Thursday, March 22, 2012

BOOK REVIEW! THE HISTORY OF THE NME by Pat Long (Portico Books, 2012)

OK, I am positive that by now each 'n every one of you know the entire story by heart. In fact, if you know the schpiel to the point where you can recite it in your sleep you're BOUND to win an extra no-prize. New English weekly music paper gets up and runnin' in the early-fifties. Said paper successfully (more or less) covers the trends and fashions of the day before falling by the wayside thanks to their tired old writers not being able to keep up with the zeitgeist. Fresh blood injected during the early-seventies helps the paper's popularity to fly through the roof while ruining more'n a few lives in the process. Despite the burnouts and fatalities the publication reaches its creative peak before evolving into an organ for the Labour Party's failed campaigns of the eighties, eventually settling into just kinda "being there" for whatever new idea might be happening these days, not that I've noticed...

'n yeah, you can say the same thing about every other fifties brainstorm (with more'n a few variations here and there) from MAD to PLAYBOY I reckon, or even a late-sixties up 'n comer like CREEM whose best years coincided with THE NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS's yet flamed out much earlier after the departure of key ingredient Lester Bangs and the mag's growing penchant for covering the mainstream when it should have been boosting the underground. But like those other periodicals NME was a product of its time and perhaps was at its best when the music was at its as well. After all, it's sure grand reading one of the paper's young upstarts like Nick Kent or Charles Shaar Murray goin' at it regarding some glam superstar or punk flash in 1972 'stead of dribbling all over Adam and the Ants, just like it was fun when MAD was taking on old movies and comic strips in 1956 or PLAYBOY was mixing in articles on hotcha sleek sportscars, intellectual interviews and Jean Shepard along with the juggins. And, as we've known for about the past twenty years but were too frightened to admit, the post-World War II period of gulcheral creativity is long over, perhaps wiped out by the same kids who feasted on it for the previous twenty years yet thought they could do a much better job (obviously they didn't).

Pat Long's tome on the paper is pretty much on schedule, on target and on cue in its development throughout the years and (best of all) doesn't mince any meat with regards to the gritty underbelly of it all. The ultimate conclusion being that the NME was a driving force in English rock screeding coverage at a time when the world really needed the likes of Murray, Kent and of course Mick Farren writing about the new decadence, and long after all of them had left the paper it continued on in various capacities which might not have suited the fans of the old standbys but I guess still translated into mucho notoriety given just how many laurels there were for the up-and-comers to rest on.

Obviously I prefer the seventies portion of the program* where those aforementioned writers and of course Ian MacDonald were brought in to help compete against main rival MELODY MAKER with a more snot punk approach to counteract MM's rather arse-licking pop/progressive reason for being. As you probably would have guessed considering how each and every one of you seem to know my inner being, soul and true motives behind my outward actions more than I do, I really enjoyed this part of the book because it details the introduction of underground, gonzo journalism to the paper which really made it stand out as a seventies punk gryphon, and since for the most part I was part of said audience let's just say that it all hit home rather hard even though I was getting my NME third hand, and on very scant occasion at that! Being one of those suburban creeps who lives vicariously through all of those sixties/seventies decadent auteurs even this late in the game, it's such a joy not only to read about the ever-budding appearance of various punkisms that the likes of Murray and Kent were so anxious to disseminate to a wider audience, but each act of senseless violence and abject drug-addled misbehavior almost makes it seems like it's your gore that's getting splattered all over the walls at the 100 Club!

And not only that, but reading about the behind-the-scenes goings on mentioned in loving detail also add an oft-unprobed dimension to the overall saga, giving you a good background as to where these writers were "coming from" to the point where I'm sure that even the most scabrous of BLOG TO COMM  followers will feel "normal" after reading about the rather debauched lifestyles of the various NME contributors we've vicariously worshiped from afar. Whether it be Kent's eventually debilitating drug addiction or the time Tony Parsons (from the comedy team of Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill) beat up Farren in the NME offices after finding out about the former Deviants singer initiating the offal-smelling Burchill into the ins and outs of bondage and discipline (a hotcha punk subject over in England considering how they like to get their asses whipped...reminds 'em of school 'r somethin'), these intimate details are sure INVIGORATING even if you've already read about these goings on's ages back. Your favorite anecdotes may differ, but then again I've always been partial to that particular era of rock writer as rock performer as everyday bloke which is why I've (hate to say it but) long "idolized" everybody from Eddie Flowers to Lenny Kaye to the stars of the NME who seemed to not only make it look all too easy, but so natural as if any jerk could do it! At least they as musicians, scribes or even as general messups seemed so ABOVE everything you've hated about rock as a hippie credo as these writers spewed their definitely non-schlub opines while gettin' to look cool gettin' snapped at parties and whatnot unlike you in your suburban ranch bedroom lookin' at yerself inna mirror while air guitarring to Stooges platters!

This book compliments Nick Kent's own extremely informative autobio hand-in-glove, (one interesting fact recounted here which was left out of  Kent's particular creation was that it was none other'n Can's keyboardist Irmin Schmidt who introduced him to the dread heroin!) even if the guy comes off looking more like a prick if only because Long is writing from a particularly non-sympathetic, jaded third person eye-view. Not only that but there are a few interesting snaps (though far from enough) which you might like such as the one with Kent and then-galpal Chrissie Hynde taken when the couple were not ripping each other's entrails out! The snap with Charles Shaar Murray goin' at it with John Lydon was engaging enough, but that's only because I thought that the former looked retro-hip enough in that 'fro of his which he at least was smart enough not to trim all the way off even when such hairstyles seemed so "uncool." And whether you're a longtime NME reader or casual peruser you'll love the way this brings back memories of rock scribing at its height before that great fall into whoredom blah blah you know the score by now so what's like keeping you???

*Not that the fifties/sixties were exactly dry years for the paper or to read about for that matter. I for one thought that the sagas behind the various NME awards were funnier'n the six o'clock news, what with Ray Davies storming off the stage when the Kinks didn't win the "Best New Group of 1964" award and John Lennon chewing out NME publisher Maurice Kinn backstage right before Kinn and (get this!) CHEYENNE star Clint Walker presented the Beatles with some prestigious trophies! However, the post Farren/Kent/Murray portion of the book was a comparative snoozer for obvious reasons of course but really,  I've read enough about Morrissey a good thirty years back to want to absorb any more about him into my already crowded cranium this late in the game, and I believe you can understand why!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read the book a couple of weeks ago and thought it was pretty good. The Farren/Kent/Murray years get a deserved and prolonged celebration. Feared I’d have to pack up when the likes of Morley and Penman came along but managed to make it through without wincing too much. Didn’t particularly mind whizzing through the painful Britpop era either - a quote along the lines of Boobie Gillespie being a ‘gangly streak of piss unable to carry a tune if given a wheelbarrow with stabilizers’ made it bearable. On the subject of Melody Maker pomposity – apparently all journos had be able read music as well as write about it until ’75.