This London-based rock critic and foreign correspondent appears at two Melbourne Writers Festival events
Andrew, you're discusssing being a rock critic at What Difference Does it Make on August 30. Was music journalism initially escapism from Wagga Wagga?
I had escaped – though that isn’t the right word – from Wagga Wagga well before I applied a first tentative fingertip to typewriter key. Yes, it was that long ago. But escape was definitely part of the appeal – although, given that I was leading an entirely pleasant teenage life in the altogether agreeable city of Sydney, I’m not sure quite what it was I thought I wanted to get away from.
My earliest pieces were thoroughly hapless reviews of bands I saw playing at the Mosman Hotel, which was a short walk from where I lived at the time. These were printed by Sydney free sheet On the Street, for whose encouragement I remain profoundly – if uncomprehendingly – grateful.
On the subject of your forthcoming book It’s Too Late to Die Young Now, should there be an age limit for music journalists?
It depends on the bands, and it depends what you’re writing. There’s no place for me that I can discern in the back of a van with a bunch of twentysomething hairies singing about the girl who didn’t fancy them in chemistry class: I’m not interested in what they do or what they think, and it’d be frankly unseemly if I did.
But age and experience can be useful to the rock writer in the way that age and experience can be useful in most areas of life. You have – hopefully – learnt more, and thought more, and therefore got better at your job.
Journalism is an unusual trade, though, in that it doesn’t really have a structure of ranks up which you ascend with the passing years. Even when you’ve been doing it for a quarter of a century, you’re pretty much equal in status with someone who has been doing it for a quarter of an hour. And that is – or can be – a good thing. Every media outlet – especially those dealing in music – need their excitable, wide-eyed, naive enthusiasts as much as they need their been-there-seen-it-done-it jaded hacks.
So, short answer: yes, and no.
What will you be advising Australian music writers in the audience?
Same thing I advise music writers of any nationality, on the inexplicably infrequent occasions that they solicit my counsel. Which is, as far as it proves possible, to actually write, rather than merely participate in the PR campaign of whichever music you’re covering. You don’t – or shouldn’t – listen to music in a detached, objective, this-is-probably-quite-good-if-you-like-that-kind-of-thing manner. So you don’t – or shouldn’t – write about it like that, either.
The tricky bit is persuading more editors of this wisdom. If anyone has any ideas on this front, please let me know.
What do you secretly dream of being asked by an audience member at an event like this, but never are?
“Mr Mueller. Shortly after I was crowned Miss Venezuela, my father the billionaire brewing magnate died, leaving me everything he owned on condition that I marry a dishevelled, middle-aged Australian journalist whose first name begins with A. Are you doing anything afterwards?”
What’s one thing you hope to see or do while you’re in Melbourne?
As always, watch Geelong diffidently thrash overawed and inadequate opposition en route to another premiership.
What are you reading at the moment?
A bunch of stuff, as usual. Although in an almost laughably cartoonish illustration of my general preoccupations, the current bunch of stuff includes: Drift, Rachel Maddow’s amusing history of the US military-political complex; Jesse James, TJ Stiles’ terrific history of the life and times of the titular gunslinger; Iron Curtain, Anne Applebaum’s fine study of the post-war imprisoning of Eastern Europe; Dixie Lullaby, Mark Kemp’s lovely celebration of southern rock’n’roll.
Andrew is also a speaker at The Art of Travel Writing on August 31.