Steven ‘Seething’ Wells in the Guardian 8 January 2008
Get in the Ring: Axl Rose challenged specific journalists to a fight.
I look up. There on the tube station platform is a fat bloke. I smile and wave. He points to the U2 album he’s holding.
“Wanker!” he shouts, shaking his pudgy fist.
Writing anything even vaguely critical about certain bands is like firing a rocket launcher into a rainforest canopy packed with psychotic howler monkeys. Today’s snarky album review might be tomorrow’s hamster cage lining for most readers, but for a deranged minority of artists and fans, every bad review is cut out with blunt scissors, underlined in green ink and pasted into a chicken feather-festooned voodoo curse shrine.
I have been threatened both in print and in person by Henry Rollins and was savagely pushed in the back at a gig by a furious Sci-Fi Steve out of Bis. Or it might have been Disco John – he ran too fast for me to tell. Whatever, I thought my street fighting days were over. I was wrong.
Just before Christmas I received an email from a distraught Morrissey fan called Morrissey the 23rd. He challenged me to a fight over articles I’d written. I asked him to send me a picture. He called me a pervert and then said he didn’t really want a fight because he was dead weedy and rubbish at fighting.
Thus reassured I made plans to book a gym in 23rd’s native Scotland where, a year hence (to give us both time to train and get fit) we can have a go at each other in three rounds of tediously inept but properly refereed celeb/non-entity boxing – in the manner pioneered by Ricky Gervais and Grant Bovey.
In the 18th century, gentlemen regularly shot and stabbed one another in formal duels. In modern times artists and fans have tended to resort to the somewhat less honourable method of sneaking up on journalists and hitting them.
Kudos must be given, therefore, to the man described as “the world’s worst film director”, Uwe Boll, who in 2006 invited a bunch of his most savage online critics to a public boxing match where, much to their horrified surprise, he proceeded to thrash the living daylights out of them.
More typical, however, is the somewhat less classy direct approach – like that adopted by Kevin Rowland who waited outside the offices of Melody Maker to thump writer Barry McIlheney in the face.
The most beaten-up hack ever must surely be the “great palsied mantis” of rock journalism, Nick Kent – a man who looks so much like Keith Richards that he makes Keith Richards look like the Queen Mum.
In 1977 Kent was chain-whipped by then Sex Pistols fan Sid Vicious and had a knife waved in his face by Jah Wobble. And that was just for starters.
“After the aforementioned knife-chain Sid incident,” writes Kent in his book The Dark Stuff, “I became an ongoing victim of mindless punk brutality. I was stabbed repeatedly in an open field close to King’s Cross by four youths clearly overwhelmed by the liberating force of punk rock and their ardent desire to ape anything Sid did. Another time I was attacked in the toilets of the fabled Roxy by a guy with a knife. I can distinctly remember staggering out of that privy with a great gash in my coat sleeve wondering to myself: Did Greil Marcus find himself in such life-or-death situations when out reviewing Randy Newman?”
Punk was also the heyday of artiste-on-critic aggro. Paul Weller regularly asked journalists for satisfaction (but allegedly failed to turn up to a boxing match against Stuart Baillie in Belfast). The NME’s Gavin Martin was challenged twice by Siouxie Sioux – once in print – “when my boot meets Gavin Martin’s face” – and once in person. “Being a gentleman I was unable to accept,” says Martin, who was also threatened by JJ Burnell of the Stranglers, “because my brain stunk”.
The Stranglers are probably the most hack-bashing band in rock history. They threatened and attacked several young journalists in the late 1970s (acts of pure cowardice given Burnell’s black belt in karate) and gaffa-taped the trouserless French journalist Philippe Manoeuvre to the Eiffel Tower.
Rap has also seen its share of journalist beatings. Journalist Cheo H Coker was punched in the face by a member of Wu Tang Clan who objected to a cartoon that ran near one of Coker’s articles. A fortnight later Masta Killa phoned up to apologise, having presumably worked out in the meantime that they’d chinned the wrong man.
Perhaps the most threatened music journalist of all time is former NME writer Johnny Cigarettes. Lily Alan’s dad threatened to “break his legs” for calling him “a Rada yob”. A member of the band Fretblanket had to be physically restrained when Cigarettes walked in the room. And at the Man Utd vs Bayern Munich European Cup final of 1999, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft responded with similarly uncontrolled vituperation.
“I’d written a review of a Verve gig along the lines of: ‘If Richard Ashcroft walked into your local pub, you’d feel duty-bound to take a bottle to his peachy features’ ” remembers Cigarettes. “Seven years later, at the final, I spotted his then press officer, who is a friend of mine, and I said hello. He was standing next to Ashcroft who clearly had no idea who I was. A little later I heard – ‘Cigarettes!’ and I turned round to see Ashcroft attempting to scale the outer fence shouting, “I’ll fucking bottle you, you bastard!”
The very tall Cigarettes has also been threatened by Liam Gallagher – “I’ll stand on a chair and bottle him, right in his kipper!” and the band Bush who, after Cigs reviewed their album Razorblade Suitcase with the line “shit suitcase”, planned to send him a spring-loaded suitcase full of the aforementioned faecal matter.
Perhaps the strangest artist vs hack attack came at a gig in Newport when “the one who looked like Thelma off the Liver Birds” from Huggy Bear gave a black eye to Carlton B Morgan, writer of the NME cartoon strip Great Pop Things.
Morgan and cartoonist Jon Langford had been unsettling the Hugs by shouting “Less structure in the music” and “You’re better than Sting”.
“Then they started ranting about men in the audience wanking on to female audience members’ backs,” says Langford, “and tried to get all the women to stand down the front while all the blokes had to go to the back. Carlton shouted “I am a transvestite, where do I stand?” then his bass player Miss Sass shouted “Show us your tits” and it all went bonkers. I think the surreal heckling really got to them.”
Some artists have restricted their hack bashing to their lyrics. Boy George wrote “You’re so Wilde” about our own Jon Wilde. The Stereophonics bitched about the press in Mr Writer (“I’d like to shoot you all”; and Nick Cave wrote the graphic and somewhat nauseating track Scum about NME writers Mat Snow and Antonella Black. (Cave also physically assaulted NME’s Jack Barron when asked one too many questions about drug abuse.)
And in the album track Get In the Ring, Guns N’ Roses achieved a unique treble with a lyric that a) moaned about the press, b) named specific writers and publications and c) challenged them to a fight. “And that goes for all you punks in the press / That want to start shit by printin’ lies instead of the things we said / That means you, Andy Secher at Hit Parader / Circus Magazine / Mick Wall at Kerrang! / Bob Guccione Jr at Spin / What you pissed off cuz your dad gets more pussy than you? / … / Get in the ring motherfucker / And I’ll kick your bitchy little ass / Punk”.
Alas when karate expert Bob Guccione Jr agreed to actually meet Axl Rose in the ring, the rocker was not forthcoming and no fisticuffs actually occurred.
I have no such reservations. I will fight any musician or fan, so long as they are more cowardly, smaller and less physically competent than I am. And I can get an article out of it.
For I am music journalism – hear me roar.