Confusion, guilt, horror: the fallout from *that* Spinoff piece

*Trigger warning — sexual assault*

When David Bowie had just died, my boyfriend and I were having dinner in Wellington with friends who were visiting from the States. We were on our way to a Bowie tribute night/dance party. Over curry and roti, our conversation turned to how both couples had met their partners.

My boyfriend and I met ten years earlier in Auckland, when I had just graduated university. I was starting out my career in the media by writing about music for a magazine. We met in a wine bar on Ponsonby Rd, I convinced him to join me as my ‘plus one’ for a gig down at the Schooner Tavern that I was on the door for later that night. It was a Ryan McPhun & The Ruby Suns show. The lead singer of The Veils was in the audience wearing his signature hat. Andrew Tidball was in the audience too, of course — he was always wherever the music was. As I sat on the curb outside the Schooner Tavern that night smoking cigarettes and talking with this guy I’d just met, I knew I would marry him. We’re still together.

Our friends are an old classmate of my partner’s, and his wife who is an American musician. They met when she was touring New Zealand performing and working closely with Andrew Tidball. Her shows were promoted by Andrew on his website and social media. Andrew was so generous that he offered her free accommodation at his home, which she accepted.

Discussing this over dinner, we made the connection that I also knew Andrew back then and earlier.

“He was just so nice, he was so kind to me and really looked after me,” she said.

“In terms of my performances, he made sure I had everything I needed so I just had to show up and play. He even offered for me to stay at his place, he was so lovely. He was great to work with, he made everything so easy for me.”

I told her he was a good friend to me when I started out in the music industry.

“He’s genuinely such a good guy,” I said. “He was one of the only guys in music that I actually trusted.”

A few days later, the news broke on Twitter that he had allegedly sexually abused a young girl.

I can’t remember how I first got in touch with Andrew. I’d known of him for a long time.

In my final year of university I lived in Ponsonby with my boyfriend at the time, a music buff who was much older than me. He had 7 year old twin daughters who lived with their mother but spent every single weekend with us, so we rarely went out. During the year we were together, we only went to two gigs — the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the St James and Anika Moa at the Masonic Tavern. Miserable, for two people who were obsessed with music. We were busy, both working in hospitality (me part time) and prioritising the kids in our time off.

We had this promotional postcard for Andrew’s monthly club night, Quay St Social Club, floating around the house for ages. We really wanted to organise a babysitter so we could go along. We’d both heard it was an awesome night for people who love music, a rare (for Auckland) well-curated club night. Not dance music, but GOOD music. Apparently it was full of fun and well chosen tracks from Manchester tunes to grunge to pop. Blondie, The Strokes, etc!

We never made it. Like many older men who date young girls, my then-boyfriend was very immature and his personal life was kind of a shambles. He was broke. He didn’t know how to drive a car. He’d cheated on the mother of his children with a younger woman (not me), and later gave me the same treatment. I broke out of the relationship around the time I finished studying.

I started to suss out the local music industry

To retaliate against spending my youth looking after children and experiencing infidelity, I started going out as much as possible and working incredibly hard. I rented an apartment where I could live alone in St Marys Bay. At the magazine where I was employed, I was responsible for writing music reviews and interviewing musicians for feature articles (I would later became the editor of the publication). I’d been working 30 hours a week in hospitality from the age of 17. Finally, I didn’t have espresso grounds perpetually under my fingernails. I could toss out my waitress/barista uniform and — get this! — I could go out on Friday nights and drink at bars instead of work in them. It was a revelation.

Early on at the magazine, I started to suss out the local music industry on a much deeper level than I’d known it as a fan and consumer. I quickly formed relationships with the publicists at each of the major record labels and key indie distributors in Auckland. I already followed the Cheese On Toast website because it was the hub of indie and alternative music in my city.

At some point I reached out to Andrew. Whether I’d emailed him or sent him a message on MySpace, I don’t remember. We had some communication online before meeting in person one evening in the courtyard of the King’s Arms at a gig. I remember we hugged, and I noticed how much he stank. Stale, rank — like a man not taking care of himself. Who maybe hadn’t showered for several days. We talked about music, Andrew introduced me to the young girls he was hanging out with (younger than me, and I was 22 at the time — Andrew must have been about 15 years older than me). The following day he sent me an odd email, saying how it was lovely to meet me in person and apologising for himself. He was going through a difficult time, he said, and found it hard sometimes to manage “basic things like personal hygiene”. It was uncomfortable that he had addressed his stench directly, but I shook it off and responded with a chirpy and professional email back.

I was ambitious and energetic at the time. I was angry, a woman scorned. I wanted to work, I wanted to dance, I wanted to be young, I wanted to be mature — all at once. I’d finally arrived in adult life with full time income and got to do my favourite thing: write about music. I took reviewing albums very seriously. I insisted to myself that I listen to each record I reviewed in full at least three times, over a few days, before writing a word. I devoured all the promotional material that came with the CDs. I absorbed and started using the language critics employed. Songs became ‘tracks’, albums became ‘records’ or ‘LPs’. I wrote in a very personal way, about how I experienced the music. I included in my reviews how the music made me feel, what it made me think of doing, what experiences it would make a good soundtrack for. It was a deeply personal response to music, it was perhaps a more feminine approach than male critics who dominate music writing. I wrote the kind of music reviews I wanted to read.

I was going out to every gig I possibly could, most nights of the week. I’d be at the King’s Arms til 1am on a Wednesday then turn up to work at 8.30am the next day, surviving with a lot of coffee and the metabolism of a 22 year old. I was just young enough for my bright skin to hide how tired I truly felt. Throughout this time, I formed a friendship with Andrew.

Andrew, however, I trusted

Some men in the music industry were creepy. I once turned up to interview a singer-songwriter to have the artist’s manager, who was also the CEO of a local record company, greet me by saying, “I didn’t expect you to be so hot!” Andrew, however, I trusted. I felt safe with him as a platonic male friend and considered him a peer who I admired: my ally as an Auckland music writer passionate about alternative music in a world where mainstream reigned supreme. I would see him constantly, at every show I went to — we’d hug as we said hello. We hung out in the same world. The music industry in Auckland was (and still is) a very small place.

I enjoyed talking to him about music.

We would get the same albums from the same music companies each week. When I saw him at a show, I’d ask what he thought of the new Arcade Fire album Neon Bible that had just dropped or if he agreed Innocence was the best track on the new Bjork album Volta over Declare Independence or Earth Intruders. Looking back now, ten years later, perhaps in those conversations my friendship with Andrew filled the void my much older, music-obsessed ex-boyfriend had left behind.

Andrew was generous with advice. He introduced me to a photographer I could use on my magazine (a woman even younger than me). We met for coffee a few times during the workday at Okra in Sandringham and he acted like a mentor by telling me how to work with certain aspects of the music industry and media. Being so young and so wired, I had tried to ingratiate myself in the music industry overnight. In Carrie Brownstein’s 2015 memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, she writes about how she fixated on Olympia as the centre of the music scene, pretending she’d been an expert on obscure music all along. I was a bit like that too. If I could see video footage now of myself back then, I’m sure I’d cringe at how eager I was, how obviously young I was, how desperately I pretended I’d been born achingly cool. I was all vintage dresses, bleach blonde hair and endless cigarettes. I hated the radio station 91ZM, I loved the radio station 95bFM — that explained me as a person. The music I loved meant everything.

Andrew was the expert on the indie and alternative music scene. He was the authority. I trusted him so much as a mate that when Sony invited me to a record launch party and I was nervous to go alone (having been hit on by several men in the music industry, though not anyone who worked at Sony), I asked Andrew to accompany me. He was reluctant — “They don’t like me,” he said. I pleaded, so he came. We spent half the night outside on the pavement, him patient while I smoked cigarettes and talked rubbish. I have no idea how he perceived me, or what he got out of spending time with me. When I look back on it now, I wonder if the ultra-professional men his age who worked at Sony didn’t “like” him because they could see something in him that I was too young and naive to pick up on.

I fell in love with my partner on that dancefloor while Andrew spun records

My partner (who I’m still with today) and I would break up every few weeks during this time because we were both young and volatile. In the periods where we stopped seeing each other, we would date other people — I had flings with a couple of boys who had radio shows on bFM, including one of Andrew’s closest friends.

My partner and I would go to Andrew’s club night each month (when we weren’t broken up at the time), which was by then held at Coherent on K Rd because the Schooner Tavern had shut down for the start of Britomart’s redevelopment. I was always on the door at Andrew’s Quay St Social Club.

I would be wearing a black headband with a bow and either a vintage dress from Fast & Loose in St Kevin’s Arcade or a red Misery dress with sweetheart neckline. I drank Japanese beer. My partner and I threw back several shots of Jagermeister as a little ritual — if you arrived at Quay St Social Club before, I think, 11pm, you would get a free shot of it. Of course one was never enough, so we would buy more. Andrew always played Blondie’s Heart of Glass, he always played Nirvana, there’d often be Blur. For a while, when it was the biggest song in the world, he played Rihanna’s Umbrella ironically. The peak of the night for my partner and I — the moment we waited for, the best song of the evening — would be when Andrew began to play the opening strands of the Pulp song Common People. I fell in love with my partner on that dancefloor while Andrew spun records. Now, as professionals and homeowners and non-smokers in our thirties who have a dog and co-own a nice car, I often think back to those times fondly. We had few responsibilities, stayed out way too late and it was fine — it was all just fun.

Andrew DJ’d the soundtrack to some of the most memorable nights of my youth.

He DJ’d the coolest house parties, at huge old Ponsonby flats. I remember being at a house party on Hopetoun Street where he was DJ’ing indoors and he played the then-new Kings of Leon song On Call. I decided to go home when Andrew played the Smashing Pumpkins song 1979 because “it was a good ‘leaving song’, you know?”

I would spend time talking to Andrew at each gig I went to that year. I remember sitting next to him at Whammy when it had just opened. I remember discussing local bands when they finished their sets, trading sentences like, “Clearly very strong Modest Mouse influences”. I would ask him if he was, like me, interviewing Bloc Party in the upcoming week when they were touring New Zealand.

When I was between jobs and bought Andrew a beer, he admonished me — “You should be saving your money.” I felt that he was somewhat protective over me.

My before and after photos say it all

I wanted to move away from my hometown, being deep in the music scene made me feel Auckland was too small. Andrew and I drifted apart. In early 2008, I moved to Sydney and quickly became part of the local music scene there. I had a full time job as an Online Writer at a tech company but wrote about music for the publications Faster Louder and Music Feeds in my spare time. I’d slip away from my desk under the guise of taking an afternoon tea break when really I had an interview booked with The Hives in Europe via telephone. It was glorious. I had never been more creatively productive.

About six months into my time in Sydney, I was sexually assaulted by a flatmate. I told the police, which was a harrowing experience in itself. I felt that it was my fault. The incident changed and derailed my life.

My before and after photos say it all.

Before, I was open-hearted and flirty.

Photos of me taken within the year before I was sexually assaulted

Afterwards, I was sullen and cold, haunted, guarded.

Photos of me taken within the year after I was sexually assaulted

Shortly after the assault, in late 2008 I moved home to Auckland. I started writing for Rip It Up magazine in my spare time, again reviewing albums and interviewing musicians (my favourite commission was a spread on Sonic Youth). I got a full time job at the National Business Review (NBR) and transformed myself into a professional, became a serious journalist. I learned a lot very fast. When I’d been at the NBR only four months, I had to fly back to Sydney for my court case. Despite DNA and photographs of my bruises, the judge said there was “not enough evidence to rule either way”. I was devastated. I kept writing for Rip It Up for about two years while working full time at NBR, but eventually the demands of business journalism required all my headspace. I gave up music writing very reluctantly. I miss it but am grateful for the strong and rewarding career I’ve had since.

My instant reaction was disbelief

Years later, now living in Wellington and in my thirties, when I heard on Twitter that Andrew had been accused of assaulting a young girl, my instant reaction was disbelief because I trusted him. Only a few days earlier my friend and I had discussed what a great guy he was. I trusted my gut feelings about people. It’s not that I didn’t believe the girl, but more that I felt for my friend and didn’t think far beyond that. Although I hadn’t spoken to Andrew in years, my heart went out to him as I thought about how humiliated he must be. I emailed him to say I was thinking of him, and he replied saying that it meant “a lot, especially coming from” me — whatever that meant.

A few months later came *that* The Spinoff article. It was a game-changer.

It took me a couple days to get up the courage to read it. I’d seen some social media commentary that made clear it seemed damning. I was presenting at a conference that week and had enough on my mind, I didn’t want to get upset by reading the piece. However, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I messaged an old friend who’d also had a professional relationship with Andrew around the same time as me. She replied saying that it was awful, but needed to be read. Gulp. So I did. I read it with one hand to my throat, eyes wide in horror, stopping several times to breathe deep before I could read on.

At first I think I was in some kind of shock after reading the piece. The shock of feeling that your gut instincts were wrong — what does that say about you, how can you trust yourself? Is everything you know, or think you know, wrong? I had this stunned feeling that the way I’d perceived things was horribly false — maybe the music scene wasn’t fun, it was predatory, sinister? What about my memories? What about all these amazing nights from my reckless youth that Andrew had been part of? What about all these fantastic fucking songs I associated with happy memories he was involved in, were they now ruined for me too? My god, what about the women who had shared their stories in that article?

I had emailed him my support when I first heard on social media that he’d been accused.

In 2007, on the night Liam Finn first played his incredible new I’ll Be Lightning material to an overcrowded King’s Arms — one of the all-time best most memorable gigs I’ve ever attended — it had been Andrew I’d turned to after the last song to share a gush of excitement about what a great set it had been. His eyes were as sparkly as mine, he got it. He got how the energy of the performance was a punch in the gut that made you feel alive. People who love music share something special, we recognise and understand that post-gig eye-sparkle in other people who love music more than average person. My memories of gigs by Tilly & The Wall, Dudley Benson, Of Montreal, Battles, LCD Soundsystem, so many more — even my most favourite band, Broken Social Scene — were now irrevocably tainted.

I had emailed him my support.

Jesus Christ.

I had kept a photo on my desk at work for years from his Cheese On Toast website taken at a particularly epic Girl Talk concert in Auckland. It was a picture from the side of the stage showing the shirtless DJ, Greg Gillis, the crowd packed tight and dancing hard — I could pick out my own swirl of blonde hair. The way some people squeeze a stress ball, I’d looked at it when I ever felt stressed at work, recalling the high of being in the middle of that heaving audience. It was an amazing show.

I had emailed him my support.

After reading it, I wanted to stare at my shoes for a long, long time and try not to throw up. Of course I’d heard the nickname Tiddyballs…but I’d never thought much of it.

We were all stunned

After reading it, I engaged in several deep conversations with old friends who had also known him — in some cases people I hadn’t spoken to at length for years. We were all stunned, all questioning ourselves.

The friends who I talked to about it the most were three women in particular. All of us were older than the girls The Spinoff alleged Andrew had preyed on, all of us worked in the music industry as professionals in our own right. All four of us now shared a deep sense of sickened confusion.

When I first finished reading the piece I contacted the friend who had recommended I read it. I told her how I found it so shocking, sad and disturbing.

She replied, “Oh dude. It’s so hideous. I also saw the initial accusations and I was really conflicted… I find it very hard to marry with my experience of Andrew too. It’s devastating and I am incredibly sad, both at the experience of the women but also at the idea that it was all happening within a scene that I got some much from.”

I emailed my American musician friend, “Did you read it?”

“Yes,” she wrote back. “It makes me sad. I believe the girls. I never saw that side of Andrew…it’s not the Andrew I know so it’s a total shock.”

Another musician friend, a New Zealand woman who is in a band, told me that she and her old flatmate both remembered “run-ins with him” on a professional level that “didn’t feel good”, back when he was just starting to raise his profile.

She wrote to me, “It’s so so so tricky and icky isn’t it. There have been so many discussions I’ve been a part of with people — including women — who feel uncomfortable with the “social media pile-on” and “witch hunt” aspects of it. I felt like that but now I think, no, fuck it, it is so powerful for women to find safety in numbers in a public, online forum.”

The fallout from this one piece of journalism is enormous.

So many people knew and worked with him, many much more closely than I. Who am I, anyway? I’d known him relatively briefly a whole decade ago. I have now been living in a different city for years. I haven’t worked in the music industry for a long time, I moved on and grew up to have a strong career in business journalism and communications — far removed from reviewing albums. I still love going to gigs but I don’t stay out late often or drink much anymore, I’m no longer in touch with ‘the scene’. Thousands of people who had just danced at his club nights once are likely feeling a little ill after reading that article. As for the people who were working with him currently, I can’t even imagine how they will be feeling. The article’s impact has reverberated throughout New Zealand’s music scene right to its fringes.

Andrew Tidball worked in that same industry in that same small town (no offence, Auckland) for many years both before and after I’d been around him. Although he was a significant figure at a formative and memorable time in my life, I probably meant very little to him.

What we talk about when we talk about trigger warnings

How have I been ‘triggered’ by all this? What do trigger warnings even mean when a story like that Spinoff piece is tagged with ‘trigger warning’? It doesn’t just mean “eek, watch out, dark topics ahead — you may not like it” in the same way parental advisory stickers on CDs signal some cuss words. Trigger warning also means “hey, you know how you’ve put a lot of time, effort and thought into working through your own personal shit? Well, what you’re about to read is going to bust your heart open, force you to question your beliefs and make you wonder why you aren’t angrier about that personal shit you thought you’d worked through. Because you should be — that shit is real shitty.”

One of the women quoted in particular told The Spinoff how her confidence was wrecked afterwards, how it changed her personality. I recognised that. That’s what triggered me. It changed my perspective about myself: how, in my own way, I’d been a young woman super into music who was taken advantage of and had my confidence trashed too. It took eight years, until just recently, for me to talk about what happened. Reading that article in The Spinoff, about someone I thought was my friend, forced me to acknowledge the magnitude of what happened to me. It’s a marker in my life. It changed me, it changed my plans, it changed my career, it changed my body, it muted my enthusiasm, it shaped my twenties. Listening to other women talk about what happened to them validates in my own mind, to myself, how big the impact was of what happened to me. Now that I’m so far away from it, I can look back and be sad for my younger self knowing that I’m ok now. I have a mortgage, I’m half way through my MBA, and besides, it wasn’t my fault so I have nothing to be ashamed of — I’m ok now. I know that in talking about it and writing about it I might help other women, too.

I am so proud of the women who spoke up to The Spinoff. It’s hard to speak up at all, even moreso when the accused has a public profile — it changes the stakes. I am sure they will be facing a protracted drama, if my own court case is anything to go by.

The Pantograph Punch piece on this struck a strong chord with me. I liked how it explained you were likely to feel empathy with the accused person you know rather than the victim who you don’t — that’s natural. I still felt some empathy towards him in spite of myself. When I saw that he had deleted his social media profiles, I worried that he was a suicide risk. I hoped he had at least one person in his life who was making sure, in spite of all this, that he was ok mentally.

Something I found the most comforting in the immediate fallout was actually a piece on XO Jane. It explained the same emotions I felt — the confusion about my own positive memories, how did I now need to frame my own experience if this was true? Did it mean my experiences of that person were completely false? How guilty should I feel that I didn’t know? It explained that the writer eventually, after much conflict, came to the realisation that she could be angry at and denounce the person but still hold onto her memories, those didn’t become untrue. It explained that it was ok to want the best for that person and that wanting the best for them included wanting them to face the consequences for what they had allegedly done.

All this has forced difficult conversations about tough topics into the public sphere, and that’s fantastic. It encouraged discussion at the Taite Music Awards about how it was up to men in the music industry to make women feel safe. It opened a floodgate for me to tell more friends about the assault that happened to me — finally, eight years after the fact.

I feel very angry and sad that someone I considered a friend could have broken the spirits of young girls the same way mine had been broken. I feel personally betrayed thinking he may have lied to me by concealing crimes.

I wish the women who spoke up luck and send them all, all, all of my support.