July 11th, 2004


After receiving nothing but kind words via e-mail for this site, for which, thanks again, I was strangely relieved to receive a couple of stinkers, recently, both from ardent Roxy Music fans objecting to my Reaper column, both within hours of each other (could it have a concerted nationwide campaign?). The gist of one was, how could I write bad things about Roxy Music when they were clearly one of the greatest bands of the Seventies. I’ve been struggling and writhing in the logical grip of this argument for several days but sadly have been able to come up with no adequate riposte. The second correspondent had me by even crisper hair. First, they stated that the lyrics I had quoted for one of Bryan Ferry’s songs were “wrong”. Apologies if that’s the case but this, I would venture to suggest is the sort of misunderstanding that can arise when you choose to sing like the charwallah from It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. They then went on to deliver the coup de grace. Bryan Ferry, it seems, did not teach pottery. He taught ceramics. And so, the brittle edifice of my entire anti-Roxy Music argument comes crashing down like a dinosaur skeleton laid low by a wrecking ball. Sadly, I’ve been more aware in recent times, especially in my capacity as a music journalist, of an obsession with facts and minutiae. Maybe it’s the changing nature of the music press, a new culture of Corrections & Clarifications, the more details-orientated, archaeological requirements of music journalism on which readers (and I don’t entirely discount myself here) thrive. Letters to music papers are increasingly concerned with perceived factual errors, so that the dominant tone can quite often be one of sneering pedantry and self-satisfaction. As professional journalists we should “get our facts right”, runs the refrain – and indeed, we should. However, this is accompanied by the wholly incorrect implication that The Facts Equal The Truth. They do not and never should that idea be allowed to prevail. Certainly, in the first, frantic three years of my writing for Melody Maker, of the many words I churned and spewed onto its pages, there were probably only about six facts (and three of them were probably incorrect). Back then, whenever I perpetrated a howler, I openly celebrated it as a badge of honour, much in the way the bebop jazzmen celebrated each lousy review they received in the mainstream US jazz press. Nowadays, like most journos, I live in craven fear of the misspelt name, the erroneous birthdate, the wrongly attributed line up credit, the potentially libellous reference. People aren’t wrong to pull up journalists on factual mistakes. What is wrong, however, is to imagine that this removes any obligation to engage with the core arguments, the back and forth of discourse and ideas. Fuck facts. The truth is what counts.

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