“Inky Fingers: the NME story”
I have a love/hate relationship with the NME. When I was a student I used to buy it every single week. Every Wednesday without fail, I would go into the newsagents and would pick up the new issue and take it with me to the library. I would read it, and very week without fail it would make me want to scream. It was self-referential, self-important, unfunny and intensely irritating. It only seemed to have two modes: it was either praising a band to the skies, or it was tearing strips out of them. The speed of the backlash was often amazing – last week’s hero was the next week’s villain. I suppose it’s funny at first, but when it happens week after week after week, it becomes boring and predictable. Every week there seemed to be a new scene: the most famous of these is of course Britpop, followed closely by Madchester, but do you remember shoe-gazing? new wave of new wave? new acoustic? fraggle? No? That’s because they were mostly all made up.
The programme naturally dwelt on the paper’s golden period around 1976-7 when Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and Nick Kent were writing about the explosion of punk. I was struck by how we all unthinkingly subscribe to an incredibly orthodox view of musical history: in the 1950s music was crap, then Elvis and the Beatles came along and changed everything, peace and love, Led Zeppelin and then the long descent into prog rock pomposity before punk swept it all away.
I was thinking about this, and it’s bollocks, isn’t it? Punk music wasn’t invented by Malcolm McClaren and the Sex Pistols - The Ramones were formed in 1974 for one thing, and people have been making loud, angry guitar music since they invented the electric guitar. By the same token, Prog rock wasn’t swept away by Punk either. Yes had a number one album in July1977 at a time when Britain was apparently punk mad. People have made an awful lot of pompous music since 1977 too - a lot of it by Oasis, who presumably like to think they have more in common with Johnny Rotten than with Rick Wakeman. I can’t hold the NME entirely responsible for this brainwashing, but it’s definitely true that it’s a version of history that suits them because it implies that they were far more important and influential on the shaping of popular opinion than they actually were (they're name-checked in lyrics to"Anarchy In the UK", of course they want to talk up the role of the Sex Pistols).
I’ve long since stopped buying the NME now, but I still pick it up from time-to-time and have a browse – either for old time’s sake, or because they’ve put Morrissey on the front cover. It hasn’t changed much, or it doesn’t appear to have done, and I just can’t be doing with it.
I must be getting old.
Maybe I should take out a subscription to Mojo?