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Menk, by John Doran

I Betrayed You. You Trusted Me and I Betrayed You

My private and public wars with Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie.

by John Doran
30 November 2011, 1:05pm

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 likes to move it move it. He likes to. Move it.

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 16: I BETRAYED YOU. YOU TRUSTED ME AND I BETRAYED YOU

It’s Wednesday night and I’m at an awards ceremony. I used to hate the idea of these things until I actually won an award but I have a more nuanced appreciation of them now. I’m actually genuinely pleased that my website has won an award for Digital Publication of the Year. Even if I don’t deserve it, my co-editor Luke Turner does, for keeping the entire thing running smoothly while I took an insane amount of paternity leave. Maybe I’m a simpleton but it also fills my ventricles full of joy to see a handful of friends getting gongs for their valiant efforts to maintain standards in a rapidly shrinking industry with an uncertain future. We are given an embossed dinner plate that looks like it’s one of those blue plaques commemorating where famous people used to live in London. The second I find my drill, it’s getting hung up in the office next to my framed Fall Dragnet poster. It’s like my late friend Swells said to me eight years ago: “We get paid fuck all. The least you can do is give us the kudos.” It’s great meeting up with a load of folk who I’d never normally see what with dividing my time in equal parts between writing, editing, looking after Little John and lying in bed worrying about stuff.

It is blowing a gale and freezing outside. I know it is freezing outside because legendary music hack Nick Kent is wearing a vest. I know it is blowing a gale outside as the wind has ripped open legendary music hack Nick Kent’s shirt, revealing that he is wearing a vest. To be fair to him, he is also wearing a voluminous knitted snood, but that’s not going to stop him from getting a chill in his chest. But he does look like NYPD Officer John McClane’s dad wearing Bob Marley’s giant sleng teng. Or the Emperor Palpatine. In a vest. He stands insolently with Bobby Gillespie at the back of the room, looking mean, chewing gum and glaring at people. He probably has a flick knife style comb in the pocket of his jeans. Gillespie actually looks dead smart in well-fitting black togs, but he ruins the cut of his suit by slouching with limbs twisted into uncomfortable positions, like a posable emo doll that has been run over by a steam roller. “Why can’t they stand up straight?” I hiss at Luke – nerves jangling because of a litre of espresso and five pints of coke.

The venue used to be the basement bar of a hipster crusty place called The Foundry. Full of Spaniards with dreadlocks, belly dancing crackheads with fixed gear bikes, one time O.G. Shoreditch twats who had devolved into the real thing: unironic Back To The Planet fans on heroin. The bar and basement were decorated with doll parts and broken TVs. It was a fucking disgrace with bells on. The place looks a lot smarter now but there’s nowhere to hide. Kent and Gillespie fire up a joint. “For fuck’s sake!” I rage, and go and stand next to Martin Fry from ABC instead. If I had a gun put to my head I’d have to say that I rated The Lexicon Of Love by ABC above XTRMNTR by Primal Scream but they’re both personal all-time top 40 albums for me and there’s not that much between them. The thing is, trapped in a cellar like this, Fry is the kind of man you want in your corner. Looks good in a suit, seems unflappable, wouldn’t try any funny stuff, even if his number was up. One look at Gillespie and you can be sure that if he was cornered, he’d fly at you like a crushed black velvet rockabilly attack monkey.

Besides, me and Bobby G have history. I ran into him in the toilets at a Jesus And Mary Chain gig once and made the mistake of asking the innocuous question, "Hey Bobby, why aren’t you playing drums?" He snapped at me, "Why aren’t you playing drums?" For a second I could visualise myself in my mind’s eye, much bigger than I actually am, running through the venue roaring and smashing people out of the way before leaping onstage, knocking the JAMC sticksman out and then playing the drums like a 60ft-tall, cyborg Ginger Baker as the entire venue fell down around me. “Well… I’m just going to go in this cubicle and do a line. And then WATCH ME GET ON STAGE AND PLAY THE DRUMS!” But it was even lamer said out loud than it looks written down.

In the cubicle my hands were shaking so much I could barely get my drugs out – that fucking pointy-toed psych rock leprechaun had got one up on me. Outside the door, I could hear Gillespie’s mate goading him: “Go on Bob. Go on…” And then the singer yelled: “Hey you – are you in The Magic Numbers? Because you’re big enough and ugly enough. YE FAT BEARDED CUNT.” A crossbow bolt fired straight into my Achilles’ heel. Straight into one of my legion of Achilles’ heels. A successful assault using the full frontal Romeo attack, one of the most fearsome available. (I once wrote an impassioned 3,000-word blog about my favourite extreme metal albums for NME, which garnered the excoriating response: “That’s just a load of words. Here’s three more: Justin Lee Collins.”) The utter calumny of it. I yelled: “What the fuck?” and wrenched the door open just in time to see them running out of the toilets giggling like characters from a shoegaze episode of The Bash Street Kids. Nothing hurts like being belittled by a man wearing jeans, winkle pickers and a waistcoat.

Not long after that when I was living near him in North London, the karmic balance was restored somewhat. He was cycling along the pavement on a pushbike that had been constructed to make it look like one of the chopped hogs from Easy Rider. Over the road he caught a glimpse of the Sonic Boom T-shirt I was wearing and while momentarily checking it out, cycled lazily into a lamppost and fell off into the road. A bus had to stop to avoid running him over. I started walking down the road in the manner of John Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever and I had to physically restrain myself from pretending both of my hands were guns and blowing smoke out of their imaginary barrels.

While Bobby Gillespie is preparing to take the stage at the awards ceremony, chemicals leak violently into the unorthodox idea part of my brain. Time seems to slow to a crawl as I feel the weight of the blue plate in my hand. I grip it like a discus and start to imagine the swing of my arm and the graceful arc of the award as it slices through the air like a speeding porcelain Kingfisher of death, straight towards his head. I try to think of him rapping on "Blood Money", him dancing to "Country Girl", the word “syphilis” and his duet with Kate Moss, but within a fraction of a second all I can hear is "If They Move Kill Them", "I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have" (Andrew Weatherall's white label mix), "Shoot Speed Kill Light", "Kowalski", The Orb’s remix of "Higher Than The Sun"… Gillespie! You fucking pointy-toed psych rock bastard! You’ve won again!

I leave immediately for home. What kind of prick would really rain plates down on Nick and Bobby’s parade? Not me. They’ve earned the right to dress and stand however they like; I unfortunately haven’t and never will. Nick Kent was writing incisively about rock music when it was arguably at the height of its impact and importance, when most of the field was still wide open. When everything was still left to be said. When I was still in short trousers. Bobby Gillespie – try as he might – can do nothing to strip the shining lamina off the brilliant stuff he’s achieved. I became a music journalist in 2003, just in time to witness the liquid age of innovation slowly solidify into the age of refinement. Through dubstep into stasis.

On my way home in a black cab, window open so rain spits occasionally onto my face, I feel the linen of my suit in between my finger and thumb as we drive past Christchurch Spitalfield and the Geffrye Museum. I start working out in my head how long it will take me to slowly phase out all of my heavy metal tops and slowly introduce shirts, perhaps even get another suit or two fitted. I’ve got to start dressing for the job. Look like a refined man in the age of refinement. Look like I mean business. Even if the entire industry only lasts for another four or five years. At least then I’ll look good when the ship goes down. Not like a frightened middle-aged man wearing a High On Fire T-shirt.

Previously: Menk - With Every Mistake We Must Surely Be Learning

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