I Felt Ugly, Weak and Overwhelmed

By Caitlin Moran

Honestly - she did. Ostracised by an entire school and forced to take refuge in a science block, the teenage Shirley Manson all but dissolved in fear and self-loathing. Some of the horrific details are on the new Garbage album: the record that will beam her into the mega-league and deliver the final fuck you to her enemies. "You must swear, swear on your life youll never tell anyone this," pleads Shirley Manson, throwing herself down on a vast, squashy black leather sofa and casting a sharp, warning glare. "Never tell, or Ill walk over water to kill your firstborn, but I . . ." she looks to the door, to make sure we are sealed in, alone. "I . . . [casts her eyes to the heavens] I said ass recently. I meant to say arse but it came out ass."

Suddenly she rocks back on the defensive, roaring like the Queen of Hearts. "I command you not to tell. [Pause] Fuck! Youre a fucker! I know youll tell!" She gives a huge yelping hoot, and then a screaming moan.

"Basically, my biggest fear is that Im turning into Sheena Easton. Ive been in America too long. I asked for a jelly doughnut recently without thinking! If I talk about fags people look like they want to hit me! Fanny is coming to mean arse and not c*** in my head! And one seems to have the c*** conversation here more than in England: explaining it to stupid people, the majority of whom dont have a c*** anyway, so I dont know why they even start.

"C*** is a far better and nobler a word than honeypot or front bottom or vag. Its-a-fucking c***!" Shirley crashes her head against the sofa. "Im being perverted by language!"

Here at Garbages creative home, Smart Studios and, for that matter, in the whole of snowy Madison, Wisconsin Shirley Manson sticks out like a sawed thumb in a pound of Porkinsons Bangers. Studio hands and the good citizens of Madison alike favour check shirts, brightly coloured hiking jackets and a burr-tinged Mid-Western drawl. Shirley is a fox-haired, laser-eyed woman in black, howling, shouting and fizzing in brisk Edinburgh slang. When she leaps off her sofa and pretends to frot herself against the placidly sitting Butch Vig, it looks like virtual reality. This is not her home.

"When we were on Top Of The Pops," she recalls, explaining the enormity of the culture-gap. "The Boys didnt understand that it was TOP OF THE POPS, that Thursday was the day that dictated who youd pretend to be for the rest of the week. That if you ever get on Top Of The Pops then nothing really bad ever happens to you again, and you never really die. I was just shaking with nerves the first time we went on; and the boys were just Ho hum, more TV."

Like an early pioneer, Shirley Manson ran away from the Old World to re-invent herself in the New. And it worked. Now that Courtney Love has sailed beyond our reach the big sister who moved to the city and forgot to write Shirley Manson is our girl in the big league, the one of us who made it. The den mother and cheer-leader for anyone still stuck on the outside. The kind of woman girls fancy and boys aspire to be.

But hers is a freakish life. Friends, family, a house and a newly-minted husband sit semi-permanently on the wrong side of a 12-hour plane journey. She lives in a hotel which errs, she says, "on the faded side of faded grandeur," like Alan Partridge at the Chelsea rather than a Novotel. Her world is reduced to a studio full of black coffee, loops and vocals done in the dark ("I just think of someone I hate and sing for them"). In essence, she has swapped all her friends and all shes ever known for three uncle-ish looking men who had had prior professional involvement with groups called things like Killdozer.

"Theres a reason for it," Shirley says, drawing her knees up to her chin and digging her fangs into her kneecap absentmindedly. "Theres a reason for it all."

She pauses. A strange look comes over her face. "But we will talk of it later," she says, springing up suddenly. "Ive got to go and change my tampon. I think its expanded widthways as much as its going to. Theres blood sloshin around everywhere."

Madison is the dairy capital of America. The endless Somerset of its quilted fields are filled with cartoonish cows, and the cow-squirt by-product, cheese, seems to be the equivalent of royalty for Wisconsinites. Al food comes with a patriotic square foot of shiny, orange gunk. Madison's finest tourist souvenir - indeed, Madison's only tourist souvenir - is The Cheese Hat, a large fibreglass cheese wedge with a head-hole for those who wish to wear a psychotic Dairylea mangle on their head. It is, apparently, very popular with followers of local American football team the Green Bay Packers.

Still, the town does have a more artsy centre - Madison is a dairy village with a university slapped in the middle of it, giving it the liberal community feeling of Reykjavik or San Francisco. There's a cathedral which is to St Paul's what The Boo Radleys are to The Beatles, and a tree-lined Oxford Street slung between two steep hills. At night, someone plugs the trees into the mains and the lights on the snow can be seen from 25,000 feet above. An hour's drive from Madison is The World's Largest Six-Pack, a testimony to provincial boredom. It is, simply, a six-pack of beer two storeys high, made by the employees of a brewery who that night had presumably already pushed over all the sleeping cows in their neighbourhood.

All this small-town, big-beercan charm has led to Madison being repeatedly voted as one of the top five cities in the US for quality of living. Its ice cream-coloured, clapboard houses fairly hum with 2.4-iness, and you get called "ma'am" whether you're a dignified dowager handing over a $10 tip or a pissed goth student with nasal multi-piercing throwing up against a parked car.

There's one other claim to infamy that's worth mentioning: Wisconsin is the Serial Killer Capital of The World.

Duke Erikson, Garbage's guitar, bass and keyboards chieftain, can list them all if you give him enough time. "Bundy, he's one of ours," he chuckles proudly. Duke is the Garbage Bloke Who Looks Like The Edge, and therefore like the husband in American Gothic. He's utterly delightful - wiry, twinkly-eyed, and hugs everyone in an ever-so-slightly meaningful way. His nickname is Sir Shag-a Lot. "Don't print that," Butch says later. "We told him we told you, and he was really upset."

"Charles Manson," Duke continues, unaware he is destined to be upset yet again.

Every band has a silent member. Steve Marker, loop-master general and guitarist, is Garbage's. He looks a little like John Thompson, 'Jazz Club' presenter on The Fast Show, pretending to be Igor. He has two corgis called Grommit and Simon. And in all the time spent with Select, the only two words he utters are the first and second name of a mass-murderer. "Ed Gein," he says. Very Garbage.

"The long winters, the cabin fever, months spent together in isolation," Butch Vig elucidates. "That's how you breed murderers." Butch is the glossily goateed man who made his millions producing Nirvana, and is now on the way to making his multi-millions 'drumming, looping and producing for Garbage. He has the quiet air of a man who knows his exact worth. 'The Boys' (as Shirley teasingly refers to them) form a solid, avuncular backdrop for Ms Manson; three James Stewarts flanking a ginger Bette Davis.

"Isolation, cabin fever," Shirley observes, "the kind of conditions we were recording in, basically. Heh heh heh."

Here in the control room at Smart, it's all cherrywood and black leather. This is where Garbage recorded 'Garbage' and their new LP, 'Version 2.0', where Nirvana recorded 'Polly', and Killdozer masterfully devised their 'Little Baby Bunting'. A scrappy piece of paper on the wall reminds you how recently Garbage were still recording: it has the entire album's track-listing, with a different-coloured, relieved-looking tick next to each song.

Last night, Shirley stayed in with her monthly lady-ache, while Butch, Steve and Duke got hammered and ended up at the Toilet Roil Museum. Despite all having lived in Madison since they were teenagers, they had never heard of it before.

"It's fucking fierce," Duke enthuses, lolling against the door-jam. "It's just some student's house, and there must be 500, 1000 toilet-roll holders from around the world covering the walls. Big industrial ones from public toilets, little travel ones from Japan..."

"I never made it to the nest room," Butch says faintly, "but apparently that's where the more scholarly vibe kicks in. It's a history lesson about wiping your ass. Apparently, the Mexicans used corn-on-the-cob."

"I can lacking guarantee you the Mexican women didn't," Shirley hoots.

Living in what is basically Twin Peaks with a cheese kink suits Garbage down to the ground. As a paragon of the American Way, with a deep, black undercurrent of loopy, loping serial killers, it's a metaphor goldrush. For what else are Garbage but Blondie after the werewolf's bite, a prom-queen wearing Hard Candy nail polish and carrying a gun, a pop group with a chemical imbalance that means it wakes up by the side of the motorway at two in the morning with blood on its hands and absolutely no idea how it got there?

From the opening chord of 1995's 'Garbage', it was clear that a band had finally picked up the baton of Dark Pop from mass-market abyss-hangers like Echo And The Bunnymen and Roxy Music, and plugged it into gleaming circuit-boards. The stop-start, faulty-CD cut-outs of 'Supervixen' typified the whole thing: something troubled and human trapped in the shiny machine.

The follow-up, 'Version 2.0,' is, as the title implies, a further refinement of this programme: the pop will knock your socks off with its unerring instinct for the jugular, while the demons sound like they're really closing in. 'I Think I'm Paranoid' thunders through many glorious hooklines, but Shirley sings the lines "Bend me break me/Go ahead and leave me" like there's blood on her lips. And when the queasy extra beats send 'Push It' skittering out of control, Shirley wills it on further, seething "Make the beats go HARDER!" This, effectively, is Madison cut by the yard. Garbage couldn't have formed in any other city.

However, when work on 'Version 2.0' started in earnest, in the chilly April of last year, Garbage had tired of their rainy northern city with its boho leanings, flannel work-shirts and dark undercurrent. So they decamped to Seattle.

"A friend of ours lent us their house on Puget Sound," Butch Vig explains. "We jammed a lot, even though I don't want to say 'jammed' because it's an awful word we all hate. The word 'jamming' is lo-fi."

'Lo-fi' is Garbage's fiercest swear-word. Shirley also later declaims The Spice Girls ("Feminists designed by men is a bit of an oxymoron, don't you think?") and Diana-mania ("I was ashamed of our country") as 'lo-fi', accelerating to a rolling-eyed avowal to "Dig my fingers in and scratch the lacking eyes out" of anyone dissing Courtney Love. "I talk about her too much, but seeing as she's the equivalent of 50 average people it evens out. How could anyone not worship the woman?"

"We all spend a lot of time each day trying to find ways of avoiding saying 'jammed'," Butch continues. "We've tried 'free-styling'."

"'Fucking about'," Shirley interjects. "I liked 'fucking about'. BUT! ANYWAY! This house in Seattle was amazing. The beds were like in The Princess And The Pea. Nearly all the windows looked out over the water. Whales come into the cove, and seals. There was a housekeeper - he was like an invisible imp, you'd never see him, just evidence of his good works. You'd come down in the morning and the fire would be blazing. He took the boys into the Native American sweatlodge."

"They're teepees, and with white-hot stones inside," Duke relates, his eyes crinkling at the memory. "You sit in there in the dark, and they throw water over the stones, and the steam hits you like a nuclear blast. It's almost impossible to breathe, because it's so hot - you have to breathe really shallowly, It's a spiritual kind of thing."

"They believe that women's periods tie them to the earth," Shirley butts in, "and that you're regularly reminded of where you come from and your past. And the idea of the sweat lodge is that the men are drawn to the earth, reminded of their place on it and forced to contemplate the past and the dead."

There's a pause.

"Just once was enough for me," Duke says. "You hear voices in there. It's intense."

Shirley, however, didn't need a faux-period in a hut to remember the past and the dead that haunt the out-of-the-darkness-into-the-light-and-back-into-the-darkness vibe of 'Version 2.0'. Almost the first words on the album find her describing herself, in a series of spitting, sucking declamations: "A demon... a vampire... a wolf... a bonfire/A knife coming at you for a little more," while the beats and guitars go chainsaw-wieldingly mental as the chorus ascends at 1000 feet per second.

'The Trick Is To Keep Breathing' - Bowie's 'Always Crashing in The Same Car' gone sclerotic with sorrow - has an orchestra lowing in the background as Shirley asthmatically wheezes, "Always the one who would try to bring her down/Maybe you'll get what you want this time around."

"This album was like sloughing off a skin for me," she explains, biting off her thumbnail and using it to clean her other nails. "Like washing dirt off from my childhood and adolescence. I went back over things I thought I'd dealt with, and found out that I hadn't. This album is like... I'm sending postcards to myself, back then. To comfort myself."

So what was your childhood like?

Shirley sighs.

The 'ugly' sister of three, Shirley was brought up in a funky area of Edinburgh. Her father was a geneticist. In an early, proto-Garbage incident, one of his experiments involved dead chickens left in the family shed. When Shirley unknowingly came upon them five days later, they were dancing with maggots and she screamed the place down. Her father, as most fathers do, became quite bewildered when she came into her teenage-hood.

She had no self-esteem then, and she has none now. When asked to put a date to its inception, she mentions constantly comparing herself to her 'beautiful' sisters, bullying at school, and a circle of teenage girl mind-fuckery. "I've only just worked it out that there was this really big confidence-losing event," she says. "I was best friends with two girls, and I was so glad not to be on my own it didn't occur to me that three is always a bad number."

When Shirley was 15, she told them a lie, "And," she shudders, "my whole life ended there." She won't say exactly what it was.

"I still think it was the single biggest mistake of my life. It was such a terrible, pointless lie. When I was found out, I was just sick-to-my-stomach with dread. And that was It."

Pause.

"No-one in school spoke to me again. I had to hide in the science block every day: showing my face was too provocative. Any little confidence I had disappeared utterly."

To make matters worse, one of Shirley's teachers had it in for her like crocodiles have it in for stray swimmers' legs. Shirley would be repeatedly ridiculed in front of the whole class, "Until, I think, everyone in that school thought I was less than human. I felt ugly, weak, overwhelmed - I couldn't imagine being capable of doing anything. I certainly never thought I could be in a band. This was a dream it didn't even occur to me to dream about."

These feelings were manifested in 'delicate cutting', snipping the safety guards off Bic razors and scoring a furious lattice work of red threads on her arms. It is what girls and women do when they are trying to teach themselves the physical lesson 'Never, ever allow yourself to be this unhappy again.'

Books and music were her Narnia at the back of the wardrobe, Siouxsie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde the Ice Queens therein. "When Fiona Apple wrote that line, 'When I'm strong like music', I could've killed her, I was so jealous. That's exactly what it is," Shirley says. "Exactly."

When mutual lust dragged her into the local hunk's band, she doubled-up jobs and worked at Dorothy Perkins to support them both. And when both the relationship and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie eventually fell apart, she stayed with music. Her new band, Angelfish, got some airplay on MIY, and it was there, "like some weird kind of tele-dating," she smirks, that The Boys saw her, rang her, and asked her to run away from everything she'd ever known and join them in Madison.

When this glorious, hooting woman tells you for the first time that she has no self-esteem and thinks herself ugly, you feel it only polite to believe her, but secretly you don't. The second time she tells you - grimacing and flicking through a magazine where she looks like Boadicea doing Vogue - you slap her on the arse and tell her to shut up. The third time around, you start to source Garbage's predilection for fucking up their glories, begin to see how Shirley Manson's dissatisfaction with herself means that their pop will always run shiny and rich - but black, like drilled oil.

The band nip to an industrial estate outside Madison for a photo shoot. Shirley's hair looks like It's been miserably clawed at in the car on the way over. Her massive dead-dog boots, tiny skirt and pharaoh's head T-shirt, emblazoned with the advice 'Don't Touch My Tuts', must've been chosen in happier times.

It's an outfit that needs fronting and, right now, Shirley can't front it - she looks like she wants to rip her clothes off and keep going, down past the skin. She walks furiously angular and keeps her head down, eyes to the floor.

"I feel disgusting," she says, looking up for a minute and blazing with misery "I could take a knife to my throat for the way I look. Can someone just put a bin or a bag or a fucking bomb on my head?"

The boys stand around, concerned but not agitated, waiting for her to haul herself out of the tar. Shirley scratches distractedly at her arms. When the shoot starts, Shirley looks at the camera passive, miserable, but ready to rip it into pieces with her teeth if it does anything wrong to her. There's a line from 'Medication' on 'Version 2.0': a scouring, over-loading guitar, delirious with misery, drowns Shirley as she dies through the lines, "Somebody get me out of here, I'm tearing at myself". The song is being written again this afternoon.

Asked to try a smile, Shirley looks like a pond trying to look dry. She is not asked to try a smile again. The photographer hands her a Polaroid - Shirley looks at it, disgustedly.

"I look unbearable," she winces. The lighting and her self-loathing are casting shadows that make her look half-dead. The photographer tries another dozen shots. When she comes to the end of the reel, Shirley climbs off her stool, walks to the toilet with her eyes sunk to the ground and locks herself in.

There's a five minute pause while the photographer paces around distractedly, Butch leans against the door and whispers comfort to her, followed by Steve and Duke. Urgent hisses are traded through the bathroom door, until Shirley comes steaming out of the toilet - her jaw jutting forward as if there's a drawstring between her molars and her tearducts.

"Oh God." she hisses, suddenly sagging against the wall. "I'm not being prima donna-ish, am I? It's just that I look awful in those pictures and I can't bear it - they're for a Scottish magazine and everyone from school will see them and I want to look beautiful and 'fuck you'. I'm not being all disgusting and diva-ish, am I?"

You just seem really unhappy, love, Select offers. Desperately unhappy, if it's any consolation, the majority of the world would die to look like you. Shirley gives a hollow yelp. "I like this? I don't think so. My hips..." She slaps her hips disgustedly, "I want hips like a boy, Boys' bodies seem so easy and uncomplicated. They're so easy to dress and use and take care of." She looks despairingly down at herself.

The photographer gestures that she's ready.

"We can stop this now, if you're unhappy," Garbage's press officer reminds Shirley. "You don't have to do this."

"We're here, let's get it done," Shirley says, jutting her chin out again, sealing off those tearducts. "This photographer must think I'm a bitch, and it's not her, It's me that's the problem. God, I'm so sorry."

Shirley trudges over like a condemned woman. The atmosphere is rather like a one-off Arab Strap gig in a morgue.

Somewhat inappropriately, 'Oliver! The Soundtrack' appears on the stereo and from that, the 'Country House'-like 'Consider Yourself'. There is a sheer, cliff-like silence of 30 seconds. Then: "Yes! Fucking yesss!" Shirley hollers from the other side of the room. "I love this! This is brilliant!"

"Is this some of your traditional English music?" Butch asks sardonically.

"Ah've taken to you/SO STRONG/I'm SURE! WE'RE! Going to get along!" Shirley bellows, in a nostalgic trance.

She isn't restored to Supershirley mode, but the quicksands of self-loathing have momentarily been left behind. Afterwards, Shirley repeatedly apologises to everyone, even those who weren't in the room.

"It just descends on me and I'm too fuck-lag feeble to do anything about it," she says, trying to flip this distressing evidence of unhappiness away with her hands. "Some days, it seems like I get random moods delivered in the post."

"I should've known something was up when I was painting glitter on my eyelids and I just carried on and glittered my whole face," Shirley sighs, pulling her knee right up to her mouth and gnawing on the kneecap.

We're alone in the darkness of Garbage's studio control room. Lights flash and twinkle reassuringly on the console as we recall other Awful Moods, particularly one encountered in 1995 while onstage at New York's largest indoor rock venue, Madison Square Gardens.

"That's always a sign, I find - if you start painting your whole face," Shirley continues. "Awoop! Awoop! Woman in need of a holiday!"

New York is the US gig where you really want to poke people's eyes out with genius. Getting stressed about the Mid-West is like getting stressed about playing Leicester. And the audiences in LA are too busy putting crack up their bottoms and watching Winona Ryder pretending to be indie to care. In New York, however, the crowds are professionally jaded. Had Elvis died on the toilet onstage at Shea Stadium, it would have been greeted with tetchy little sighs and some 'ironic' clapping.

Standing in the wings, waiting to go on, someone told the band that the vibe was really good, like, out there. Shirley pressed the flat of her hand to her face, and felt it crackle with thousands of tiny stars.

Thirty-five minutes later, and she still hadn't fully realised that they were onstage. That Perspex Feeling had descended, where you feel interestingly numb and spacey, divided from the world and your own nerve-endings by a sheet of cool, dumb plastic. The audience was something abstract; heat and darkness, an unknown space beyond the stage.

When she started crying, the glitter ran down her face and her neck and chestbone started to shimmer.

"I don't know why I was crying, it was everything and nothing the matter," Shirley sighs again. Her kneecap now has a semi-circle of teeth-marks on it. "I kept singing, though. I couldn't look at the audience, I was just singing to my feet."

It's a very Gay Icon Moment.

"The problem with Gay Icon Moments is that it never occurs to you at the time that you're being a Gay Icon, so you never get to revel in it," Shirley surmises, correctly. "So you just feel fucking miserable without any of the glory. The weird thing was, though," she continues, "the horrible thing was, afterwards no-one spoke to me.

"I think The Boys thought I was having a tantrum about my monitors." Shirley rolls her eyes upwards. "I don't know what they thought, really. But no-one would talk to me - not management nor record company nor the band. They were... scared of me. And that was when I realised I'm totally alone. If something goes wrong with me, only I can fix it. And I am alone - out there. [Pause] Out here." Shirley casts her hand at America.

So what did you run away from the UK for? What have you gained?

"An insane life - this mad closing of circles," she says, drawing circles in the saliva left on her knee. "Meeting the people who made me when I was younger. When we went on Top of The Pops that first time, I walked through the studio doors and Chrissie Hynde was onstage, singing. My hero, the woman who literally - and I do mean literally - saved my life when I was a teenager. And she knew my stuff! And she liked my stuff! I've got a fax from Chrissie Hynde! I've got to show it you.

"With the new album, there's a track, 'Special', where I was experimenting with phrasing and 'Talk Of The Town' just seemed to fall out of my mouth. I thought we'd better get clearance in case we got sued, and she sent me this fantastic fax. It says, 'I hereby give Shirley Manson permission to use my voice, my likeness or my ass in whatever way she damn well pleases'."

Shirley's beaming and glowing like a crescent moon. However, when asked for other instances to sum up the last two years - where Shirley Manson went from being a 28-year-old, gothy-indie backing singer to a genuine Pop Icon: Versace'd at the Grammys, hanging with Bono, Michael Stipe and Courtney Love, and the deity of choice for those On The Outside - her face falls into numbness.

"We and the Smashing Pumpkins hired the Chicago Bulls' jet to go to the MTV Awards in Europe," she says, rather blankly, "Yeah, Versace at the Grammys. Versace is a wonderful designer. He dresses the animal in a woman, the obscene side." She sighs. "The Grammys were fucking dull: you can't drink or smoke or talk. You just sit there, waiting for Puff Daddy to win something. The party afterwards made up for it. It was everything you'd expect. I met Brad Pitt. He just came over and talked to me. He knew who I was!"

Despite the astonishing Brad Pittness of this event, Shirley's former beam is now down to a candle flicker. Doesn't all this stuff excite her? Doesn't she feel vindicated?

"Naaaaaaaaah." Shirley empties her lungs.

You seem not to engage with any of this as real.

"Well, no. This isn't my life. I've purposely stopped myself from settling here, so I don't allow myself to believe that any of this is real. I live in a hotel, just to make sure of that. And I think it's healthy, I don't want any of this to affect me or... or Shirley falters. She starts again. "I'm really wary of getting above myself, or turning into something disgusting because of what goes on around me. I disassociate. And it means that I'm untouched by all the 'good stuff', but I'm untouched by the stupid bad stuff, too."

So you've kind of put yourself in storage, then? In Edinburgh there's a husband and a house and family and friends all on hold, and you can return to them once your alter-ego has done her work here - richer, but the same old Shirley you ever were?

"Yes! Completely! That's entirely it!" Shirley beams delightedly, "Fucking hell. Are we going out drinking tonight?"

A night on the town with Shirley Manson and Garbage is a night where the flavour of the drinks, the subject of conversation and the venue all change by the hour - from a noncey restaurant on the dazzling main street (margaritas, Butch's broodiness, Shirley's lack-of-broodiness, Shirley trying to convince Butch that women love giving blow-jobs, Butch mildly perturbed as Shirley explains graphically why) to Garbage's favourite bar (beer and tequila shots, Shirley screaming about the horror of circumcision whilst Butch nods in agreement, Shirley banging on toilet doors asking if the occupants are 'alright' before sliding another tequila chaser under the divide.)

By four in the morning, the tidal wave of booze has washed the team up on the shores of a house party somewhere in Madison's neat suburbs. Beer and cigars are being brandished. Shirley is kneeling on the floor, the words pouring out of her so quickly it's as if she's levitating with enthusiasm.

"I deliberately try and make myself as different and other as possible, because I've got a horror of being normal, and I think that I probably am really normal, deep down," says the World's Least Normal Woman. "And re-invention and self-determination are possible here, in a way that you don't really realise they're not possible in Britain, until you leave. It makes it weird when I go back though," she says, staring down at her arms.

"It's almost like your heart gets jetlag. It takes a couple of days to turn back into what I am back there. I can't have my husband touch me for a while, I'm so used to being on my own. On my 30th birthday, he arranged a party and I was sitting on the bed like a furious monster - I'd just come back from tour and I wasn't used to Scotland and I wanted a fucking cigarette. I was like, 'Right. Birthday, Party. Hate it.' We went down and everyone was there - looking scared 'cos I was obviously in a mood. I stuck it out three minutes and I ran off to the toilets, crying.

"One of my oldest friends comes in, and I'm wailing, 'I'm miserable, I hate this party, I hate my presents, I hate myself and I'm 30.' And she said the best thing she could have ever said to me at that moment, Shirley beams, taking a swig of her beer.

"She said, 'Shirley, you were like this when you were 18'."

In a marked departure from the Global Pop Icon brief, not least because dawn has just broken, Shirley has given Select a lift to the airport.

Surrounded by snow, Shirley Manson stands on the tarmac at Madison airport, a taper lit by the sunrise. Even though she's back-lit by a whole planet of fire, her eyes are still the kohl-rimmed, blue green lasers you'd want on your side if you needed to cut through steel, or diamond.

Select asks if Shirley wishes she was coming with us, gesturing to the plane, the Atlantic, Blighty and the Old Life therein.

Shirley pauses for a minute.

"Nah," she shouts finally, as the aeroplane engines start up. "I'm going back to the bar."