Tuesday, March 06, 2012

I use the NME - Happy 40th Birthday, Glam Rock!

Reminiscing on this blog about the forty years between Marc Bolan and the sadly Bolan-free world of today reminded me of my love affair with the New Musical Express, known to friends and enemies alike as the NME.   I first started getting it in early 1972, about the same time it made a major push for the younger music lovers, and succeeded mightily, peaking at more than a quarter of a million broadsheets sold each week.

NME has never actually been thought well of, so I can't say that people think less of it these days, but it's definitely shrunk a little from being the paper of me and mine and of the moment to being just another pop/rock fishwrap, and that's a terrible shame. I haven't gotten it for years - it's too expensive to import to the US, and anyway if it gets any scoops the rest of the internet steals them within 8 hours. (I'd hate to be a journalist today.) The NME, perhaps realizing that now is the time for a tell all, is bringing out its biography, The History of the NME: High Times and Low Lives at the World's Most Famous Music Magazine, by Pat Long, an ex-assistant editor. I've preordered it, but it won't be here until June. [Ed: It's here.]

There is a related blog, which features at least a couple of good articles. There's an interview with my mate Mick Farren, an underground press alumnus who worked for the NME during the Golden Age. (The Golden Age of a music paper, like the Golden Age of Science Fiction, is when the reader is aged between 14 and 16.) He brought a less frivolous, more gritty edge to a paper, which after all, was there mostly to tell us about this week's Bowie haircut, or what Bryan Ferry was doing, as the other interesting article, an interview with writer Nick Kent, puts it.

Farren was the one who knew how society worked and actually ran one to the extent he ran an open air festival, and could critique society at large with a White Panther's unflinching gaze. Nick Kent was the one who dressed more outrageously than the Stones and lived a more rock'n'roll lifestyle than even Keef (and you didn't believe that was possible!) He was also a one-time Sex Pistol who got beaten with a bike chain by Sid Vicious during one of those times when gangs go off-message and do something odd. Mick, on the other hand, wrote and sang with the (Social) Deviants, and could maybe best summed up by my describing how once I heard the greatest Bob Dylan track I'd never heard before, wondering why I hadn't come across it in the past, and realizing much later it was Mick Farren singing. I don't mean to sound as if all rock writers are frustrated musicians - they obviously all have some feel for music or they wouldn't be driven to write about it, but rivaling the Stones' glamour or outdoing Dylan is rare even among NME scribes.

Mick has written many books, the most germane...no pun intended Mick...being Give the Anarchist a Cigarette, which I've never reviewed here but is worth tracking down and reading. Nick Kent's more recent book Apathy For The Devil is more intensely personal, as living the glam rock life entailed taking the glam rock drugs, which subsequently meant a long nightmare of recovery, but has more than a glimmer of his unbelievable early writing and kept me so entertained I read it twice through in one sitting. I reviewed it here.

My collection of NMEs used to stretch from 1972 - Bowie and Bolan, Sweet and Slade - to 1977 - the Sex Pistols and the Damned.  Sometime in the mid-seventies I answered an ad from a bloke paying cash for 'any articles on Bowie', and shortly opened the door to a man with a broad Yorkshire accent and a bright red Ziggy mullet. He paid me an incredible amount of money for the early NMEs and wandered off, happy. That means the ones in my cupboard stretch from 74 to early 77, a tedious musical wasteland that included bright but ultimately pointless gems such as Be Bop Deluxe and Kilburn and the High Roads. It wasn't until mid-77 that the power of punk actually became clear. (Despite Mick Farren's legendary polemic in the 1976 Titanic Sails at Dawn piece prophesying the new order...not the New Order, the new order...which I still have.)

I watched the BBC's mammoth documentary of popular music, All You Need Is Love, recently. I've been meaning to write about it but never got around to it. The last episode, in 1977, is hilarious and yet sad in its blind aimless search for the next big thing that's so obviously due, and in fact actually there, yet quite invisible to people over 15, a demographic which the film-makers did not fit. AYNIL desperately interview the Baker Gurvitz Army, and stare at Mike Oldfield or ELO or Black Oak Arkansas hoping they'll Do Something.  Well, they didn't, and unfortunately that's the time period of NME I still have in the closet. But I remember my long-sold 1972 to 1974 runs with great fondness. Great fondness.

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