- 19 Dec 18
It doesn’t feel like a year, but it is. Twelve months, that is, since the last time we danced this dance. Hauling out the albums to remind ourselves. Poring over old reviews. Catching up on the odd ones that we missed. Digging up the names of the dead. These we have lost. Fuck me. What a list.
And then trying to remember why we thought this film was good in the first place. Or that book. Picking over the things on which the future might hinge. The ongoing farce of Brexit. The walking slime-ball that is Donald Trump, alleged leader of the free world. War in Yemen. The Saudis butchering a dissident journalist in Turkey. The convoy of migrants making their way towards the border between Mexico and the US. Polar ice caps breaking up. Noah’s ark may be fact yet.
And remembering further back to the ignominy of it all when we were stuffed royally by Denmark. 14 November 2017. That seems like far more than a year ago now. Or is that just me?
It wasn’t long ago really, but life has a way of travelling at breakneck speed nowadays. So much is happening, at any one time, that our inboxes quickly become jammed. Or maybe that’s just a function of the fact that we are not as young as we used to be. We’re not even as young as we were last year. Any of us. So we have to keep ditching the baggage. Forgetting might just be good for you. Remember where you read it first.
The barrage never ends. Emails. Texts. Alerts. WhatsApp messages. Twitter outbursts. Bullshit Facebook comments. Phone calls. More texts. News on the hour. More news in between. Is there no way of escaping? So much useless crap to wade through. Every hour of every day.
Could it be just a year ago that Hot Press started to ask questions of Facebook in relation to the referendum on the 8th Amendment? That’s all it is. One year. At least the campaign that we began then worked.
We accused Facebook of taking the money and running. Of accepting ads that they knew to be false and misleading. They’d done it during Brexit. Make no mistake, as an organisation, Facebook and its senior executives were well aware of the malign part they had played in that campaign, and yet they allowed it to happen again in the 2016 US presidential election – paving the way for Donald Trump to arrive in the Oval Office.
Russia using bots to screw with people’s heads. Foreigners and locals alike paying for ads that tell lies, distort the facts and play on people’s fears and prejudices. Right across the world, there has been a drift to the right. And, in a zone where emotive lies trump reasoned truths every time, it has been facilitated and driven by the abuse of social media and the access it gives, not just to audiences but to what those audiences are paranoid about; what moves them; what motivates them; what keeps them awake in the sweat-soaked dead of night. So far, the authorities have been stupidly, perhaps even deliberately negligent. Mass surveillance suits their agenda. Up to a point. That vested interest had rendered them utterly incapable of acknowledging the truth: that Facebook has been poisoning the body politic. They covertly extract every single piece of information they can from you, and on you, and turn that into profit, selling everything they know about users to anyone who will pay, no matter how vile, unscrupulous, unethical or immoral they may be.
These advertisers may be intent on upending the democratic process. They may be itching to know which particular brand of lies they should feed you before they hit send. It doesn’t matter. Give Facebook the money and they have shown that they will pimp you to anyone, no matter how sinister, nasty or abusive they may prove to be in the long run.
We helped in a small way to shift the ground from under them in 2018. It turned into a bad year for the social media giant, in that chickens started coming home to roost. In Ireland, they were forced to refuse ads from sources in the US, the UK and fuck knows where else that had been booked to run in the final fortnight of the Repeal the 8th campaign. Google also took the same, extraordinary measure. The Anti-Happiness League wailed and cried foul, but there was nothing they could do about it.
A co-ordinated campaign – ultimately aimed at undermining Irish democracy from outside – was scuppered. That was good. In all probability, it was doomed to failure anyway. The extent of the majority in favour of Repeal took everyone by surprise. Tears and celebrations were in order, the day the result was announced.
But that is not the point: if the ads had run, the gap might have been closed, and the victory been less emphatic. And what happened once will happen again, with Ireland likely to be targeted by international right-wing groups the next time people go to the polls. The price of freedom really is eternal vigilance.
Things continued to get worse for Facebook. The story of how Cambridge Analytica had illegally mined Facebook data and used the information gleaned on private citizens to subvert the democratic process in the context of the vote on Brexit has been hunted down systematically and brilliantly by the journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has produced scoop after scoop on the issue in The Observer.
Facebook’s stock tumbled, wiping $123 billion off its value. And that investigation is ongoing, becoming even more deadly serious with the seizure of internal Facebook papers by the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sports, following the refusal of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to appear before the parliamentary committee to answer questions. The gloves are off.
Meanwhile, life went on at the new HP Central on Capel Street. We did some extraordinary interviews in Hot Press during the course of the year, with Jason O’Toole hitting the bullseye on a few occasions. A group of us travelled to London in June at the invitation of the Irish ambassador, Adrian O’Neill.
The Ambassador said kind words, the bright and brilliant Laura Whitmore did a public interview with the madman who launched Hot Press, Damien Dempsey sang a few songs, and later on we repaired to Nell’s Jazz & Blues, where Hothouse Flowers, Seamus Fogarty, NC Gray and Damo turned it into a night of magnificent music.
Our old compadre and former Hot Press columnist Michael D. Higgins romped home in the Presidential election and we allowed ourselves another sigh of relief. I got to finish the new-fangled Stories Behind The Songs of U2, titled Songs + Experience, and waited apprehensively for the finished product to land on my desk. No need to have worried. Say what you like about the writer, but it looks fab.
At the end of the summer, we had joined forces with Lyons Tea and Pieta House to campaign on Mental Health, under the #Now We’re Talking banner. We produced a special publication, 100 Voices, and the support from musicians and artists was stunning, underlining the generosity of everyone involved – but also the particular vulnerabilities experienced by people in the creative sector, and by musicians in particular.
The campaign climaxed in Now We’re Talking: The Town Hall Gathering, held on World Mental Health Day – which turned out to be a genuinely important, powerful and moving occasion. That campaign is ongoing. In a world of steel-eyed death and men – and women – who are fighting to be warm, there is always more to be done. We need shelter from the storm.
And yet, homelessness stalks the streets. Rents are allowed to go through the roof. Young people feel lost and abandoned. Anger is growing. And no one is coming up with the kind of solutions that might deliver hope or even begin to heal the lesions that were allowed to fester and grow.
“Everything is a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,” Bob Dylan sang in the gloriously vitriolic ‘Idiot Wind’, from Blood On The Tracks, originally released in 1974. Preparing the Hot Press Annual 2019, we thought it’d be appropriate to acknowledge the great master and what is revealed in the wonderful More Blood, More Tracks boxset that has just been released. Our Dylan sleuth Anne Margaret Daniel went one better, getting sight of a notebook never before analysed or written about.
We also wanted to mark the remarkable emergence of Versatile, Dublin rappers who have come out of nowhere with songs that are pointed, satirical, insanely funny at times and indisputably finely crafted – and videos to match. And that’s just for a start. They could start to be utterly huge in 2019. These kids could run and run.
So this is what we came up with: the Hot Press Annual 2019 has two covers. Innocence vs Experience, you might say. Choices. Choices. In 12 months, how will we look back on this moment? Let’s hope we’re all still around to cogitate on it. With the world threatening to fall apart entirely, that may well be considered a victory.