Ok, NME, you’ve got some explaining to do and, no, it’s not about your obsession with Pete Doherty’s appetite for self-destruction this time. I bought the NME when it was New Musical Express and the emphasis used to be on new. Actually, to be completely fair, it still does new music and too much of it if you ask me. Every week there are at least twenty “great” new bands from around the world featured in “Radar”; that’s a thousand bands a year to feel guilty about not hearing, and that’s not counting the twenty “essential” new tracks featured in “On Repeat”. There is such a thing as too much music. But maybe I just slipped off-topic there for a second.
This might surprise you, coming from a cantankerous old git, but what’s the deal with all the old music in the “New” Musical Express. Apart from the regular features, “Anatomy of an (old) Album”, “Soundtrack of my Life” (old songs) and “This week in …” (old news), the cover features for the last two weeks have been twentieth anniversary pieces on “The Holy Bible” and “Definitely Maybe”. I’m not saying they’re bad albums; they’re not. I parted with my hard-earned for both of them – twenty years ago. So, apart from the front cover, each of these albums gets ten pages in the magazine as well. If you delve further into the back issues, there’s a fairly predictable 100 most influential artists piece (early August) and a Led Zeppelin retrospective (late May).
This is editorial content by focus group and the group must have been fifty per cent Hoxton and Dalston scenesters and fifty per cent old rockers from The Borderline and The 100 Club; sounds like a really bad sixtieth birthday party. So, what’s the target demographic (or whatever the current marketing phrase is for the people you want to buy your product) for big pieces about old music? Is it the Moss-thin, leather shrink-wrapped, pony-tailed Nick Kent wannabe who never stopped reading the New Musical Express, or is it the student who’s waded through all of the new bands and new songs and decided that there’s nothing there worth bothering with and it’s time to start looking back twenty years to find something decent. Can you imagine looking back from 1976 and thinking that you needed to find out a bit more about Pat Boone, Doris Day and Winifred Atwell? Thought not.
So, where do you draw the line? How many more “classic” album anniversaries can we dig out to fill a cover and ten pages that should really be devoted to new music? And what anniversaries do we have lined up over the next few weeks; Crash Test Dummies’ “God Shuffled his Feet”? We could get ten pages out of the (not very) subtle reference to right-wing poster girl Ayn Rand’s novel, “Atlas Shrugged”, and maybe an interview with Neil Peart to pad it out. How about Echobelly’s “Everyone’s Got One”? That got them a whole season on student summer ball circuit before they imploded; should be worth a few pages, and Sonya Madan’s back out there again so she should be happy to get the publicity. Where do you draw the line? Sleeper, Menswear, Lush, Gene? I think you get the picture.
NME, get a grip. If I want to act my musical age, I’ll buy Q or Mojo. Until then, I expect you to tell me about what’s happening now, not twenty years ago.
OK, I may be going back a little while here, but occasionally you see something really irritating which festers for a while (and, trust me, I can bear grudges for a long time, sometimes even longer than high-court judges) but needs an extra detonator to set it off. So, this started when I saw Gene Simmons on The One Show in November 2011 giving the audience the benefit of his opinions on the free market. Now, everyone’s entitled to hold political opinions but I really object to musicians (in the loosest sense of the word) being invited on to chat shows to talk about their band, record, ghost-written self-serving autobiography or comeback tour hijacking the interview (and hapless, unprepared presenters) to pontificate about private health care and how much better it is than publicly-funded healthcare.
I’m not saying that musicians shouldn’t have political opinions and I don’t think Gene Simmons is wrong for believing in the free market; it’s a personal opinion that he’s perfectly entitled to hold. What’s wrong is airing that opinion in a situation where you’re supposed to be plugging your latest product and relying on a reputation gained in one area (entertainment) to validate opinions on another area (economic theory). And don’t think for a second that this is just a lefty rant; Billy Bragg quoted a flawed interpretation of some flawed research in his John Peel lecture in November 2012 in support of a theory that our musicians are now all privately-educated. That’s just as bad as Gene Simmons’ grandstanding and just as lazy.
Going back even further (in an attempt to bring this back to the present), Neal Peart (drummer and lyricist of Canadian prog-rock trio Rush) is a long-time admirer of the author Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy. Whatever you think of the band’s music (and I’m not a fan), you should be seriously worried about the influence of Ms Rand; and she hasn’t just influenced conspiracy theory-obsessed rock musicians. Do a bit of your own research online and you’ll see what I mean.
Personally, I’ve been putting this off for years but I finally decided to read the Ayn Rand novels and see what all the fuss is about. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read her books; you should. I am warning you that, because of the turgid prose, it’s bloody hard work and you might find yourself being wound up by the blatant casual racism, pro-Americanism and misogyny of books written by a woman and with female leading characters. The leading male characters (the heroes) are violent towards women and the leading female characters accept this violence while moving between successive alpha males to the top of the pecking order.
What else do you need to know about the novels of Ayn Rand? One of the reasons they’re such hard work is that they feature soliloquies that go on forever, belabouring simplistic ideas with the sledgehammer/walnut principle. Speeches lasting ten pages aren’t uncommon but the piece de resistance comes towards the end of the Rand magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged” when the enigmatic central character, John Galt, makes a sixty page speech which is supposedly a three hour live TV broadcast. Call me cynical, but two hours and fifty-nine minutes of it would have been lost as viewers found more pressing things to do (re-cataloguing the stamp collection perhaps) and the first minute would have been dismissed as rhetorical nonsense.
So why do so many celebrities follow the cult of Ayn Rand? Perhaps she emphasises the importance of individual effort and worth, or perhaps it’s insecurity and the attempt to validate a life lived in the spotlight and nowhere else. All I’m saying here is be very careful about following the lead of your artistic heroes because they’re as human as you and me (Matt Bellamy and 9/11 conspiracy theories, for example). Question everything and read the source material for yourself; it’s all out there. This plaque is featured at a very famous Disney attraction in the USA; it looks fine taken out of context, but the bottom line is that the Disney organisation is legitimising an extreme right-wing author (and that’s before we start on her views on homosexuality and poverty).