T:The world of rock is a dangerous place to be in, with veteran musicians either damaged by the lifestyle or disappearing more and more every year. That’s the opinion of some of the famous British artists who are responding to the rant from a right-wing Twitter rock radical.
Drummer Mick Harris, an original member of Napalm Death, launched an angry attack on “dole scroungers” and “benefit cheats” last week in a short video full of foul language. This led to a lively online debate among ’90s rockers about the best way for aging musicians to handle their senior years.
Portishead founding member Geoff Barrow and Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson have warned that the industry can be a destructive environment to work in for any length of time. Barrow said [got to] realize when you’ve had a good run and slide out the fire exit.”
Although rock rarely has direct ties to party politics, many independent artists see a strong connection between their music and liberal, if not socialist, views.
Williamson, who has collaborated with Harris in the past, is shocked by Harris’s view, saying: “The biggest killer of the music industry is not corporate or Spotify or compliance or anything. The biggest killer is not facing your own personal problems. It destroys everything you gave it in the beginning until it is left in a lonely room with nothing.”
Harris, 55, was the originator of the grindcore sound in the 1980s with Napalm Death, who were initially known for their ring-length songs and left-wing politics. The drummer left the band in 1991 and went on to work with Bill Lasswell and release electronic and experimental music as Scorn and later Lull.
This isn’t the first time Williamson, 52, has clashed with Harris on social media. In May, Williamson claimed that problems between them began when he refused to work with Harris for a second time, and then mocked his political transformation, comparing the bald and bearded man to Alf Garnett.
Barrow, 51, was thrown into the fray when he saw Williamson’s tweets and the thread of opinionated conversations that developed beneath them involving several established talents.
“I think anyone who’s still in their 50s doing anything related to music… they’re really crazy. And I know tons about them,” he wrote.
“I don’t mean crazy in a good or bad way, I mean it’s hard to stay independent and survive as a musician for so many years without having a normal nine-to-five.”
Artists “who have been in the business for a long time can kind of create their own universe, and they flounder when they’re not challenged,” he added. “A particularly successful artist[s]. I know a few who properly have some strange ideas, but are not challenged by the people around them because they are popular.”
The cliché of the aging rock star with reactionary views is older than the surviving members of the Rolling Stones, but it’s still unclear what direction the once energetic and engaged musicians should take in their later years, rich or poor.
Should they follow Neil Young’s view that “it’s better to burn out” or John Lennon’s advice to “walk away like an old soldier?”
Lennon once criticized Young’s lyricism Rust never sleeps in an interview a few months before his death, in which he envisioned “another 40 years of productivity.”
The problem is that there are many more opportunities for disappointment for those who live. From Morrissey’s support of a far-right political party and Kanye West’s anti-Semitism to Ian Brown’s skepticism about Covid vaccinations, many fans have struggled to reconcile their love of the music with their distaste for the star behind the voice.
Today’s rock stars also have a harder time “paying off.” A ’60s songwriter could retire comfortably on royalties from a few hits. But now, even established performers have to keep up additional jobs. Harris himself works as a music technician, and Barrow writes musical scores for films and TV series.