tThe world of rock music is a dangerous place to be, with seasoned musicians damaged by the lifestyle or becoming more disconnected with each passing year. That’s the view of some famous British performers, in response to a right-wing Twitter rant from a once-in-a-lifetime radical rocker.
Drummer Mick Harris, an original member of Napalm Death, launched an angry attack last week on “hackers” and “benefit cheaters” in a short video laced with blunt language. This led to a lively online debate among ’90s rock musicians about the best way for aging musicians to handle their senior years.
Portishead founding member Geoff Barrow and Sleaford Mods representative Jason Williamson warn the industry can be a disruptive environment to work in for any length of time. Barrow said: “I think you are [got to] Realize when you’ve had a good run and move the fire escape.”
While rock music rarely has direct links to party politics, many independent artists see a strong connection between their music and a liberal, if not socialist, outlook.
Williamson, who has collaborated with Harris in the past, expressed shock at Harris’ views, saying, “The biggest killer in the music industry isn’t companies or Spotify, or matching, or whatever. The biggest killer isn’t confronting your personal problems. It destroys everything you’ve given At first, until all that’s left is being in a room by yourself with nothing.”
Harris, 55, was in the birth of the “grindcore” sound in the ’80s with Napalm Death, originally known for his gritty ballads and left-leaning politics. The drummer left the band in 1991 and continued to work with Bill Laswell and released electronic and experimental music as Scorn, then Lull.
This isn’t the first time Williamson, 52, has sparred with Harris on the social media site. In May, Williamson claimed that the problems between them began when he refused to work with Harris a second time – then mocked his political turn by comparing the bald, bearded man to Alf Garnett.
Barrow, 51, was drawn into the feud when he saw Williamson’s Twitter posts and the opinionated thread that developed beneath them, which included several established talents.
“I think anyone who’s still doing any music-related work in their 50s… is really crazy. And I know a lot of them,” he wrote.
“I don’t mean crazy in a good or bad way, I mean it’s hard to stay independent and live as a musician for many years without taking a normal nine-to-five time.”
He added that artists “who’ve been in this business for a long time can kind of create their own universes and get quirky when they’re not challenged”. “A particularly successful artist[s]. I know a few who properly have some weird ideas but are never challenged by the people around them because they’re famous.”
The clichéd image of an aging rock star with retro views is older even than the surviving members of the Rolling Stones, but it remains unclear which direction the active, engaged musicians of their later years, rich or poor, should take in their later years.
Should they follow Neil Young’s view that “it’s better to burn,” or John Lennon’s advice to “fade like an old soldier”?
Lennon once criticized Lyrics against Young Men Rust never sleeps During an interview a few months before his death, he imagined “40 more years of productivity”.
The problem is that for those who survive, there are plenty of opportunities for frustration. From Morrissey’s support for a far-right political party and Kanye West’s anti-Semitism, to Ian Brown’s skepticism about the Covid vaccination, plenty of fans have struggled to reconcile their love of music with their hatred of a star behind the sound.
Today’s rock stars find it much more difficult to ‘fade’. The ’60s songwriter may have retired comfortably on royalties from a few hits. But now even well-established performers need to keep up with the add-ons. Harris himself works as a music technician, while Barrow writes film and TV series scores.
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