Go out in flames or fade away? Rightwing Twitter rant rekindles dilemma for ageing rockers – The Guardian

Former Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris has sparked debate among musicians about how to tackle senior years
The world of rock is a dangerous place to stay, with veteran musicians either damaged by the lifestyle or growing more out of touch with every passing year. This is the view of some of Britain’s well-known performers, responding to a rightwing Twitter rant from a one-time rock radical.
The drummer Mick Harris, an original member of Napalm Death, launched an angry attack last week on “dole scroungers” and “benefit cheats” in a short video, full of crude language. This led to a lively online debate among 90s rockers about the best way for ageing musicians to tackle their senior years.
Geoff Barrow, founder member of Portishead, and Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson warned that the industry can be a destructive environment to work in for any length of time. Barrow said: “I think you’ve [got to] realise when you’ve had a good run and slide out the fire exit.”
While rock rarely has direct links with party politics, many independent artists see a strong connection between their music and a liberal, if not socialist, outlook.
Williamson, who has collaborated with Harris in the past, expressed shock at Harris’ views, saying: “The biggest killer in the music industry is not the corporates or Spotify, or conformity, or whatever. The biggest killer is not facing your own personal issues. It destroys all you initially gave, until all that’s left is you in a room on your own with nothing.”
Harris, 55, was in at the birth of the “grindcore” sound in the 1980s with Napalm Death, originally famous for its ringtone-length songs and its left-leaning politics. The drummer left the band in 1991 and went on to work with Bill Laswell and release electronic and experimental music as Scorn, and then Lull.
This is not the first time Williamson, 52, has had a run-in with Harris on the social media site. In May, Williamson claimed the problems between them began when he refused to work with Harris a second time – and then poked fun at his political transformation by comparing the bald and bearded man to Alf Garnett.
Barrow, 51, was drawn into the row when he saw Williamson’s Twitter posts and the opinionated conversation thread that developed below them, involving several established talents.
“I think anyone still doing any music related work in their 50s … are genuinely insane. And I know tons of them,” he wrote.
“I don’t mean insane in a good or bad way, I mean it’s a tough ride to stay independent and survive as a musician for so many years without taking on a normal nine to five.”
Artists “who’ve been in the business that long can kind of create their own universes and they become twisted when not challenged,” he added. “Especially successful artist[s]. I know a few who properly have some strange ideas but go unchallenged by the people around them because they are famous.”
The cliche of the ageing rock star with reactionary views is older even than the surviving members of the Rolling Stones, but it is still unclear what direction formerly energetic and engaged musicians should take in their later years, whether they are rich or poor.
Should they follow Neil Young’s view that it is “better to burn out”, or John Lennon’s advice to “fade away like an old soldier”?
Lennon once railed against Young’s lyric from Rust Never Sleeps during an interview a few months before his death in which he imagined “another 40 years of productivity”.
The problem is that for those who live on, there are so many more opportunities to disappoint. From Morrissey’s support of a far-right political party and Kanye West’s antisemitism, to Ian Brown’s Covid vaccination scepticism, plenty of fans have struggled to reconcile their love of music with a distaste for a star behind the sound.
Today’s rock stars also find it harder to “fade away”. A 60s songwriter might have retired comfortably on the royalties from a few hits. But now even established performers need to keep up extra jobs. Harris himself works as a music technician, while Barrow writes scores for movies and TV series.


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