Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Ripping Yarns

Here's a piece of mine that originally appeared in The Guardian last November looking at the links between pop music and criminality. It veers off strictly English crimes, but managing to get Peter Sutcliffe, Freddie Mills, Jack The Stripper, Denis Nilsen and Whitehouse into the same article in a Saturday newspaper isn't bad going. Original is here or you can read it below...

Ripping yarns

The Guardian, November 26 2006

"It's not often that you get to associate Peter Sutcliffe with a good joke, but his appearance as narrator of Luke Haines' new track, Leeds United, raises a black chuckle. Based on David Peace's quartet of Yorkshire Ripper-fixated novels, the song references Chapeltown, Kendo Nagasaki, Doris Stokes and World Of Sport, and opens with Sutcliffe breathily whispering "When I get home ... My wife will kill me."

This track is the latest collaboration between pop music and murder and a rare example of something interesting and intelligent coming out of the union. Tedious old Charles Manson has been referenced by everyone from Slipknot to The Flaming Lips. Ed Gein was immortalised by Slayer and Blind Melon, while John Wayne Gacy was the subject of a recent Sufjan Stevens song. "Power electronics" provocateurs Whitehouse dedicated their entire Right To Kill album to Denis Nilsen, while American gore metal band Macabre have recorded songs about over 50 different serial killers.

Musicians have always fancied themselves to share the outlaw spirit of those who cock a snook at the law by, say, chopping up a load of women. Clearly, this is bollocks; pop stars spend their lives Hoovering up drugs and wrecking hotel rooms. By contrast, most serial killers get a serious head injury at a young age and suffer from a psychiatric illness.

Whenever pop stars have actually been involved in ending someone's life it's been a squalidly underwhelming affair. Varg Vikernes of Norwegian black metal group Mayhem stabbed bandmate Euronymous to death over unpaid royalties. Philadelphia rapper Cool C shot a female police officer dead during a botched bank raid in 1996. Tortured Telstar producer Joe Meek shot his landlady (then himself) in a Holloway Road bedsit in 1967 while Mötley Crüe moron Vince Neil killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle when drink driving in 1984.

But what about the music serial killers and their followers themselves liked? The hoax tapes from The Yorkshire Ripper ended with Andrew Gold's mawkish Thank You For Being A Friend. "Railway Murderers" David Mulcahy and John Duffy would blast Michael Jackson's Thriller to get psyched up for an attack, while Denis Nilsen would play Laurie Anderson's O Superman after a killing (Den was more highbrow than the others). More prosaically, Richard Ramirez was a big fan of AC/DC's drone-slasher classic Night Prowler.

While a proximity to death can produce great work (Arcade Fire's Funeral and Led Zeppelin's Presence were both recorded in the shadow of bereavement and near-fatality), too much interest in the illegal version leads to adolescent heavy metal, dubious ballads or a Charles Manson solo record. And as someone who shelled out for The Love And Terror Cult as a macabre teenager, I can vouch for just how horrific that really is."

· Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop by Luke Haines is out now on Degenerate

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