Gaddafi, country music, and watch-lists: the world according to Andrew Mueller

Australian-born Andrew Mueller has more than his fair share of titles, some official. Now based out of London, Mr. Mueller is a columnist, travel writer, rock critic, foreign correspondent, country music fan, author with two titles to his name, and contributor-slash-radio host for Monocle. He was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.

Mr. Mueller on assignment in Montenegro. Image courtesy of Andrew Mueller.

Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you became a globetrotting rock critic-slash-foreign correspondent.

I started out writing about music stuff for the street press in Sydney in the late 80s. From there, I graduated to British rock weekly Melody Maker, which was the beginnings of accomplishing the “globetrotting” part of the description. I got into travel writing and foreign correspondentry as a kind of by-product of that, as I realised that there were more places I wanted to go than those which appeared on the usual rock’n’roll tour itinerary, and more things I wanted to know about the places which did.


Your book, I Wouldn’t Start From Here, is about some of the less savory parts of the world. Considering all the turmoil we’ve seen in the past year, where’s the most dangerous place on Earth right now?

Hard for me to say, as it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere that really qualifies as dangerous. This is partly due to the ebbing opportunities for feature writers in such contexts – which I think, not entirely for selfish reasons, is a great shame – and partly due to the fact that my personal appetite for the real frontline stuff rather dwindled following my first introductions to proximate incoming fire. Some people can rationalise that stuff sufficiently to tune it out; I can’t, quite. Some people kind of enjoy it; I don’t. But the actual answer is probably: not where you’d think, due to the somewhat capricious nature of the mass media’s coverage of conflict.


Nobody really has a clue what they’re doing, and everybody is making it up as they go along. Perhaps mistakenly, I always find that quite heartening.


You once interviewed Col. Gaddafi’s son, Saif Gaddafi. What was your biggest takeaway from that? What surprised you, or didn’t? 

The interview with Saif Gaddafi, in his suite at the Ritz in London back in 2002, surprised me in that he seemed very much not his father’s son – he was smart, sensible and ironic. And that, of course, seemed retrospectively surprising when he turned up all over the coverage of the Libyan revolution threatening to drown the old man’s enemies in the blood of their mothers, and so forth, demonstrating that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree after all. I took away from that what I’ve taken away from every interview with any person in a position of meaningful power – a reassurance that nobody really has a clue what they’re doing, and everybody is making it up as they go along. Perhaps mistakenly, I always find that quite heartening.


How did a boy from Wagga Wagga become a country music aficionado? 

The boy-from-Wagga-Wagga shtick is, to be honest, sort of a three-quarter truth. I was born there, and have the amusing entry on my passport to prove it, but I’m a city kid, who grew up mostly in Canberra and Sydney, and has lived mostly in London. The fondness for country music was initially a tributary of a teenage fondness for the works of Elvis Costello. I got to his 1981 country covers album, “Almost Blue”, was struck by how great the songs were, and worked my way through the writers and artists listed in the sleevenotes, and then through the writers and artists listed in their sleevenotes, and so on – a process which has not yet, to my enduring delight, concluded.


I wish more publishers would take note of the success Monocle has earned from spending money on producing a quality product.


How did you get involved with Monocle, and what can you tell us about the experience? 

I’ve been involved with Monocle from the outset, fifty issues ago – I used to work fairly regularly for Monocle‘s editor, Andrew Tuck, when he edited the colour supplement of The Independent on Sunday newspaper – a lot of the material in I Wouldn’t Start From Here began as articles he conceived or commissioned. The experience has been an unalloyed joy – an opportunity to do all the stuff that I always wanted to do when I wanted to be a journalist, i.e. getting to travel around and find stuff out, and talk to interesting people, and work alongside talented writers, photographers and editors. I also wish more publishers would take note of the success Monocle has earned from spending money on producing a quality product – as opposed to the rather more common current tactic of slashing all spending on journalism and then wondering why nobody wants to read you anymore.


Considering the stamps on your passport and the names in your rolodex, are you surprised you’re not on any watch lists? (just kidding, no one uses a rolodex)

I’d be appalled to discover that I was on any watch-lists – not because of the inconvenience, but because of what it would say about the priorities of intelligence services. On the rare occasions I’ve been noticeably followed about by the emissaries of some or other spook shop, I’ve always been careful to apologise for wasting their time.

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