Simon Sweetman on the death of a critic (himself)
I wasn’t there for the start of music journalism in New Zealand – but I was there for the death of it. Some would say I was part of the reason. But you should never read the comments. All I know is I was sent to review Robbie Williams at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, almost five years ago to the day. Robbie played a Labour Weekend gig and it was horrible.
It was my job to report on the show for Wellington’s newspaper. I called him out. I wrote that he couldn’t sing and barely tried. And Robbie replied by calling me fat in a tweet that he sent to his nearly three million followers. The tweet also contained a picture of me with my then five month old son. In the concert, Robbie had told his fans that he took a camera off a person and smashed it because they were considering taking a snap of his kids. This never obviously happened. But the audience cheered. A day later that same audience so keen to protect the rights of children retweeted the picture of me apparently about to eat my own child: “Simon Sweatman: Baby Eater”. That was Robbie’s best creative writing.
In Auckland, a few days later, he called my name from the stage, said I could kiss his arse. His audience cheered. Dominic Harvey chased me for an interview. Apparently he’d always been a fan and had meant to have me on the show. But now, in the wake of this, he suddenly had time.
I was contributing a lot to the Stuff site at the time but the people at Fairfax never once checked on my welfare nor asked how my wife was feeling about a picture of our son doing the rounds. Even the sympathetic articles that condemned Robbie’s petty behaviour were accompanied by the Baby Eater picture.
The entertainment editor at Stuff called me up to tell me they’d not need to use me to review stadium gigs any longer. Apparently I was always mean. I pointed out that this was the only review of a stadium show that I’d written that hadn’t been positive. He disagreed. I offered to attach the rave reviews of The Rolling Stones and The Police and anything else. He said no. He said I couldn’t review AC/DC as they were worried I would be negative. That shouldn’t have mattered at all. Firstly if a reviewer doesn’t like a show they say so. And they say why. And when music journalism started, papers were grateful to have opinion writers. Sometimes their opinion writers even held strong opinions. Secondly, the last time I’d seen AC/DC at Wellington’s stadium it had been a rave review and several Australian media outlets had interviewed me since it was the first Southern Hemisphere show by AC/DC in years.
The editor did, however, want me to write about my side of the Robbie Williams controversy. I said I didn’t want to. I eventually wrote about it a year later for another site – and was promptly fired, by email. I’d contributed interviews, reviews of books, albums and records, features and a daily music blog to the Dominion-Post paper and Stuff for over 15 years but no one wanted to pick up the phone.
That was the death of music journalism. For me.
Last week The Cuba Press launched my debut collection of poetry. It’s called The Death of Music Journalism. Pip Adam, for my money the best novelist in the country, launched the book. She said, “One of the great joys of the second half of the book is the gossipy and brilliant poem ‘Let me entertain you’, which might be the greatest revenge poem ever written by a New Zealander. I am really looking forward to the Amanda Palmer one which no doubt is in development.”
Amanda Palmer, now seemingly a New Zealand resident, plays in Wellington this weekend. I’m off to see the gig. The last time I saw her play she shared my review with angered fans, and also shared a video of me playing pots and pans at an improv/noise gig. It will be interesting to see if Amanda has improved. I haven’t. Many people told me the pots and pans weren’t even in tune.
The Death of Music Journalism by Simon Sweetman (Cuba Press, $25) is available in bookstores nationwide or directly from the publisher.