I should kill myself. After all, I’m a spineless bully that nobody likes, a hopeless plodder who should be hunted down and physically attacked.
Don’t worry readers, this isn’t going to turn into one of those harrowing, award-winning articles about my personal mental health issues. I’m not half fucked up enough to write one of those anymore, and even if I was, NME couldn’t afford it. I put myself through decades of hell to nurture these deep-seated psychological defects and this shit is human-issue gold worth serious dollar. You can damn well buy the book.
No, I’m just taking on board some of my recent feedback on Twitter, that beloved online forum for mob hate and cats scared by cucumbers, doubling as both handy news aggregator and mirror on the dark, poisonous soul of humanity.
Some back-story: in my role as a music critic, I was recently asked to critique some music involving a famously grouch-like musician – I won’t name them here for fear of stirring up more bile, but they’re that bloke from that half-decent Britpop band who started a late-90s trio with that one alright song, whose album you probably listened to once and then forgot about. In my blunt and scathing 3/10 review of said trio’s career-spanning box-set, written very much in homage of the artist in question, I suggested that, for someone granted far more acclaim and opportunity than his record sales justify, this musician (y’know, wrote that book slagging everyone off that one of your friends said was quite funny, oh never mind) doesn’t half moan about it.
Cue a one-man Twitterpocalypse. It started with claims I was a cowardly bully then, without a flicker of irony, quickly descended into suggestions of suicide methods, attempts to get his followers to abuse me for my physical appearance and veiled threats of physical violence. “Come and read your review to my face,” he wrote, “see how that turns out”. An interesting commission, but sadly no mention of a word-rate.
For hours, it continued. The band’s female singer weighed in to call me a “horrid little man”, perhaps little knowing that another of her ex-bandmates was just then posting a picture of me on Instagram claiming I was dead and trying to get someone to give him my home address so that he could send a “tribute”. Past midnight, the tirade culminated with an accusation that my review had belittled Earl Brutus singer and cancer victim Nick Sanderson (I’d said that the box-set’s footage from the band’s tribute concert was “muffled”) and, before I could tap out a simple “u okay hun?”, a swift and sudden deletion of his Twitter account.
Why didn’t I respond to his increasingly desperate troll-goads to come out of my hole and face him like a man? Simple answer – I was way too busy. More reflective answer – I genuinely don’t give a shit what this guy thinks about anything (which, incidentally, would have been a perfectly reasonable response to my review as well). Most pertinent answer – because no-one comes out of any online spat without their dignity splattered across the windscreen of the internet like a pigeon in Ant McPartlan’s driveway.
Now I can dish it out, and boy have I learned to take it. I’ve been writing live reviews for The Guardian for ten years which, in comment section terms, is like smothering your bare arse with marmalade and bathing in bees. Many times I’ve thought my career would receive a perfunctory bolt to the head as torrents of abuse flooded the digital cellars of my reviews, all calling for my head on a platter for including an ‘n’ in Lemmy’s surname, or something. But I quickly came to love the haters. Turns out – and here’s a trade secret they don’t want you to know – editors don’t necessarily read the comments, but they certainly count them. The more I was hated, the more work I got. Every time someone called me a dick online, they might as well have put a pound in my pocket. Honestly, there’s a long and lucrative career in online criticism awaiting anyone brave enough to sign off every review with the line ‘and as for the audience, another gormless shower of shits’.
So I love my haters but, God’s balls, I never reply to them. You might as well try to reason with a riled rattlesnake, or Morrissey. They simply care far more about you being humiliated, financially ruined and dragged by the perineum across the hot coals of internet infamy than you do about their petty quibble, so there’s no useful discussion to be had. Just ignore it, it really will go away. In internet terms, yesterday’s Twitter spat is tomorrow’s list of 10 crap records that changed the life of someone you met once in Alicante.
By viperous YouTube comment, musicians are trained not to feed the trolls from very early on in their careers. A thick skin is essential if you’re out there expecting people to spend their valuable time and (pfff, you wish) money on your music; you’re going to have your work, image and persona dissected, pored over and sometimes scorned because, rather than singing to yourself in your bedsit, you’re presenting your music to the public in the hope of getting some recognition and recompense for it. An open letter emerged online recently from an anonymous artist likening negative music reviews to bullying and detailing the mental anguish they cause. To which us wicked critics can only respond by declaring every record anybody bothers to cobble together the best thing since ‘Revolver’ and going back on the bins, leaving you lot to sift through the sludge for yourselves. And don’t go arguing that Spotify and YouTube algorithms are the best source of new music suggestions – that’s how Bastille happened.
But when the bile comes from a fellow muso or industry figure, far too often musicians engage. The other week I witnessed a Twitter altercation between Frank Turner and Martin Rossiter, once of Britpop heroes Gene. Now I know from extensive experience that these are two of the loveliest men in music, true gents either of whom could marry my daughter tomorrow, if she wasn’t four months old. Yet there they were, bawling and bickering like Wetherspoon cuckolds. Rossiter berating Turner for putting his name to a charity appeal to raise £37,000 for an arts studio for disadvantaged kids in Margate, arguing that Turner could probably pay the whole lot with money he’d otherwise leave in his jeans when they go through the wash. Turner ardently defending himself as his personal touring finances got stripped bare in public, as if doing a tour was the equivalent of accepting suitcases full of unmarked rubles from Cambridge Analytica.
I watched through my fingers, concerned for the both of them. Because the only people that win online rows are the silent, gawping mob on the side-lines. The sort of people that would be cheering public executions and betting on dog-fights if they could, who measure their self-worth against the misfortune of others, who cackle as they watch another mid-level celebrity tumble, half-pissed, into Twitter’s ever-hungry black hole. You know who you are – you’re already grabbing popcorn and heading over to my Twitter feed to watch the fallout from this column play out. Me, I’ll be turning off my phone and hitting Sopot beach for the next 48 hours. See you next week, if my reputation survives…