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Menk, by John Doran

Check My Machine

My dealer says I can't get writing work because I'm obnoxious.

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 41-year-old who has never driven anything more powerful than a dodgem at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

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."



There’s an urban myth that tough financial times make for good music. This certainly hasn’t been the case while I’ve been alive. Juddering cock hammers on shit Channel 4 music documentaries about punk like to drivel about the three-day week, uncollected rubbish in the streets and bodies going unburied in Scouse graveyards as being the catalyst of UK punk. This is actually like claiming that the NME’s new rock revolution was caused directly by 9/11 or that the genesis of electroclash was an inevitable by-product of the cloning of Dolly The Sheep. Punk as a genre didn’t come out of nowhere: it had its roots in glam and pub rock, both of which peaked in about 1974. This year just so happens to be the year that working class and lower middle class people were at their most well off since records began, as judged by the Cost Of Living Index. Unemployment and sheer general misery weren’t really that bad in 1976, with a worrying but tolerable 5.5 percent of the work force unemployed. Things were much worse a decade later during 1986, with 11.4 percent of working age adults signing on. And what did 1986 give us? "Breakout" by Swing Out Sister, "Captain of Her Heart" by Double and the re-release of Simply Red’s "Holding Back the Years".

Young musicians, like everyone else, have to belt tighten during times of hardship. Either that or find work. This would go some way to explaining why most music was so appalling during the mid-80s and also why it’s mainly so objectionable at the moment. (This is a very sweeping generalisation, as it doesn’t take into account numerous conflicting factors. You know, stuff like how much easier and cheaper it is to produce music now versus how relatively difficult it is to dedicate lots of time to the task, given the intense difficulties of signing on the dole as a young person. There's also the need for most aspirant band members to have day jobs and the near impossibility of finding cheap or free rehearsal space.) It’s probably more reasonable to say that radical ideas flourish more than radical music in a time of depression and austerity because they require impetus, not money. This was certainly the case in the mid-80s when I was finishing up at school and preparing to go to college. You could feel that there was a sea-change in behaviour and belief systems happening. People get misty eyed about the 80s – and it probably was great if you lived somewhere like London – but as far as I’m concerned they were fucking awful. Forgetting for a second the violence and tribalism (two things that affected me most deeply), racist jokes were the norm – on TV, in clubs, in pubs, in schoolyards, on the radio. In the same arenas women were often treated as common property; slabs of communal meat with sexual orifices. It literally wasn’t that uncommon to see people of colour being screamed at and spat at in the street. Yet, the amount of people who irritably resisted the perceived changes to their “freedoms” demanded by the so-called politically correct was quite stunning. And I never once met anyone who wanted the lyrics to "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" changed.


Now reminds me of the mid-80s. Not just because most (mainstream) music is utter dogshit and it feels like we couldn’t have a worse political administration in power, but because the progress of radical ideas in popular thought seems to have really stepped up a gear or two recently. These range from ideas where it just blows my mind that they didn’t become common currency sooner, such as gay marriage, to issues such as transphobia, intersectionality and privilege checking, where you get the sense that many haven’t really considered them before. (Myself, largely speaking, included.)

Now, one of the few advantages of getting older is that you start realising you’ve seen the dynamic of these arguments before, that people who refuse to see that there’s anything wrong with treating trans people with contempt or as second-class humans, are talking and acting in a surprisingly similar way to those refusing to curb their homophobic or sexist language a generation ago. In fact it was the language being used by commentators such as Julie Burchill about trans people (in an article which has long since been taken down by shame-faced, click-baiting scum The Observer, but is covered brilliantly by John Tatlock) which reminded me most clearly of the hateful language used against minority groups three decades before. Even though initially I didn’t know all the issues involved or even understand some of the concepts, such as the little asterisk sometimes used after the word "trans", I realised that Burchill was using the vocabulary of a malignant bully – a barroom racist or a playground homophobe. I thought the equivalent of, 'Well, it’s really not going to hurt me or my writing in any way, shape or form just to watch what I say while doing some more reading around the subject, instead of raving away about political correctness gone mad and irritably falling in line with Burchill without even questioning why.'


The same goes now for privilege checking, I guess. (In case you’ve missed the whole debate, Laurie Pennie

explains it

as clearly, concisely and reasonably as anyone else I’ve read.) Now, I’m not entirely sure what legs this has as an idea in the long run – the theory itself is solid, I think, but I simply can’t see the people who have most privilege in the UK bothering to check anything bar their bank accounts or how well their club tie is knotted. But in the meantime, I don’t mind getting on board with it because, do you know what? It costs me absolutely nothing to do so, it makes me consider things from alternate points of view (something a writer should be doing all the time, I reckon) and who knows, it might even make me a better person. It certainly isn’t going to make me a worse one. Ideas only become part of the common currency when adopted wholesale and this only stands to possibly make things slightly better. (Once you deal with a whole raft of straw man arguments, at least. The idea that it’s a useful tool in shutting down arguments with someone is demonstrably wrong. No one ever won an argument by simply saying "check your privilege". Is it irritating? Well, yeah, I can see how it could be but then, that’s not the same thing as flat-out wrong, is it?)

But if all of this hand-wringing seems particularly self-aggrandising, let me confess in public that privilege checking isn’t one idea I took to like a duck to water. Last year (during the period that my lightly dozing substance abuse issues had woken up, startled and angry, again) I’d been working round the clock. And I mean this literally on some days and only getting three or four hours sleep on others, taking very brief breaks only to argue with people on message boards or to top up my supplies of coffee, cocaine or cake. One day after reviewing a mini tower of nihilistic black metal CDs while hoovering up slug after slug of chisel – I sought light relief by visiting a message board where I earned instant opprobrium for claiming that a female artist’s popularity seemed to be based on her cult of personality and image because I couldn’t detect much going on in her music. Someone suggested I "check my privilege" because of my age, class and gender. I narrowly avoided smashing my laptop to bits – new ideas always cause irritation and anger in those who don’t yet understand them but would sooner guess what they mean rather than actually do some research – and this was the case with me as well.   However the incident didn’t persuade me that I needed to read up on privilege theory but instead that I needed to buy more drugs. Two hours later I was stood in a car park waiting for Jimmy The Saint – my friend with the gold tooth – to pick me up. I asked for the six for five deal and he agreed to drive me to the cash machine. We hit traffic and I explained to him why I was feeling agitated. He was much better at hiding agitation, irritation and anger than me because he simply nodded while I trampled over the boundaries of the dealer/client relationship shouting: “I’m not saying white guys… heterosexual white guys… heterosexual, middle class white guys…” Jimmy The Saint chipped in: “Able-bodied as well, innit.” I carried on: “Thank you Jimmy the Saint. I’m not saying that heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied, white guys don’t have advantages in life… they probably do. But that’s not the whole story… there are other things to factor in!” Jimmy The Saint looked genuinely curious: “Like what car you drive?” I opted to ignore him: “It’s not the whole picture! It’s like I might be middle class now but I’m terrible at it… I’ve got no money… I can’t dress smartly… I don’t even know what hummus is made of. I know it’s got lemon in it…” Jimmy The Saint shook his head: “All sounds like First World problems to me, innit… And you’d better have some fucking money when we get to Sainsbury’s.” I carried on: “I went to a school where the pass rate was one GCSE per two and a half students. I got beaten nearly blind when I was 14. I HAD AN UNCONVENTIONAL UPBRINGING! I’m an alcoholic who got thrown out of Hull University…” Jimmy The Saint just shrugged and said: “We’re here.” I got the £200 out of the machine and jogged back to the car, we set off back toward the vicinity of my flat. I carried on: “I don’t feel like I’ve got any privilege. Why could I never get any writing work outside of heavy metal magazines? I had to start my own magazine just so I’d be able to write. Other than that, I had to write for free – no one would pay me. I’m fucking flat broke and I can’t get any work. Everyone gives me these awards but I’m desperate for work! I mean, I’m better than half the people writing about music for some papers and better than all the music writers on others. So why can’t I even get a fucking down-page Skrillex review into a national newspaper? Is it because I’m not jolly fucking hockey sticks like the rest of those cunts?” Jimmy The Saint thought for a bit and then said: “Nah. It’s because you only listen to that shit music that everyone hates. And you’ve got no social skills, innit. And you look like you live in the woods.” I was about to say something but he butted in: “You told me you said to the man at the Guardian that he wouldn’t recognise a good album if it was fired out of a bazooka into his fat head.” I gritted my teeth: “That was a long time ago, I was very depressed and I had been drinking very heavily… these papers and magazines are staffed to the rafters with Oxbridge cunts… and they’re probably just as rude as I am.” Jimmy The Saint – who delivered all over London to Fleet Street and lifestyle magazines – carried on: “And you told me that you told the man from the Guardian Guide that he looked like Harry Potter and wrote like a 13-year-old sending a text message.” I rubbed my temples and said quietly: “He does actually look like a teenage wizard if you meet him.” Jimmy The Saint was now warming to the theme: “What was the name of the magazine where you said to the editor it should be easy for him to roll-up his magazine and jam it up his arse because the paper was so cheap and shiny. And the posh guy from the Observer… didn’t you call his music section a comic? And what about the guy from Kerrang! that you threatened to slit his throat because he changed something you wrote and you had to beg him not to call the police? And the NME… the NME… Ha ha ha!” I shouted: “THAT’S ENOUGH JIMMY THE SAINT! I CAN WALK FROM HERE!” After getting out of his car I felt weak and had to hold onto a lamppost for support while gently muttering to myself: “They forgot to factor in mental health problems and other environmental issues. They forgot the fucking mental health…” After a while the throbbing in my head subsided enough for me to shuffle home slowly fingering the six wraps in my pocket.

Previously: They Rode Over Peasants Like You

You can read all the previous editions of John's Menk column here.