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 trying.
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 TWELVE: I THINK THAT SOMEONE’S TRYING TO KILL ME
At the end of 2003, things started falling apart. My job ended, I lost my house and I split up with my long term girlfriend. In fact the only constant in my life, professionally at least, was Metal Hammer magazine. And they have been a constant ever since as well, providing me with gainful freelance employment, interesting travel and brutally extreme metal CDs. I was delighted to pick up their 25th anniversary edition last week, not just because I had a feature on Amebix in there, but because it signifies what is by far and away the longest stretch of unbroken employment I’ve ever completed. And, to be completely candid, this is despite them having several very strong excuses to drop me along the way.
Back in 2005 one of my regulars was writing the Demos column and I had a fairly touchy feely approach of being encouraging to pretty much anyone who wasn’t a session musician playing new age Celtic rock, a 50-year-old teacher living out his NWOBHM-based nervous breakdown in public or a pro-active evangelical fascist. It was nice being positive for a change as I was seen as a bit of a hatchet guy in the normal reviews section. (This has changed now. If anything I’m criticised for being too generous. This is something that has happened for what I hope will become obvious reasons.) One day a CD-R bearing the name Marie Antoinette written in spiky SLAYER-style, felt tip lettering, was given to me by the magazine. The music was unbelievably basic; what sounded like two channel demos of quarter written songs played with little or no practise, ability or vision. It was so raw – featuring a guitar plugged straight into a cheap stereo and vocals sung through a condenser mic - that it was almost fetish-worthy. But not quite. On one track I heard the lyrics: “You’re a fucking disgrace to your fucking race” and some other throwback boot boy stuff that sounded like it was about murdering “fags” and dashed off a bracing zero out of ten review, thanking them for the fiver that they’d included in the package.
A few months later, another parcel arrived at the Hammer offices for me. Marie Antoinette had ‘self-released’ two singles, one called "Why Don’t You Stick This CD Up Your Arse John Doran, You Sarcastic Little Creep" and another with the more prosaic title "We Hate You John Doran". They were accompanied by an ominous looking C90. The tape was part biography, part death threat and, most uncomfortably, part session in the psychiatrist’s chair. Marie Antoinette were basically a Great Yarmouth-based punk metal band with one member, Sauron Five, who sang and played guitar. His other mates would sometimes join in on songs (seemingly after the pub had shut) and occasionally there would be beats from a Casio keyboard. Sauron Five was also, he explained, “Great Yarmouth’s fastest rapper” and was “heavily influenced by Ice-T”. The tape wasn’t as good as it sounds, although I’m reliably told it was played in the Hammer offices as a palate cleanser in between new metalcore albums on the office stereo. I remember when I first listened to it, there was one bit where it seemed to go really slow as if it had been chopped and screwed or the tape player was running out of steam. His voice was thick West Country: “You know, I’ve been really depressed since your review. I haven’t been this depressed since the last time I was in prison for assault. I’m going to find you and break your fucking head open. I’m going to kill you.”
The tape wasn’t going slow, though. I was just having a panic attack. Not so funny now Mr Fancy Pants London media wanker laughing at the authentic music of the provinces, was the subtext I was getting from it. It’s time for you to deal, the tape was telling me. Your number’s up.
I can’t remember why I decided to review the next batch of Marie Antoinette singles in my column and give them zero out of ten but whatever my reasoning was it was completely faulty and I genuinely wish I hadn’t. But I guess I felt I was fully engaged. The snide trolling had the depressingly obvious effect that I knew it would and another batch of CD singles with a cassette-recorded death threat arrived at Hammer a few weeks after publication. I wanted to review these but luckily my boss Jamie called time on the idiocy, and I was banned from mentioning them in the magazine again.
Hammer were less fortunate, though. Sauron Five got it into his head that I worked – or possibly even lived – at their offices and he started bombarding them with threatening calls; always at 9PM when he would use up the entire message storage capacity of the magazine telling them how much he hated me, how brilliant his band were and what he was going to do to me; sometimes in the form of improvised gangsta rap. Once he phoned when the mag was on deadline so everyone was in the office. Jamie answered the phone to him and after a long talk came to the conclusion: “He was totally mental. I don’t mean he was a bit of a nutter. He was clinically fucking mental.”
The death threats stopped for a while but when they recommenced the magazine called the police and I had to visit Marylebone CID to talk to a couple of detectives. He asked for a summary of what happened and for my opinion. I started: “Whatever happens, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want this guy to go to prison on my account. Whatever is wrong with him, prison hasn’t worked for him in the past and I dare say it won’t do now. But mainly I just don’t want it on my conscience. The guy’s obviously got problems.”
The detective stopped me: “Oh no. It won’t come to that. He’s not fit to plead. He’ll never get as far as trial.” I must have looked confused so he explained that some time before S5 had gone round to his neighbour’s house and attacked him with an ornamental samurai sword, breaking his arm. It wasn’t the first time he’d been sectioned and he was now detained indefinitely in a secure psychiatric hospital.
“Well, in that case, what I’d really like is for him to have his phone privileges removed,” I said to the detective, who agreed that under the circumstances it probably was the wisest course of action.
The incident has put all other commentary on my writing into perspective, though. Yeah, I know I don’t really know that much about Derek Bailey and critical theory, but have you shot your mum with a nail gun? No? You are a fucking amateur. And yes, you are right, I genuinely don’t understand why Tyler, The Creator is popular, but have you attacked the other members of the Los Campesinos! fanclub with a machete? Then, I’m disinclined to take your opinion that seriously.
One last thing though. Sauron; if you’re reading this and for whatever reason you have your liberty, please don’t come round to my house and kill me. Just give me a bell and let’s get a band together. Think of it as a more positive way to achieve lasting recognition than hacking my arms off (page three of The Hackney Gazette – best case scenario). I think your skills lie as a controversial frontman who, teamed up with a cynical, shadowy Svengali figure, could go somewhere. We can draft in Dethscalator as a backing band maybe, if you agree to a few loose parameters concerning lyrical content at least. We could go on tour and who knows, maybe even release an EP or mini-album. I’m sure we could guarantee some interesting press. Given that you’re handy with a sword, are psychically free range and have done time, I’m sure VICE will give us half a page. My mate Phil at Stool Pigeon will probably stretch to a feature. Although, Metal Hammer will probably steer clear, in all fairness – and I don’t think either of us can blame them for that.