Christopher Owens  🔖 It’s quite chilling to report that, whenever I began to formulate this review, noted American melodic death metal act The Black Dahlia Murder announced that frontman Trevor Strnad had died at the age of 41. 



Although no cause of death was listed, a number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ended the post, leaving us in little doubt as to what had happened.

While stories about suicide, drug overdoses and nasty behaviour are ten a penny in the music world, the last twenty odd years have seen the revenue dry up for bands/artists, meaning that they must stay on the road 200 odd days of the year to survive financially. As a result, tales like the ones listed above take on a more gruelling, sordid connotation. After all, you can maybe put up with 200 odd days if you knew you were guaranteed a bucketload of money. But when it’s to make £10,000, the façade of fun quickly evaporates.

And there are fewer people better placed to see that than Ian Winwood.

A journalist most noted for his times in Kerrang (where he once asked the then Arch Enemy singer Angela Gossow if she’d had plastic surgery), NME (where readers started a Get Rid of Winwood campaign after a less than favourable Idlewild interview) among others, Winwood was in a prime position as a journalist to see the peak of the CD era (with all of the excess) before watching it slowly reduce to what it is now. He also appears to have had quite a good stab at drinking Camden dry and trying every drug under the sun. Hunter S. Thompson would be proud!

But, as everyone knows, the greater the party the greater the comedown.

Part memoir, part examination of the industry and part self-help guide, Bodies is (alongside the recently published Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars) an attempt to diagnose why a seeming endless array of musicians, at best, struggle with mental health issues and, at worst, why they take their own lives.

In many ways, it’s a perfect storm: creative types are normally prone to feeling like they don’t “fit in” in some shape or form, and so create in order to fill (or get over) that gap. When a record company comes along and offers a contract (these days normally a 360 deal where the label has a stake in and a slice of the income from all possible sources such as recording, song publishing, merchandising and gig performance fee), the chance to make a living from music as well as having people listen to what you have to say, is all too enticing.

Unfortunately, the reality is often very different. With royalties normally being zero (unless your album hits it big), tour costs eating up potential profits (such as venues taking a percentage of merch profits), endless amounts of free booze and having to live in a cramped bus for most of the year, is it any wonder musicians suffer with their mental health?

To illustrate this, consider the following excerpt from the book:

On a mission to furnish her life with useless information, I trace a line along the side of the bus where the corridor of coffin-like bunks separate the two communal areas at the front and rear of the top deck. I describe the plasma-screen television, Formica table and cul-de-sac settee in the always popular back lounge. Down a ninety-degree staircase stands a surprisingly spacious kitchen area; adjacent to a second exit, and at its rear you’ll find a lone toilet … Looking at the one-way windows … my fiancée says, ‘I think I’d go mad if I lived on that thing.’ 

Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.

Winwood draws upon his career interviewing the likes of Biffy Clyro, Frank Turner and Creeper while discussing the insidious machinations of the industry, how it (at best) downplays questionable behaviour and (at worst) enables such behaviour by creating circumstances that can lead to self-destruction.

The segment involving Lostprophets is utterly chilling and quite an eye-opener. Once a big selling band in Europe and America, singer Ian Watkins was convicted for possessing child pornography and the sexual assault of children (including a one-year-old) in 2013, bringing the band’s career to an end. While the other members (and Winwood) maintain that they had no idea of what Watkins was up to, Lostprophets find themselves in a similar situation to Gary Glitter’s Glitter Band: their music is never played on the radio, suggested by streaming services or written about on its own merit.

In this section, Winwood paints Watkins as a charismatic chameleon type who can make people believe what they want. Throw in fame, drugs, ego and a disintegrating band and it becomes a car crash in slow motion. What is illuminating is hearing the bandmembers speak, not just from the perspective of someone who will never make a penny off their old band’s music, but also someone who survived the rigmarole of the industry before having the carpet pulled from under them. There is shock at Watkins’ crimes, anger that what they had worked towards is now gone, resentment at how it played out and a struggle to come to terms with all of this.

By contrast, Biffy Clyro (3 UK Number One albums, covered by an X-Factor winner) managed to survive desperate circumstances at a professional cost. Frontman Simon Neil suffered an alcoholic breakdown due to family issues and pressure from the record company to succeed in America. In order to get better, the band were forced to cancel the American tour which they now speculate cost them dearly in the eyes of the record company. Even though the health and wellbeing of their singer was at risk.

As well as this, Winwood examines the effects drugs and alcohol have had on him, as well as the trauma of his father’s accidental death, which culminates in a half-hearted suicide attempt. Some of the tales are hilarious, but the descent into addiction is all too real and, once again, enabled by a culture where reviewing gigs mean a few pints beforehand and interviewing bands might mean getting a line of speed afterwards. When this happens four times a week, you can see how addictions can develop.

Sober, thoughtful and provocative reading. 

Ian Winwood, 2022, Bodies! Life and Death In Music. Faber & Faber. ISBN-13: 978-0571364183

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

Bodies

Christopher Owens  🔖 It’s quite chilling to report that, whenever I began to formulate this review, noted American melodic death metal act The Black Dahlia Murder announced that frontman Trevor Strnad had died at the age of 41. 



Although no cause of death was listed, a number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ended the post, leaving us in little doubt as to what had happened.

While stories about suicide, drug overdoses and nasty behaviour are ten a penny in the music world, the last twenty odd years have seen the revenue dry up for bands/artists, meaning that they must stay on the road 200 odd days of the year to survive financially. As a result, tales like the ones listed above take on a more gruelling, sordid connotation. After all, you can maybe put up with 200 odd days if you knew you were guaranteed a bucketload of money. But when it’s to make £10,000, the façade of fun quickly evaporates.

And there are fewer people better placed to see that than Ian Winwood.

A journalist most noted for his times in Kerrang (where he once asked the then Arch Enemy singer Angela Gossow if she’d had plastic surgery), NME (where readers started a Get Rid of Winwood campaign after a less than favourable Idlewild interview) among others, Winwood was in a prime position as a journalist to see the peak of the CD era (with all of the excess) before watching it slowly reduce to what it is now. He also appears to have had quite a good stab at drinking Camden dry and trying every drug under the sun. Hunter S. Thompson would be proud!

But, as everyone knows, the greater the party the greater the comedown.

Part memoir, part examination of the industry and part self-help guide, Bodies is (alongside the recently published Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars) an attempt to diagnose why a seeming endless array of musicians, at best, struggle with mental health issues and, at worst, why they take their own lives.

In many ways, it’s a perfect storm: creative types are normally prone to feeling like they don’t “fit in” in some shape or form, and so create in order to fill (or get over) that gap. When a record company comes along and offers a contract (these days normally a 360 deal where the label has a stake in and a slice of the income from all possible sources such as recording, song publishing, merchandising and gig performance fee), the chance to make a living from music as well as having people listen to what you have to say, is all too enticing.

Unfortunately, the reality is often very different. With royalties normally being zero (unless your album hits it big), tour costs eating up potential profits (such as venues taking a percentage of merch profits), endless amounts of free booze and having to live in a cramped bus for most of the year, is it any wonder musicians suffer with their mental health?

To illustrate this, consider the following excerpt from the book:

On a mission to furnish her life with useless information, I trace a line along the side of the bus where the corridor of coffin-like bunks separate the two communal areas at the front and rear of the top deck. I describe the plasma-screen television, Formica table and cul-de-sac settee in the always popular back lounge. Down a ninety-degree staircase stands a surprisingly spacious kitchen area; adjacent to a second exit, and at its rear you’ll find a lone toilet … Looking at the one-way windows … my fiancée says, ‘I think I’d go mad if I lived on that thing.’ 

Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.

Winwood draws upon his career interviewing the likes of Biffy Clyro, Frank Turner and Creeper while discussing the insidious machinations of the industry, how it (at best) downplays questionable behaviour and (at worst) enables such behaviour by creating circumstances that can lead to self-destruction.

The segment involving Lostprophets is utterly chilling and quite an eye-opener. Once a big selling band in Europe and America, singer Ian Watkins was convicted for possessing child pornography and the sexual assault of children (including a one-year-old) in 2013, bringing the band’s career to an end. While the other members (and Winwood) maintain that they had no idea of what Watkins was up to, Lostprophets find themselves in a similar situation to Gary Glitter’s Glitter Band: their music is never played on the radio, suggested by streaming services or written about on its own merit.

In this section, Winwood paints Watkins as a charismatic chameleon type who can make people believe what they want. Throw in fame, drugs, ego and a disintegrating band and it becomes a car crash in slow motion. What is illuminating is hearing the bandmembers speak, not just from the perspective of someone who will never make a penny off their old band’s music, but also someone who survived the rigmarole of the industry before having the carpet pulled from under them. There is shock at Watkins’ crimes, anger that what they had worked towards is now gone, resentment at how it played out and a struggle to come to terms with all of this.

By contrast, Biffy Clyro (3 UK Number One albums, covered by an X-Factor winner) managed to survive desperate circumstances at a professional cost. Frontman Simon Neil suffered an alcoholic breakdown due to family issues and pressure from the record company to succeed in America. In order to get better, the band were forced to cancel the American tour which they now speculate cost them dearly in the eyes of the record company. Even though the health and wellbeing of their singer was at risk.

As well as this, Winwood examines the effects drugs and alcohol have had on him, as well as the trauma of his father’s accidental death, which culminates in a half-hearted suicide attempt. Some of the tales are hilarious, but the descent into addiction is all too real and, once again, enabled by a culture where reviewing gigs mean a few pints beforehand and interviewing bands might mean getting a line of speed afterwards. When this happens four times a week, you can see how addictions can develop.

Sober, thoughtful and provocative reading. 

Ian Winwood, 2022, Bodies! Life and Death In Music. Faber & Faber. ISBN-13: 978-0571364183

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

4 comments:

  1. Christopher - a brilliant review. You might consider interviewing the author at some point. What a story he has to tell. A couple of years ago I discussed with my daughter while in Majorca my idea for a novel provisionally titled Chester Bennington Died Today. It is certainly a side of the industry that needs brought to the fore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AM,

      it is quite a tale. You'd enjoy it.

      We are starting to see more and more people discuss this side of the industry, due to the lockdowns.

      Delete
  2. That's my audio book for the weekend sorted. The members of Idlewild have popped up in a couple of stories I've heard in Edinburgh from time to time...

    Dean Wareham's memoirs are excellent. Stories of a critically acclaimed but commercially unremarkable band touring the world. I couldn't help noticing that my T&S allowances seem considerably more generous than some rock stars.

    John Lydon, in his bizarre Judge Judy appearance, mentioned that he would share a hotel room with other bandmates:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPqjNmf3OsE

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brandon,

      It's not a surprise. Dig Pearson (Earache Records) once wrote:

      'The harsh truth is- nearly every band that you see trekking around the metal/rock club circuit up and down the country every weekend is dirt poor- 95% are not making much money- if they were into that, they'd be playing indie or pop/RnB instead. To be honest its a rare metal band indeed which can operate on a full-time professional basis, i.e. all the members make their living exclusively from their music. It might seem weird to outsiders, but this is a business where earning a standard level wage from music is actually considered as "making it".'

      Delete