Everett True is a music critic at Collapse Board. He has written for both NME and Melody Maker, The Times and the Guardian, edited Vox, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B magazines, and written several books. He contributes to Bust and Something Awful, and fronts bands The Deadnotes and The Thin Kids. He’s the most genuine fan of music I’ve ever met.
No interview was planned or requested: this is an anecdote, published with permission.
Thirty minutes early, drenched and fearing stray mascara has damaged my new handbag, I nip into the toilets at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and reapply my face. I muse that Everett True would probably approve of the army-boots-and-dress combo I’ve worn for the past twenty years, inspired by the bands he wrote about. After fifteen minutes of staring at conceptual bulls*** (and one nice sculpture), I phone, unintentionally interrupting him. I read Wicked and wait. Ten minutes later, I recognise the unassuming middle-aged man looking for me. He looks less like Jim Broadbent than I remember.
“My friend told me that I’m the most self-obsessed and least self-aware person she’s ever met,” Everett tells me as we walk towards the South Bank, “And she’s dated lead singers.”
I bark a hysterical laugh. It’s funny because it’s not True.
“Having kids gives you perspective,” he says, “Makes you self-aware.”
I tell him it’s not so much lack of perspective, in my case, as an almost pathological lack of inhibition.
“Having children gives you inhibition. There are things I couldn’t say any more because … people would get upset.”
That’s the irony – he’s self-effacing and quiet, venturing his opinions with hesitance and grace. He respects disagreements, which is impossible for the truly arrogant. The egocentrism is born not of delusional pride, but of fearing he may be forgotten.
“People don’t really know who I am in Australia,” he explains, indicating the motive for his return to London. “They don’t know me so much here either any more.”
Everett True is The Legend! So dubbed by (erstwhile pal, ex-Creation boss/Oasis manager) Alan McGee because he thought it was a funny title for this awkward, shy music nerd. He used that name for his contributions to New Musical Express. His real name is Jerry Thackray, but he adopted the nom-de-plume of a cartoon character for Melody Maker, since The Legend! was tied to the NME. Everett True is the name he uses most. I never know whether to call him Jerry or Everett: he answers to both. It used to be that only his friends called him “Jerry”, but I got that habit from his neighbour, who was in my English class and wrote for my fanzine. She copied him; I copied her. I obsessively read Melody Maker to imitate its style.
Former NME hack and radio host Andrew Collins has a stage show where he’s said to give an anecdote about Everett True, who can’t actually remember meeting him. I tell him that he probably can’t remember our first meeting either, and remind him of how as a drunk fifteen year-old at a Silverfish gig, I said, “Has anyone ever told you that you’re an overpaid, pretentious wanker?”
Without hesitation, he replied, “I am NOT overpaid!”
I liked him immediately. It had been the good-natured iconoclasm of the young and deeply respectful.
Everett says, “I got that a lot in Brighton.”
We’re both iconoclasts when it comes to music, happily agreeing that the Rolling Stones were overhyped thugs, though we don’t agree on the few songs we do like. Again, we’re agreed that the Beatles were patchy, but clash on which tracks are the good ones.
“The later songs, the lyrics are ridiculous – it was like they were taking the piss out of their fans.”
But they are the best songs, I protest. For me, it’s all in the production.
“It’s the production I don’t like,” he asserts.
How can you not like that glorious wall of sound?
“Because I can only hear my version. When I was about fifteen I taught myself to play piano using the same songbook Daniel Johnston used. It had some Beatles songs in it and I’d never heard them, so I only knew my own versions. When I finally heard those Beatles songs, I was really disappointed. When I hear a cover first, that’s what I hear when I think of the song. That’s why I will always hate Phil Collins for what he did to those Supremes songs.”
I shudder. Once, in the toilets at a gig, I overheard two thirteen year-old Goths as they reapplied their makeup. Dimly through the wall I could hear Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. “Did you hear that?” one said to the other, “Some bitch is covering Marilyn Manson!”
“I didn’t listen to pop music growing up,” he reveals. “If I listened to music, it would be something classical. Do you know the first record that I bought? I need a better story. I was seventeen. It was The Sex Pistols, and it was a s*** one – No-One Is Innocent with Ronnie Biggs. I could make up a better story,” he offers, but I know that he wouldn’t, because it wouldn’t be True.
The last time we’d met, in his final days at Melody Maker, he’d instructed me in the importance of honesty. Never write anything that isn’t True, or why bother? Don’t try to appease an editor or a musician friend by praising a bad record, even if it gets you fired.
I tell him how I did get fired from one publication for responding to death threats from furious fans by telling them to “f***ing have a go if they think they’re hard enough.”
He looks proud.
Everett True’s still as controversial as ever, and recites verbatim his mini-biog from UnConvention Brisbane, asserting that he still very genuinely believes that Norman Mailer was a c***, to which I nod blankly – I’ve barely heard of him.
More friendly disagreements while we share our platter of hummus and mystery meat rolls: he can’t understand my genuine enjoyment of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. He reckons Billy Corgan nicked the pun from him anyway. Things we do agree on: 70s disco and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The critic who made his name with grunge turns out to love Grease.
We’re both strangers in a familiar land. He spends ages in the damp night admiring the lights under the bridge. He thinks London is beautiful.
“There’s so much wealth here … right next to so many dark alleys.”
We both keep trying to find our bearings because London isn’t “home” any more. Even things like central heating are strange to him now.
“I was walking past King’s Reach Tower, and I thought … they can’t have pulled it down. Then I realised that it was derelict and there were no lights on in there.”
He knows I understand. I mutter something about “such an iconic address.” I can’t bear to think of the home of Melody Maker standing empty.
Jerry is writing a thesis about the death of the authoritative critical voice, the gatekeeper to weed out the drivel and point you to the great music out there. Too many magazines are catalogues rather than guides to the music. His thesis is about himself.
Again, I laugh. “Oh, that’s so YOU!”, but it’s also True.
“People used to moan about how I’d get so many Singles of the Week, so many good reviews, but it’s because I’d be out there every few days, looking for good music. I’d go into Rough Trade and ask them to recommend things to me. I’d pay for it with my own money.”
“OK, so I could claim it back on expenses, but still …”
He gets most of his recommendations these days by asking friends on Facebook what they’re listening to. You can’t sit around waiting for good music to be sent to you by a PR agent; you have to get out there and find it.
He has no patience for Pitchfork, whom he accuses of being too interested in sound over substance. “They say Animal Collective sound like Sonic Youth, but Sonic Youth wrote great songs.”
I agree that you could play most Sonic Youth songs on an acoustic guitar and they’d sound good.
He nods. “It’s in the melodies and in the performance. M Ward said that he thought they were almost as good as Nirvana. I’d say they’re better than Nirvana. Kurt would have been the first to agree with that*.”
It’s the first time he’s ever mentioned Nirvana to me, despite his being such good friends with the band. He’s the author of the book Nirvana: The True Story, for which he received a number of five-star reader reviews on Amazon, noting “the only downside is the author’s well-known arrogance”, which makes me giggle. When I suggest I should buy his books, he reacts with a noncommittal shrug: “They’re OK.”
I forget to tell him the quip I’d read about someone responding to “I’m writing a book” with “neither am I”. Everett True is writing about Daniel Johnston, his frequent muse. Ever the acolyte, I considered writing a book, but found my last interview so draining I swore that I’d never do another one.
I tell him that I could probably go my whole life without ever going to another gig.
“It happens a lot,” Everett explains: the surprise is not that I burnt out, but that he didn’t.
Despite us both being exhausted, I noticed from the first few minutes of conversation that we’d unwittingly lapsed into interview style. It’s just how we talk to people.
“You should have brought a tape recorder,” he insists. “Then you could have interviewed me.”
It’s a vain, silly thing to say, but it’s True.
*ET did clarify “maybe not” – that Kurt didn’t have “false modesty” when it came to his own music, though he did like Sonic Youth.