The current gang of pop writers are the best we've ever had. But are they eulogising a dying art form?by DJ Taylor / June 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
For a generation of middle-aged and mostly male British rock fans, 8th March 2018 was a date fit to be carved in stone. On that day the proprietors of the New Musical Express, founded in 1952, announced they would be closing the print edition and, like other magazines blasted by the zephyrs of technological change, concentrating on the website. Curiously, none of the people who took to newspaper columns to lament the NME’s passing seemed to have much interest in the contemporary magazine—the final incarnation was a flimsy free-sheet handed out in student union bars and HMV. No, their grief was focused on a golden age—the period 1974-81—when the magazine offered a template for how you might approach the notoriously tricky subject of writing seriously about rock and roll.
Forty years ago, as the Sex Pistols slid rancorously off the map, there were a quarter of a million NME kids. I was one of them, drawn not only by the lustre of the journalistic talent (Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Mick Farren, Julie Burchill) but by the suspicion that it offered a gateway to a bohemian and vaguely counter-cultural world.
It was in the NME that I first read an interview with Ian McEwan, heard mention of JG Ballard (a great influence on the punk dystopians) and, a bit later, when the writers expanded to include theory-minded egg-heads like Paul Morley and Ian Penman, came across the names of Baudrillard and Derrida. The enticing scent that blew out of its 64 weekly pages was, to quote biographer Joe Hagan writing about Rolling Stone, not “just about music, but the things and the attitudes that the music embraces.”
And what were they? The pre-digital rock experience was founded on an almost mythological compact between the fan and the group or singer. Fans wanted advance news, gossip, and above all corroboration of the mighty genius that they had set out to worship, and the music magazine worked as a conduit. The performer could exist at some stratospherically detached remove (a jet-setting, yacht-piloting superstar) or he could be a super-charged version of the boy, or sometimes girl, next door. Still the fan’s attitude was the same—fanatic, completist, narrowly possessive.