Is there anything which holds a mirror to modern society more than the gleeful cackling which accompanies any sort of public meltdown from any sort of celebrity, however minor?
Sandi Thom just posted a tearful, angry rant about Radio 2 not playlisting her new song, and the internet is having a bit of a field day. And for the first time in my life I find myself rather siding with Sandi Thom, actually – words I never thought I would utter.
Now, a bit like bands who post embarrassingly ranty ripostes to bad reviews and then are widely derided for their deluded sense of entitlement, I am not entirely sure I have all that much sympathy with people who put this sort of thing in the public realm. And of course the hundreds and thousands of bands who have only achieved half of what Sandi Thom has will be singularly unimpressed – you put something out there for the public to approve of or otherwise, and you have to face their verdict, that’s just the bargain you make.
But actually, as mockable as it was, what you saw from Sandi in her much-derided ‘Radio 2 didn’t playlist my brilliant song, the bastards’ meltdown is happening inside the little black, bitter, battered souls of every single one of your favourite musicians pretty much all the time.
A friend of mine called Euan Davidson wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian recently about mental illness and how much it impedes creative work, contrary to the popular stereotype of the tortured genius. Alanna McArdle, formerly of Joanna Gruesome, who Euan interviewed extensively for that article, was the subject of another article in the Guardian about the ruinous impact of touring on the wellbeing of people suffering from mental illness.
But one of the things that hasn’t come up too much is the absolute fucking emotional onslaught of actually releasing music at all – of just making any kind of music for public consumption – which must be one of the absolute hardest possible positions for a person with existing difficulties to be in.
I say this as someone lucky enough to have no such problems. In fact, I think I have a stronger sense of emotional equilibrium than almost anyone I have ever met, to the point that I worry from time to time that I might be a bit of a sociopath.
And I tell you what, even for someone like me, with a great upbringing, a happy family, a strong sense of myself, a loving wife and plenty of emotional reserves, this industry is fucking tough.
I am going to repeat that: seriously, it is really, really fucking tough.
And Sandi’s post shows pretty much why: death by the endless cuts of widespread public indifference.
She’s had a few slaggings in the past, based around allegations that her organic, internet-fuelled rise was not in fact innocent, but a well-executed campaign orchestrated by her management or label.
A public slagging, for whatever reason, is pretty tough to take, but much more common and still horrendously hurtful is the fact that most people just don’t give a fuck about something you’ve put your heart and soul into.
We aren’t famous enough to get a slagging from anyone, really, but we still have to face the indifference. Every time you excitedly put a song on the internet and pretty much no-one seems to notice, every time you book a gig you’re thrilled about and hardly anyone comes, every time you send out PR emails and wait forever for responses which aren’t coming, every time you scan the BBC playlists only to realise that basically no-one has played your latest release.
I get so wound up about this that whenever I sit down at my desk to do PR I am pre-emptively angry about the responses I already reckon aren’t coming. I get pissed off about people who listen to broadly the same music as we release basically just ignoring my emails or throwing the CD onto some infinite pile they are never going to actually dig through. It drives me insane, and I get intensely, spitefully angry before it’s even happened.
And I’m not even in a fucking band.
Imagine what it’s like standing up there on stage playing to hardly anyone, particularly in a venue you might have filled in the past. Imagine releasing your new creation, one you’ve slaved away on for months, maybe even years, and the world just collectively shrugs. And if you can’t imagine that, then imagine if you told your friends about it excitedly and they just went ‘oh right, sure’ and carried on with whatever they were doing as if you hadn’t said a word.
They can’t even be bothered insulting you, that’s how fucking worthless all that effort is.
And it’s constant, too. Bandmates not bothering to turn up for practice, labels not answering your emails promptly (one of which I am guilty), promoters not getting back to you, people not coming to the few gigs you do manage to book, no-one liking or sharing your song on social media, gazing forlornly at a dismally low play count on Soundcloud or YouTube… being a musician is just a constant, bruising assault on your sense of self-worth and I am fucking amazed anyone has the courage to stick to it.
Some people are hobbyists, I suppose, and don’t invest as much in it emotionally, and I suppose that might insulate them quite a bit. Maybe.
And some people just can’t really do anything else. A lot of artists are compelled to create. The myth of the tortured artist comes not, I think, from the fact that mental illness or emotional turmoil makes art better, but from the fact that a lot of people struggle to express complex emotions and are often driven to art as their best hope of getting something across about how they are feeling. And sometimes just the simple act of creation itself is enough.
So imagine being in that open or vulnerable state and finally putting something out and then no-one fucking cares. I am honestly amazed there aren’t more breakdowns. Or maybe we just don’t see them.
Now this sounds bleak as fuck doesn’t it, and there are a million tiny triumphs involved in this business too, and that’s what makes it worth doing. Every last bit of praise, exceptional mention on the radio from a presenter you respect, every busy gig surrounded by people who love the music, even just the strength of the friendships you forge from facing this together with your allies – loads of things make it not just worth it, but euphorically, joyously brilliant.
But that dark side is always there. The grim spectre of indifference, that little voice that stands on a musician’s shoulder nagging them that they might be fucking shit after all and should just give this all up and get a job in Asda.
I am one step removed from all this of course, as it’s not actually my own music the press and general public consistently show what I feel to be too little interest in, but all the tiny instances of disinterest still cut.
And when I see somebody, even somebody like Sandi Thom with whom I really have very little in common, crack like she did I have to confess my first thought is just ‘christ, love, I’m really fucking sorry and I think I kinda know how you feel’.
Despite the fact that I would kill for Radio 2 playlisting to be amongst the problems I have to tackle on a daily basis.