald
"Take one part P.J. O'Rourke, a healthy dose of Lester Bangs and a dash of Hunter S. Thompson, and you've got Andrew Mueller."
"This is a wonderful, exuberant and eccentric collection of articles."
- The Sydney Morning Herald
"Sharply observed and wittily constructed."
- Honolulu Star-Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller plays the hapless hack brilliantly, with lashings of irreverence and self-deprecating humour."
- The Age
"New edition of the rock classic."
- NY Press
"Mueller's humour makes for some enlightening reading."
- Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald
"Sharp, witty and sarcastic."
- Chicago Tribune
"Equally hilarious and insightful music journalism and foreign correspondence."
- The Vine
"Gonzo journalism at its finest."
"Really rather good, in a barnstorming, country-punk sort of way. . . a highly capable ensemble."
- The Quietus
"Guaranteed to raise a chuckle, if not a tear."
"A more than capable debut - allusive country-tough songs."
"The Blazing Zoos are undoubtedly fun, but they also have depth. . .
everything from Mueller's extensive use of brackets to the band's loving
recreation of classic country riffs bespeaks sincerity."
- Americana UK
THE EGO AND THE GRID
Eddie Irvine interview, Montreal 1995
Excerpt from Rock & Hard Places
SIX young millionaires, clad in the many colours of their many sponsors, walk a grey tarmac curve between two shining red fire engines, followed by a shuffling battery of orange-jacketed cameramen. It's early on Friday, before morning practice for the Montreal Grand Prix. The six are the British contingent of the 1995 Formula One grid, enduring a group photocall: Damon Hill and David Coulthard of Williams, Johnny Herbert of Benetton, Mark Blundell of McLaren, Martin Brundle of Ligier, and Eddie Irvine of Jordan.
Five of the six are every bit the Nineties breed of Formula One racing driver: efficient, earnest, guarded, professional.
One of the six, when told of the shoot yesterday, winced like a grounded child and asked, "Jesus, do I have to? Can't we just stick my helmet on some other fucker and send them?"
One of the six finished in the points on his Grand Prix debut in 1993 and got thumped afterwards by Ayrton Senna.
One of the six spent his first full Formula One season, 1994, steering a car he didn't much like to respectable placings, at least when he wasn't conjuring spectacular or plain silly accidents.
One of the six drives like a man destined to join the pantheon of immortals, if he lives that long.
One of the six will be swigging champagne on the podium for the first time in his Formula One career on Sunday afternoon.
"Things just keep happening to me," says Eddie Irvine, and shrugs.
YOU knew someone like Eddie Irvine at school. He copied your homework and got better marks than you, won everything on sports day, beat you up, ran off with your girlfriend, dumped her a week later, and you still never quite managed to dislike him. Irvine has fierce blue eyes set in a finely chiselled face, and talks like he drives: instinctively, sometimes carelessly, always quickly.
Since the retirements of Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell and the death of the incomparable Senna left the travelling circus of Formula One with a cast of understudies, Irvine has appeared a throwback to more glorious times for the sport, a reminder of an era when reckless, devil-may-care, full-steam-ahead-and-damn-the-torpedoes heroes reigned over unsmiling androids. Irvine evokes memories of the mercurial, if staggeringly tactless, Nelson Piquet, who swashbuckled his way to three World Championships in the Eighties, loftily dismissing his rivals as "a jumped-up Sao Paolo taxi driver" (Senna) and "an uneducated blockhead with an ugly wife" (Mansell). Irvine seems a leftover from a time before Benetton built a flawless, calculating robot to drive their car, called it Schumacher and pretended it was German so people might believe it was human.
It's tempting to compare Irvine with George Best, another Ulsterman with a dimpled chin whose uncanny talent spent a career at odds with an ungovernable temperament. At his best, and at his worst, Irvine looks like a sportsman struggling to keep his ability under control. He dares, in an age that prizes reliability above all other virtues, to have faults.
"That's not really for me to say. . . "
This is Eddie Irvine, sitting with his feet up in Team Jordan's mobile home in pit lane, trying to be diplomatic about how good he thinks he is. It's Friday afternoon, after the irksome photo-shoot, after morning practice. He's half out of his racing suit, which is tied by the sleeves around his waist, and he answers questions readily enough without ever quite conveying the impression that he wouldn't rather be, say, anywhere else at all. His "Hello" had sounded impatient.
"Certainly," he continues, "there's nobody out there as good as Senna. I don't know what he had. Nobody does. He was just bloody quick in a racing car. Everyone always says he could set a car up really well and was really good technically, but I think that's all total bullshit. He was just fast the minute he got in something. End of story."
Irvine, 29, has always been rather fast himself. He was fast when he was 17, when he first drove his dad's FF1600 at races near his childhood home in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. He was fast when he won two FF1600 titles four years later. Fast in Formula Three. Fast in Formula 3000 in Europe, where he came third in the 1990 championship, before spending three seasons being fast on the monstrously profitable Japanese F3000 circuit (Irvine confirms that joining Formula One meant taking a pay cut). He's also been fast in the 24-hour touring cars at Le Mans, setting a lap record and finishing fourth in 1993, and second in 1994.
He was pretty quick this morning, too. Fifteenth-best in the first practice outing, seventh in the second, sixth in the timed qualifying session. I'd watched his progress from near the giant television screens at the pit lane exit, standing alongside Irvine's parents, Eddie Sr and Kathleen. They watched their only son screaming past them, his car a smudge of rainbow, with no more apparent bother than if he was sloshing about in a school football match. "Ah well," said Eddie's dad. "He should know what he's doing by now. The starts can be a bit hairy sometimes, but once he gets through that, we just worry about him doing well." Irvine's done okay today, but his folks, like the thousands of others crowded into the circuit, were reduced to rueful, appreciative shakes of the head as Michael Schumacher took his baby blue Benetton out and nonchalantly racked up the four fastest laps of the qualifying hour.
"He's the business, the class act out there, for sure," says Eddie of Schumacher*. "I've no problem being beaten by him. But it is frustrating when you see guys who you don't think are that massively good ahead of you on the grid. I'm not gonna say who, but there are definitely people further up the grid who aren't as good as some guys further down."
Jordan, as a team, are in a difficult position. They have money, and talent (Eddie's team-mate, with whom he's had a couple of celebrated pile-ups, is the promising young Brazilian Rubens Barrichello), but they're not quite the finished article. If Jordan were a football team, they'd be the Nottingham Forest of the early 90s - flashy, fun to watch, if wanting for substance and consistency, and with irascible team boss Eddie Jordan, who has just stomped into the mobile home looking for something, cast in the maverick manager's role made famous by Brian Clough.
He's left the door open.
"Jesus, EJ," Irvine hollers at him. "Were you born in a field without a gate?"
"What're you on about?" asks Jordan, irritably.
"We all know you were born in a fucking field," explains Irvine. "We were just wondering whether or not it had a gate on it."
Exchanges like this are clearly not uncommon. Jordan, as he peers into a cupboard at the back of the mobile home, makes a point of looking unruffled.
"Do shut up, Irvine," he says. "And get your fucking feet off that chair. You've got your feet on every fucking thing except the ground these days."
Irvine laughs delightedly. "Did you get that on tape? It had a double meaning which, of course, EJ didn't twig."
"No, you're right," mutters Jordan, as he leaves. "It flew right over my head, because I'm a fucking dipstick fenian southern Irish bastard mad enough to employ a fucking protestant northern cunt."
"Cheers, EJ," Irvine calls after him. "Now shut the fucking door behind you."
IN his inimitable fashion, Eddie Jordan has highlighted another of the idiosyncrasies that mark Irvine out from the crowd. More often than not, Irvine's nationality is listed as British, and the Union Jack flies next to his name on the grid charts and qualifying listings. It may be technically correct, but there's nothing British about the accent, or the outlook. Irvine owns a house in Dalkey, south of Dublin, and says he can't imagine living anywhere else. Senna aside, the only hero he will admit to is another uncompromising Irishman, Bob Geldof ("He's got balls, basically"). Asked what music he likes, the first three acts he names are Irish: The Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy and The Cranberries. When he steps onto the podium on Sunday, a doubtless confused track official will fly the Republic of Ireland's tricolour. It must all look weird from inside that bright orange helmet.
"I really don't care," says Eddie, though as this is his immediate reaction to most of the subjects I raise, neither too much nor too little should be read into it. "But at the end of the day, I'm Irish. I mean, I've got a British passport, but if you're from Ireland, north or south, you're Irish. And 'British' is. . . such a nondescript thing, isn't it?"
This last line is delivered with a slight smirk. He's looking for a rise, but he won't get one. I tell Irvine I'm Australian, news he absorbs with a disinterest verging on the zen.
"But you're right about the helmet," he concedes. "The orange is because I'm a protestant from Northern Ireland, King Billy and all that shit. Really though, I was just looking for a bright colour, and obviously Senna had the yellow, so orange made sense. It's more a case of the story fitting the colour than the colour fitting the story, if you see what I mean. And the green stripes are for Ireland. Same pattern as Senna's helmet, see."
That name again. The great Brazilian triple World Champion Ayrton Senna is a major figure in the rise of Eddie Irvine, and not just because Irvine worships the ground he drove on. It was Senna's infamous temper that elevated Irvine's Formula One debut, at Suzuka in 1993, from the merely extraordinary to the genuinely legendary.
Eddie had already had a rare old day of it before Senna's intervention. He'd qualified a more than decent eighth. At the beginning of the race he hurtled off on a bizarre but effective manoeuvre around the outside of the pack, putting half the car on the grass; he was running fifth before the dust had settled. A few laps from the chequered flag, he unceremoniously bundled Derek Warwick's Footwork into the gravel to claim sixth place, and became the first Formula One driver to finish his debut race in the points since Jean Alesi. Somewhere in the middle of all that, while scrapping with Damon Hill, Irvine had been lapped by Ayrton Senna. As Senna sought to press on, Irvine decided his own race was more important, and promptly drove back past him ("Hill was totally at fault," Irvine says, somewhat inexplicably).
Under any circumstances, overtaking a car more than a lap ahead of you is a flagrant breach of the etiquette, to say nothing of the rules, of motor racing. To Senna, it represented intolerable impudence, especially from a rookie.
"Yeah," sighs Irvine. "He came in afterwards and shouted and screamed."
That wasn't the limit of Senna's anger. Infuriated by Irvine's trademark diffidence and refusal to apologise, Senna hit him.
"This is old shit. I don't want to talk about it. It's been well documented."
Irvine still gets volubly annoyed about what he perceives to be the repercussions of the incident. In the first race of 1994, at Brazil's Interlagos circuit, Irvine got tangled up in an enormous accident that destroyed four cars: those of Dutch driver Jos Verstappen, Brundle, Bernhardt, and his own. Formula One's governing body, the FIA, decided Irvine was at fault, fined him US$10,000 and banned him for one race. Jordan appealed. The FIA increased the ban to three races.
"Totally Verstappen's fault," barks Irvine. "His inexperience. He thought I was trying to stop him overtaking. If he had a brain - and that is Verstappen's problem, he hasn't got a fucking brain - he would have realised what was going on. But he was trying to overtake three cars under a white flag, and I got the blame. They were out to get me. It was the Senna thing, and the fact that I'd turned up at then enquiry over that in jeans and a t-shirt, which didn't go down too well. Storm in a teacup."
Irvine stops, suddenly, taps importantly on the window, and drops his voice to a conspiratorial and - given the steady wail of Eddie's rivals testing their machines in the background - utterly unnecessary whisper.
"Look at this girl walking past," he says. "She's gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous."
This is as close as we get to forging any kind of bond. She is, I agree, gorgeous, although suggesting otherwise would only be an act of wilful perversity.
"Pedro Diniz's girlfriend," Irvine continues, and pauses so that I might find this information as annoying as he obviously does.
"Stunning, isn't she? His old man's got 800 supermarkets, you know. Must help, I guess. Good-looking boy all the same, though, is Pedro. What was I saying?"
Irvine is easily distracted. His minute attention span is the stuff of Formula One paddock myth. He says he can't concentrate on films, and he's only made it to the last pages of two books: Bob Geldof's autobiography and Paul Kimmidge's book about cycling, the title of which escapes him. When I'd been given a time for my interview with Eddie by Jordan's press officer, Louise Goodman, I'd asked how long it was scheduled for. "As long as you can keep him interested," she said. "The average is 20 minutes". It keeps you thinking, at least. When Irvine is asked a question he's heard before, he replies in a sullen, monosyllabic monotone. When you throw something new at him, there's a perceptible ignition of light in his eyes. Today, he talks quite happily about the helicopter lessons he's been taking and when I tell him I've previously interviewed Bob Geldof and The Cranberries, we veer dangerously, though briefly, close to conversation.
For the remainder of the race weekend, Irvine doesn't acknowledged my presence, even to the point of looking straight through me and ignoring my hand after the race, when I offer him congratulations on his third place. This is possibly down to shyness (unlikely), arrogance (likely) or plain rudeness (conceivable), but it seems just as probable that he's forgotten we ever met. I'm not especially insulted - Eddie Irvine can get bored driving a Formula One car ("It can be quite tedious, yeah. If you're racing with someone it's quite exciting, but if you're not, it can be a real drag, driving around out there by yourself").
I think of the joke about how goldfish have such short memories that they spend their whole lives thinking "Bugger me, a rock" every time they complete a lap of their bowl, and I wonder whether Irvine has ever been forced to come into the pits to ask for directions.
DESPITE inauspicuous omens - Irvine's spin and Barichello's crash on the Saturday, Irvine's fuel feed snapping in the raceday warm-up - the Sunday of the Montreal Grand Prix is anything but a drag for Jordan. A race that initially looks like it's going to be another Schumacher-led procession degenerates into merry farce, as one top qualifier after another spins off, blows up or falls to bits: Herbert collides with Hakkinen, Coulthard pirouettes off the track, Berger gets the sums wrong on his fuel consumption, Hill's car dies and Schumacher sputters to a temporary, but decisive, halt. Up in the media centre, where the world's motorsport press observe developments on a bank of monitors, the sight of Schumacher's wheezing Benetton slowing to parallel-parking pace is greeted with not entirely detached and objective cheers and whistles, and a downright unprofessional flinging into the air of hats, race programmes, and plastic coffee cups - few things unite the world's people like the sporting failure of Germans.
The net result is that Jean Alesi takes the chequered flag, an immensely popular victory - he's Corsican, which is nearly French, and that's close enough to French-Canadian for the Montreal crowd. Alesi has also won in a Ferrari bearing the number 27 - the same marque and number that the great and authentically French-Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, for whom the Montreal circuit is named, had driven and died with. Following Alesi home are the two Jordans - Barichello in second place, and Eddie in third.
On the podium, Irvine's joy is evident, but normal service is resumed by the time his turn comes at the post-race press conference. Granted, Alesi is a tough act to follow on the overwhelmed and emotional front: in a memorable and genuinely touching interview, Alesi explains that his lap times had dropped off near the end because "When I heard that Schumacher was out and I was leading the race, I started to cry, and the tears misted up my visor so I could not see where I was going". The response of the assembled media is a spontaneous and heartfelt ovation.
Irvine deadpans his responses like a weary veteran. A journalist from a Montreal paper suggests that, you know, he's just finished third, got onto a Formula One podium for the first time in his career, and perhaps he might care to lighten up a bit. Irvine responds with a mocking sigh, and explains that, long ago, he promised to buy all his mechanics Breitling watches if they ever got him this far, "So I'm probably about twenty grand down". Back down in the Jordan pit, amid a riot of congratulations, Irvine heads for the sanctuary of the mobile home early on, leaving his proud parents to pose with his trophy for fans.
JUST before Eddie decided he'd had enough of me and my interview (43 minutes, for the record - "Not bad at all," according to Goodman), I'd asked if the phrase "Eddie Irvine - Formula One World Champion" made any sense to him. He said it didn't, but qualified his answer by observing that there'd been a time when "Eddie Irvine - racing driver", let alone "Eddie Irvine - Formula One driver", would have sounded pretty daft.
I pressed the issue, asked him if he believed he'd be World Champion right now if he'd been driving Schumacher's car instead of his own last year.
"Probably not," Irvine replied, grinning his great big schoolboy grin. "I was, uh. . . making too many mistakes last year."
So I created a world in which Eddie had the Benetton drive this year. The idea tickled him.
"Okay. . . and where are you putting Schumacher?"
Well, we'd give the poor chap a fighting chance, I thought. He could drive Eddie's car.
"Then. . . yeah," Eddie decided, after a lengthy pause. "I'd have a fair chance of being World Champion."
It seems, especially after this weekend's adventures, like a poor investment to bet against him. Eddie Irvine, if a magnet for trouble, is also high on a heady cocktail of talent and luck.
Things just keep happening to him.
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