My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 40-year-old man who was born when we were still sending men to the moon.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, ‘menk’ is Scouse/ Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."
Menk 25: Sex, Cats and Nazis, That's Why They Call Me Mr Happy
Recent events make a mockery of me needing to say this but I'll say it anyway: Every negative suspicion you’ve long harboured about journalists is almost certainly true.
All on-the-road reporters become voice actors of the rarest skill within weeks of picking up a spiral-bound notebook. They have to become adept at running outside of the Wetherspoons on Dulwich High Street to take a call from the Daily Mirror news desk to reassure them that no, Natasha Kaplinsky has not been spotted leaving Professor Stephen Hawking's flat yet, but they have had a pizza delivered so there’s everything left to play for; or no, there has been no sign of white smoke coming out of the Vatican chimney yet, so perhaps it’s time to call it a night or call in an agency.
When I was working on the periphery of Fleet Street in the late 90s, hacks and snappers would trade war stories on freezing cold doorsteps about their colleagues who had come unstuck due to excessive slackness with the truth. These tales were intended to re-enforce not-getting-caught strategies rather than to act as cautionary moral parables, however.
One of them concerned a smudge who was staying in a seafront hotel in Brighton. His picture desk phoned him up and asked him to describe the scene he could see out of his window. When he failed to mention Eugenius Birch’s much mistreated West Pier in flames, blazing orange against the squid ink night sky, he was fired on the spot. (He hadn’t seen the fire of course because he was at home in Catford watching Only Fools and Horses, and not ensconced in the hotel room where he was paid to be awaiting a job early the next morning.)
Someone I knew decided it would be a waste of time door-stepping that entirely guilt-free and sorry character Colin Stagg despite the fact he was paid to. Instead, he decided to take a moral stand against the ongoing campaign of harassment against the virginal Dungeons & Dragons fan (who clearly hadn’t murdered Rachel Nickell) by vigorously exploring the pubs of Raynes Park. Little was he to know that an hour after he was due to be in situ, a man would turn up outside Stagg’s next door neighbour’s house on a motorbike and start firing a shotgun through the living room window as part of some on-going disagreement over the provenance of a batch of narcotics. It’s always particularly painful to get read the riot act over this kind of thing the next day, as the very fact that you’ve slunk off the job almost certainly means you have incurred a terrible hangover as well.
With some reporters however, you simply have to be thankful that they haven’t become surgeons, hostage negotiators, diplomats or airline pilots. One cub reporter in my extended circle of peers was eager to make a name for himself, and decided to impress potential employers at the tabloids by gaining access to Bill Clinton while he was on a state visit to see Tony Blair. Fearing that the official channels would not prove that fruitful to someone whose CV only included a London agency and the Barking and Dagenham Post, he rented a room in the same hotel and abseiled down four storeys until he was outside the Presidents’ window clutching a Dictaphone and a sheaf of questions. After a few seconds some very angry American soldiers trained a light on him and informed him that he should stop moving as he was in the sights of several snipers holding high-powered rifles and there were helicopters on the way. He didn’t impress any potential bosses and he didn’t get to ask Bill any questions. He was, by all accounts, at the receiving end of a lengthy interview himself later that night, however.
My own failings perhaps paled somewhat by comparison, but they were problematic for me nonetheless. My worst habits were constantly falling asleep and not being able to judge how serious situations were. About 12 years ago I developed a relationship with a post-op transsexual called Frankie who phoned me up to deliver lengthy sermons of calumny which I would then convert into articles about the perilous path of male-to-female gender reassignment for the financial benefit of her and me. Trouble was she could talk about any subject without pause for hours on end. She delivered a wall of verbiage that it was impossible to interrupt or penetrate in any way, shape or form. One day I was talking to her and must have fallen asleep. I awoke with a stiff neck 40 minutes later in a pool of drool. I gingerly picked up the receiver and was delighted to hear that she was still talking but was now complaining about traffic wardens. I turned the tape in the recorder over, placed the hand set gently back down on the desk and went back to sleep.
I was sitting on a news desk on the morning of September 11, 2001 and it fell to me to interrupt the daily editorial news conference to tell the bosses about a passenger plane hitting the World Trade Center. I did this in such a pusillanimous manner that not only did they not stop having their meeting but I don’t think they even noticed that I was in the room speaking to them. When I saw the second plane hit, live on CNN, I was determined to make someone pay attention to me so I phoned up our terrorism expert from LSE on his mobile as he was driving to work. I described the scene as masterfully as I could, injecting some verve and urgency into my delivery and then the line went dead. He phoned back a few minutes later to apologise as he had driven his car off the road in a state of agitation, straight into a lamp post.
As a music journalist, though, you don’t have the pressing matters of international terrorism, pier fire, abseiling down the side of a hotel to meet the leader of the Free World and gender reassignment surgery to sharpen one’s mind, so standards can, sadly, be even more lax. Tiredness, a hangover and lack of research is a potent combination and I still feel like punching myself in the face when I remember asking junglist motormouth MC Dynamite if he was related to Miss Dynamite. Just yesterday I requested an interview with a rock star just to be told, “That’s a nice idea except that he died 15 years ago.” (I thought he’d been going through a fallow period.)
Just as you may always have suspected, every music magazine going has run at least one live review where the journalist wasn’t actually at the gig. In ten years of live reviewing I’ve missed two gigs that I needed to write about – both through sheer absent-mindedness rather than laziness, I hasten to add. One was kind of OK because I got to see the band at a different venue the following night and could at least write something truthful about them. The other one was trickier. I didn’t know anyone at the gig and I had a sizeable 800-word report to file. So I did the only thing I could do… take a Valium and phone the singer. “Er, hi. You don’t know me but I’ve got a bit of a favour to ask you. Would you mind describing your gig last night to me?” And then some time later: “So would you describe the trousers you were wearing as bruised crimson or arterial burgundy?” And later still: “When you threw the guitar in the air did it trace a parabola, an arc or a semi-circle through the air?”
This happened when I was drinking. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I haven’t missed another gig for review since but I did miss seeing a show last week because I wasn’t on top of my shit. I’m unfit for purpose when I’m depressed and I’d been abyssal low for days. Every time anyone talked to me I just felt like licking my finger and putting it in a plug socket or jumping in front of a bus instead of replying. On Thursday night, instead of going to bed, I stupidly agreed to go and watch a band in Hoxton. I was trying to arrange an artistic endeavour between them and another group. The band kindly agreed to get me and two other people in on the free list.
The bouncer didn't like my friend Nat's "arty" makeup
The first problem happened when my friend Nat turned up wearing face paint. The bouncer on the door told her immediately she couldn’t come in. Now, I actually like the majority of security people I deal with in London. Most of them seem on top of their game and I certainly haven’t seen any of them severely injure or hospitalise any punters like I have done up North. This walking wall of spam with eyes was vaginismus in human form, though. “Oh no! A lady with unusual makeup on. Clamp up quickly before my mimsy gets hurt!”
Actually, he didn’t say that. That would have been a sensible thing to say compared to what he actually came out with, which was: “This venue doesn’t like to encourage arty stuff.”
Nat, kind of brilliantly, just repeated this phrase really slowly until he looked flustered and let her in.
There was a big queue to get into see the band. When I got to the door a promoter in a bright red polo shirt told me that I would have to pay to get us all in. He looked like Elijah Wood in that awesome football violence film Green Street where Frodo Baggins becomes the head of West Ham’s Inter City Firm. He wasn’t using a Blackberry but every time I picture him, he’s speaking into one for some reason. I paid us in, but childishly stayed to argue about it with him. He had the upper hand. I was a complete dick for not letting it go and should have just gone inside to watch the show. However, when I’m like that, I’m a guided depression missile, relentlessly seeking out a bad time until I’m locked onto one and primed to explode. The bands were all paid, the venue was packed, if he wanted to cream extra money off the guest list, it really was his prerogative. He waved a big bunch of his mates through while saying to me: “Why not write it off as a reasonable business expense, yeah?” And then rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the internationally accepted hand signal for money.
If I thought about it for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be able to explain why this annoyed me to the point of distraction. Whether it was the Loadsamoney hand gesture, the AQI pronunciation, the completely reasonable suggestion that eight quid was not that much cash...
I left immediately and when I got home Maria asked me how it was. I replied with a grunt because I couldn’t say: “A hobbit shoes fusspot in a red shirt made a funny hand gesture at me and I became so demented I had to come home.” And I sulked and sulked and sulked until it was time for sleep.
I felt down for another few days but then snapped out of it on hearing a good album – the first I’d come across in weeks. And after ten days trapped in a loop of cephalic chaos that was all it took to sort me out. Because despite the art-terrified bouncers, the Del Boy indie promoters, the stupid journalists, the sulking journalists, the lazy, drunk and drugged journalists, the hyping hipsters; despite David Cameron, Bobby Gillespie and Tony Parsons; despite ebola, despite international terrorism, despite spiders, despite global dimming, despite the Mayan 2012 prophecies, despite Sharia Law, despite Kim Dotcom, despite the deathly sepulchres of academia, despite the merciless bindweed of critical theory, despite iTunes, despite the labels and the lawyers, despite the boredom and decadence of a dying culture, despite Clash magazine... despite all of this and more, young musicians still fearlessly stride through this valley of carnage and excrement for no reward and no thanks with only madness, despair and death as payment. And against all odds and all of our best attempts to stop them, one or two make it through every few months untainted, with the thunder still clapping in their chests and deliver the fucking goods.
And this is the genius of music. There’s literally nothing you or I can do to stop it. It thrives in the most hostile of conditions.
Second photograph by Natalie Sharp