Stop worrying about your clickthrough rate and show some damn respect.
On 28 December 2015, Ian Kilmister, aka Lemmy, died following a short battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. His achievements in the world of rock music, most notably with Motörhead, the band he formed and fronted for 40 years, are nearly without peer. The 24 hours between his death and me writing this have been filled with heartfelt, genuine tributes to both the man and his legacy from so many, many people that his status as a unique figure within rock music’s pantheon of icons is clear for all to see.
Is Lemmy’s passing worthy of comment? Of course it is. The titanic shift in how society, technology, the music industry and even musicians themselves operate in the forty years since Motörhead were formed ensures that there will never — and can never — be another individual like Ian Kilmister. But that’s not the issue I’m taking umbrage with. The issue here — ironically, given Motörhead’s mantra of “Everything louder than everyone else” — is the volume of content.
And the concept of #content.
At the time of writing:
- Kerrang! magazine has published nine online pieces about the death of Lemmy. (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine)
- Metal Hammer magazine has also published nine online pieces about it. (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine)
- Rock Sound magazine have published three. (one, two, three)
In the clamour to celebrate the life of Lemmy, has the media not instead just reduced him to a prop to hang #content on in their never-ending chase for clicks?
The metal press is evolving . Slowly for sure, but it is evolving. They still might not understand the nuances of the online environment, but they understand them better now than they did around the time of the last time they reported on the death of a metal icon. In 2010, the clamour to be The First Place to publish the news of the death of Ronnie James Dio saw internet rumour palmed off as fact, with enough sites reporting his death while he was still alive that his now-widow then-wife Wendy Dio was forced to put out a statement clarifying things. That kind of shameful vulture journalism is something we don’t see so much of today. Those responsible got told where to go then, and it is bears repeating again now, if only because it’s never not worth re-iterating to any “journalists” that have emerged from the ranks since then.
But back to Lemmy: did those well-respected media outlets really need to publish that much #content on Lemmy? Were they providing a service to their readers with this deluge of the same rehashed and regurgitated #content? Or was it just because there is space to fill, and this situation offered a chance to produce a glut of it for next to no effort? The death of a figure so legendary in comparison to the generation of say-nothing-do-nothing minnows that the rock press has been conflating as rock stars for the past decade is a no-brainer when it comes to generating #content, right?
So much of this #content proclaims to be about celebrating the music, influence, and personality of the man now gone from us, but in his exposure to the steamroller must-get-#content-must-publish-#content-and-again-and-again-repeat-repeat nature of modern online reporting, is that the end result this is achieving? Or has the doctrine of the bottom line — how many clickthroughs did we get, what’s the impact of this on our KPIs, and so on — become so much that we’ve lost sight on the actual story here? That a man so many claim was a unique and special person in their understanding of music is now nothing more than grist for their #content mill? The words might say he was special, but the framing of post after post after post exposes the unconscious motivation behind this process — it’s just about more #content. Is this how we respect the dead? Is this how we respect those who we claim meant so much to us?
Ian Kilmister, despite the woefully simplistic painting in some of his obituaries as the personification the the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll bollocks-myth, was a human being with struggles and flaws as well as triumphs and successes. If you look past the glut of repeated cliches that litter the many documentaries about Kilmister, there is a picture of a complex man. To reduce him to the squat, tidy caricature of a lifestyle and attitude long since destroyed is both lazy and intellectually dishonest. To package that myopic view up into a series of succinct, shareable nuggets for social media traction and preferable conversion rates just compounds that error. We can do better than this. We are better than this. The memory of a man who changed the landscape of rock’n’roll deserves better than this.
The sad irony is that this article isn’t really about Lemmy either, and hanging it off of his death makes it almost as bad as the things it’s railing against. That’s partially why I posted it on Medium, to minimise the personal traffic footprint it makes. I don’t really want your clicks, and I think it’s sad that as 2015 comes to an end, the state of online music journalism is still such that it needed to be here to be clicked on at all.