UNO’s new columnist might be a comedy big shot, but he’s not immune to that first-week-back-at-work feeling, from which he’s still recovering.

PHOTOS BRYDIE THOMPSON + SUPPLIED

No one really clocks on mentally until after Waitangi Day. Sure, your body is at work but your mind is not – it’s still riding those breakers at Papamoa, drinking cocktails for morning tea, or avoiding a flying Virat Kohli six at the Bay Oval. It’s just too bloody hot, and we’re still digesting the 4kg of ham we ate over Christmas.

It’s a wonderful time of year, and it’s also very frustrating. Trying to enlist the services of a tradesperson during January is a fruitless exercise. They know full well that you have money to give them in exchange for their services, but who needs money when you have sunshine and cold beer? They’ll get to you, but not till at least February 7.

The television shows I work on take a break over summer as well. 7 Days does about 40 episodes a year but thankfully is off air during the time when all the news cycle seems to consist of is record temperatures and the odd shark sighting. However, The Project comes back a little earlier – and it was its return that knocked me out of my hammock.

I’ve been contributing to The Project since it started in early 2017. I fill in on the panel sometimes when Jeremy Corbett is away and recently they’ve asked me to do some interviews with some big names in music. It’s not overstating it to say that this is a dream job for me, an ageing Taranaki-bred bogan whose hearing is missing a few frequencies, due to listening to Nirvana and AC/DC at louder than recommended volumes in my mum’s 1989 Ford Laser back in the day.

So far, my interviewees have included Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, Cat Stevens, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine and Corey Taylor of Slipknot, so when my producer emailed to ask if I’d interview my favourite guitarist, Slash, I ignored the fact that it was January 24, well shy of my official Waitangi Day work kick-off, and shook myself awake.

Saul Hudson, aka Slash, the iconic lead guitarist from Guns N’ Roses, all top hat and black curls, was to play two shows in Tauranga and Auckland with his new band Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators and had agreed to his first television interview in five years. With me. I still have no idea why.

So, first day back at work in 2019, and I’m in a lift heading up to the penthouse at Auckland’s Pullman hotel. I was feeling the pressure; idol worship aside, Slash doesn’t really ‘do’ interviews because he’s shy and all anyone asks him about is why Guns N’ Roses broke up, which he’s sick of talking about. His record label told me not to ask him anything about Guns N’ Roses or Axl Rose or Duff the bass player or Steven the drummer or the November Rain video or the ’80s or firearms or flowers of any sort. This directive came by email but was reinforced in person by his very friendly but very large, 7ft-tall head of security just before Slash came into the room. Point taken, giant security man – point taken.

Ben interviewing his guitar hero, Slash.

Slash sat down and got out some nicotine gum. I broke the ice talking about smoking, how hard it is to quit and stay quit. He relaxed a bit as we quietly chatted about the different methods of giving up ciggies. It was a bit weird as I’ve never smoked, but I needed a way to start talking without launching into the meat of the interview. I lied, just a little, and I feel medium-bad about this.

The standard time frame for these interviews is 15 minutes, but Slash gave me 20 and I can say he’s as pleasant a man as I’ve met. For someone who’s notoriously suspicious of the media, he was generous and friendly, and I think I even made him laugh a couple of times. We covered his childhood growing up in Los Angeles, his hippy parents, how he lived on the same street as Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell, his love of reptiles and all the usual rock ’n’ roll stuff about touring and albums and crowds and fans. And guess what? He mentioned Guns N’ Roses, like, four times.

Then he left, and I drove home, adrenaline still coursing through my bogan veins. I felt a mixture of disbelief and relieved exhaustion. The next day was the start of anniversary weekend. Thank god – I needed a few days off.  

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