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 has given up giving a fuck.
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 18: NO WAY TO CONTROL IT – IT’S TOTALLY AUTOMATIC
VICE email me and ask me if I want to appear in a TV pilot for their new music quiz.
I imagine myself in a TV studio, in full control of the situation. I am sipping rakishly from a mug of tea, a good five stone lighter than I am in reality, wearing a Gieves and Hawkes suit and a vaguely maverick shirt. The live audience is held rapt by a particularly amusing anecdote about Killswitch Engage. Chris Moyles tries to interrupt but I silence him with a withering one-liner. My team mate Emile Sande’s eyes narrow in feline pleasure and my other team mate Dave Lombardo slaps me on the back. There is a specialist round on Alien Sex Fiend, so naturally I take full points. Finally I answer a trick question on James Brown meaning we win. But then Mark Lamarr starts saying ungracious things about Emile Sande’s haircut while summing up. I can’t think of anything amusing to say and the crowd are howling laughing. I’ve lost control. I run up to him and start hitting him really hard in the face using my mug as a knuckle duster.
Sande is horrified at what I’ve done. Lombardo says: “Dude, that is, like, totally inappropriate behaviour.” I look at Lamarr. Snot and blood are running out of his nose, he’s crying for his mother and his haircut has collapsed, looking like a broken tarantula on his forehead. I look at Moyles’ team mates Normski and Giles Brandreth who are shaking their heads and tutting. Both have matching sneers of condescension on their faces. “Oh, well played,” says Brandreth. I pull out a tyre iron and beat them both methodically but savagely until their heads disappear into pink mist. It’s fucking sickening. What happened? I was doing so well...
I can hear the crowd screaming as I run away. I duck through a door and run straight onto the set of Newsnight. Nick Griffin is there. Kirsty Wark is momentarily stunned into silence by the intrusion. I am presented with an opportunity to dress the BNP leader down on live TV with the sheer power of my personality and political acumen but I can’t think of anything to say, so I pull out a gun and shoot him in the head, which comes apart like a large balloon filled with trifle and Rivitas. I start shooting my way out of the studio and some people get in the way. Holy Christ! I’ve shot Germaine Greer and Jonathan Meades! Paxman is looking at me with thunder in his eyes. He will never forgive me for this atrocity...
“Jesus fucking Christ!” I shout and slam the lid of my laptop shut. Maybe I shouldn’t go on TV. I don’t seem ready for it. Radio is the thing I really want to do. Monday night around 1AM, playing Hawkwind, talking about steam trains, that kind of thing. No unexpected reasons to spin my colossally gyrating frame of mind off into doing anything inappropriate.
I’ve just started watching TV again recently since Little John came along. It hasn’t improved much over the last six years, but an hour a day has an immensely pacifying effect on the whole family. I had a strictly controlled diet of TV when I was a kid. We had a large black and white set. It was partially made out of wood and brushed steel and was of such a size and weight that, if toppled, it threatened to kill anyone who wasn’t a body builder. The grainy picture on its giant convex screen would shrink to the size of a pixel the brightness of a star on a cloudless Saharan night and then wink out of existence leaving murky glass the colour of Hepatitis-C when switched off.
We were allowed to watch a little bit of telly every evening after engaging in lengthy negotiations with my dad but nothing to do with rock or pop music or youth culture. These, and many other things, would light the touch paper on my dad’s easily achieved anger and depression. When he was working overtime I would sneakily watch Top Of The Pops, though. The first time he caught me it was in the middle of "Cars" by Gary Numan when I was seven. He made me promise never to watch it again and shouted about how disappointed he was in me. The second time I was watching the video to "Stand and Deliver" by Adam and the Ants. I couldn’t even come up with a convincing argument as to how this situation had occurred as my mind had been blown. (A fucking pirate in makeup on a chandelier. Holy shit!) “I’ll give you a diddly qua qua”, he said sternly, reaching for his belt.
In the early-1980s, the factory that my dad worked in stiffed him on a promised promotion and he realised that he’d now left it too late to retrain as an electrician or plumber as he’d always planned. He was stuck on the shop floor of a furniture factory, working with poisonous solvents and noisy compression machines, earning peanuts for the rest of his life. With unemployment as it was in Merseyside, him in his 40s, with a wife and two kids to support and literally no formal qualifications whatsoever to speak of, there was no wriggle room on this, just years of inchoate rage and bitterness. His mental health became more and more erratic. He held his boss, pop musicians and his family responsible for the position he found himself in. But he especially blamed the Thompson Twins and The Pointer Sisters. I once saw him smash a radio to pieces in a field in Cornwall in front of a herd of cows after "Automatic" came on for the fourth time in five hours on Radio One. As I got more and more into music, he would come up with more and more ingenious reasons about why I shouldn’t be watching it on the telly. (He is a good man really, my dad, I think he just lost his way a little bit back then. Now that we’re both on medication and in treatment we get on a lot better and as a bonus we both feel the same way about the Thompson Twins.)
Of course this was another example of capitalism’s great cloaking mechanism in full effect. Blaming the members of second wave synthpop/ New Romantic bands for your lot in life is no less unreasonable than blaming immigrants, the police, the middle classes, those on the dole, claimants of sickness benefit, your neighbour who has a better car than you, those on your shop floor who have better shift patterns than you, the secretary you suspect to be fucking someone in middle management, the students who are only working in your office over the summer break… No less daft and probably a lot less morally objectionable. It’s all a well-ingrained divide and conquer sub-routine that stops anyone that works from putting their boss’s head in a vice and turning the handle until they start weeping blood.
I don’t care what I was told when I was young, I’m not going to lie to Little John about TV. It’s a load of shit but it’s not going to kill him to watch some of what he wants every day. I just reserve the right to speak my mind about it first. That’s why I give it to him straight: Rastamouse – pure brilliance; Chuggington – admirably reflective of the culture we live in today but lacking some of the charm and sweet melancholy of Thomas The Tank Engine; In The Night Garden – beautiful and subversive. I get a great sense of schadenfreude when the Tombliboos drink too much juice, and then get on the Ninky Nonk which then careers out of control through the woods and their pants fly off, landing on each other’s heads. The message is clear: the bourgeois now change political allegiance on a whim and those from all across the political spectrum have become interchangeable nincompoops. The grand utopian schemes of the 20th Century are now dead, the discrete poverty and nihilism of the middle orders can only be masked by credit based consumption and excessive alcohol and drug use, but the entire vehicle is coming catastrophically off the tracks. The Tombliboos still don’t understand that late capitalism cannot even afford a middle class, and that soon there will merely be the few that have and the many that don’t. And then no amount of Tombliboo Juice will allow them to blot this fact out.
Some deeply disturbing truths about the demonisation of the lower orders are revealed in the Beckettian dance engaged in by the massive, traditionally working class Pontipine family and their underclass, council estate neighbours the Wottingers. Only the cash-bloated Haahoos float free of disaster. But eventually even they will fall and then darkness will cloak The Night Garden forever. Say goodnight everyone. Say goodnight.
I’d prefer it if we don’t watch Justin’s House though, I tell him. It’s like Capturing the Friedmans meets Stephen King’s It set in the children’s shed at Dachau; let’s just go out for a play on the swings instead. He signals his consent by roaring and hitting himself in the face with the remote control.
TV isn’t the cause of problems, but it does reflect and amplify them. I had a nervous breakdown when I was 18. It seems stupid now but it was triggered by drugs and the fact that I saw David Gedge of The Wedding Present on Yorkshire TV wearing the same green paisley shirt that I had on. I think I thought I was trapped in the television in the future trying to warn myself about something. About ten years ago, when under a lot of pressure, I was watching the BBC News and Peter Sissons broke off on a story about the EU, leant out of the screen and snarled at me: “DORAN! What the fuck are you doing, you sloppy cunt. Get your shit together!” You have to hand it to Sissons, he tells it like it is, whether you want to hear it or not. Perhaps I should balance this out by actually appearing on the TV (or the internet, I guess) in reality rather than just in my head.
I email VICE telling them I’ll do the quiz but I won’t sing or do anything zany, and if Giles Brandreth or Normski are there I won’t be held responsible for my actions.