Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Behind NME Lines: "Nice Boys" like Nick Kent Wrote about the Louche Stars of Seventies Music in a Sharp but Open-Minded Way That Raised Rock Journalism to an Art Form

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Behind NME Lines: "Nice Boys" like Nick Kent Wrote about the Louche Stars of Seventies Music in a Sharp but Open-Minded Way That Raised Rock Journalism to an Art Form

Article excerpt

Golden ages are rarely worth the chasing, but if one wanted an optimal era for British rock journalism, it would probably be the period spanning 1972-78. The venue for this effervescing musicological tide was neither Melody Maker, at this point a rest home for retired jazzers, nor its younger rival Sounds, but that switched-on Seventies hipster bible, the New Musical Express. While there were any number of high-grade associate members, the real work in this revolution was performed by three people: Charles Shaar Murray, the late Ian Mac-Donald and Nick Kent.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Like many an aspiring writer who fetched up in countercultural west London in the early Seventies, none of these cynosures hailed from anywhere near the thronged, bohemian underground from which rock journalism nearly always aims to take its recruits--those "hip young gunslingers" that the NME advertised for in 1976 when it recruited Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons to make sense of punk.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Murray (born 1951) was Jewish and middle-class, the son of parents so trusting that when he came home once in the throes of an LSD trip, they genuinely didn't notice. MacDonald (born 1948) had been to Cambridge, where he briefly hung out with the elfin folk troubadour Nick Drake. Kent (born 1951) was the product of a God-fearing, bourgeois home--his father an EMI recording engineer who had worked with George Martin-who nearly read English at Oxford, and whose early journalism was filed from student digs at Bedford College.

As for the creative approach that the trio brought to an art form that, in its modern (or post-Beatles) state, had barely existed beyond a decade, there was little in the way of a collective template. Murray, iconoclastic but humorous, and not above telling Paul McCartney to his face that he'd made a below-par album, gave the impression of having read a great deal of Sixties-era American New Journalism. Mac-Donald was the in-house intellectual, the kind of reporter who would be sent to Cologne to interview the notably cerebral German band Can and understand the Stockhausen references. Kent's journalistic credo, meanwhile, is set out in his fraught and gamy Seventies memoir, Apathy for the Devil:

  I wasn't writing about rock as an idea:
  I was writing about it as a full-blown,
  flesh-and-blood reality--surreal people
  living surreal, action-packed lives. From
  what I'd learned coming up, rock writing
  was fundamentally an action medium
  that best came to life when the writer was
  right in the thick of that action, yet
  removed enough to comprehend its
  possible consequences.

The difficulties that Kent sometimes had in preserving this detachment are, inevitably, part of his charm: "Lemmy offered me a taste ... I didn't sleep after that for four whole days and nights ... Sid didn't waste any words. He just lurched over and started kicking merry hell out of my seated form while brandishing his bike chain ... Keith laid out a six-inch line of heroin and cocaine mixed together, snorted it, laid out another and handed me a rolled-up pound note ... It was still 7am." The attentive reader will note that this is Kent's characteristic time zone, those parched, strung-out hours on either side of the haggard, west London dawn. If the Seventies were a lost decade then, as Cyril Connolly might have said, we know who lost them.

On the other hand, the moral vantage point, in a world conspicuously short on reflection or nuance, is what gave Kent's and Murray's Seventies journalism its charge. Once you detach the soundtrack's adrenalin rush, this, as wide-eyed histories of the era can forget, was a decade of violent nastiness: Vivienne Westwood inciting mayhem at punk gigs, Tony Parsons being encouraged by his inamorata, Burchill, to rough up Mick Farren in the NME office, Sid and Nancy reeling from one narcotic Sargasso Sea to another, staggering out of Kent's tower-block squat and leaving a bundle of used syringes under the mattress. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.