Another response to a passing, but this time not of a person but a magazine, or maybe even an institution. This week, the N.M.E, the New Musical Express has printed its last print copy and will henceforth only be out there on-line. It’s the end of an era.
Or rather, it’s the end of a great many eras, hundreds of them, thousands even, one for each of us who, at any time were hooked on listening with intent. It’s a bit like dear old Peely,in that there’d be a time when they were essential to your life, but then you’d change and he’d change, and you’d find yourself breaking up that old weekly or nightly date and it was over.
My era was 1972 to 1986: I doubt I’ve bought as many as five issues since, and none in over fifteen years now. That takes me back to the days when there were still five music weeklies: Melody Maker, N.M.E., Record Mirror, Disc (and Music Echo) and Sounds. I’d drifted through 1971, sampling each of these, before deciding the N.M.E. was closest to my tastes, only to find, when it started dropping through our door every week, that it had just a couple of weeks before, undergone a radical repositioning, and gone Underground, and Prog.
And that suited me. and I got to go all through the raw passion, anger, excitement and energy of Punk, then New Wave, and post-Punk.
And then we got to the point where they started tagging Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of the Eighties, and I knew that it was all over. Other people had their eras to enjoy: my time had been served. But it had all been so good whilst it lasted.
But I have to salute the N.M.E. for changing my life. That was what it was setting out to do, all the time, but in my case it succeeded in a completely unexpected way.
You all know I’ve been a lifelong comics fan, and that enthusiasm has meant many things. Comics have taken my imagination to places it could never have guessed without them, they underpinned the first period when my inchoate urge to write spilled over on an audience that applauded my efforts and built my self-confidence, I made friends and met and talked with people I’d never otherwise have known. And it is at least plausible to say that without comics coming back into my life after I grew out of them in a tried and trusted manner, I may probably never have met the woman who became my wife.
I’ve told the story before: January 1974, queuing in a newsagent, chancing to see a rack of American comics, being moved by idle curiosity to riffle through them and finding the only possible comic I would have bought, reopening the floodgate and determining my fate.
But without the N.M.E., without three articles by Charles Shaar Murray, in the back of the paper, in the back end of 1973, the one fancifully but articulately comparing the development stages of rock’n’roll with that of comics, and two follow-ups about how Batman and Captain America had changed to meet the modern world, my memory would not have been reset. Without that, if I even see it at all that January after, there is not the merest of idle curiosity that draws me to that rack. I don’t see, let alone buy, that pivotal comic, and everything afterwards turns into a maybe.
So that’s why I remember N.M.E. with fondness. And for the writing, guys, especially CSM, and Nick Kent, and Mick Farren, and Tony Tyler, and Max Bell, and Paul Morley, and I can forgive you for discovering Danny Baker but not Tony Parsons, and we’ll gloss over Julie Burchill, ok. Plus the guy who did the Crossword.
All gone, my era gone, but never to be forgotten, those of us who were there, and all those multiple whens that we were there for, ligging as hard as we could.