Jhe world of rock is a dangerous place to be, with veteran musicians either damaged by lifestyle or becoming more disconnected with each passing year. That’s the view of some of Britain’s well-known artists, responding to a right-wing Twitter rant from a former radical rocker.
Drummer Mick Harris, original member of Napalm Death, last week launched an angry attack on “dole scroungers” and “profit cheaters” in a short video, full of foul language. This led to a heated online debate among ’90s rockers about the best way for aging musicians to approach their senior years.
Portishead founding member Geoff Barrow and Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson have warned that the industry can be a destructive environment in which to work indefinitely. Barrow said, “I think you have [got to] realize you ran well and exit through the emergency exit.
While rock rarely has direct ties to party politics, many independent artists see a strong connection between their music and a liberal, even socialist outlook.
Williamson, who has collaborated with Harris in the past, expressed shock at Harris’ views, saying, “The biggest killer in the music business isn’t the companies or Spotify, or compliance, or whatever. The biggest killer isn’t dealing with your own personal issues. It destroys everything you initially gave, until all that’s left is you in a room, alone, with nothing.
Harris, 55, was at the birth of the “grindcore” sound in the 1980s with Napalm Death, originally famous for its ringtones and leftist politics. The drummer left the band in 1991 and continued to work with Bill Laswell and release electronic and experimental music under the name Scorn and then Lull.
This isn’t the first time Williamson, 52, has clashed with Harris on the social media site. In May, Williamson claimed the problems between them started when he refused to work with Harris a second time – then poked fun at his political transformation by comparing the bald, bearded man to Alf Garnett.
Barrow, 51, was drawn into the row when he saw Williamson’s Twitter posts and the opinionated conversation thread that grew below them involving several established talents.
“I think anyone who is still doing music-related work in their 50s…is really crazy. And I know tons of them,” he wrote.
“I don’t mean crazy in a good or bad way, I mean it’s hard to stay independent and survive as a musician for so many years without taking on a normal nine-to-five.”
Artists “who have been in the business for so long can kind of create their own universes and they become twisted when not challenged,” he added. “Particularly successful artist[s]. I know a few who have many strange ideas but who are not challenged by the people around them because they are famous.
The cliché of the aging rock star with reactionary views is even older than the surviving members of the Rolling Stones, but it’s still unclear what direction the once energetic and committed musicians should take in their later years, whether rich or poor. .
Should they follow Neil Young’s view that it is “better to burn out”, or John Lennon’s advice to “disappear like an old soldier”?
Lennon once railed against Young’s words of rust never sleeps during an interview a few months before his death in which he imagined “another 40 years of productivity”.
The problem is that for those who live, there are so many more opportunities to disappoint. From Morrissey’s support for a far-right political party and Kanye West’s anti-Semitism to Ian Brown’s skepticism over Covid vaccinations, many fans have struggled to reconcile their love of music with a distaste for a star behind the sound.
Today’s rock stars also find it harder to “disappear”. A ’60s songwriter could have retired comfortably on the royalties of a few hits. But now even established performers have to keep extra jobs. Harris himself works as a music technician, while Barrow writes scores for films and television series.