March 26, 2004
WHY MAGAZINES MATTER
Nah, Luke's wrong. Or at least, it wasn't ever thus. NME in the late seventies and early to mid eighties (Penman, Morley, Burchill, Kopf, Sinker), Melody Maker in the mid-to-late eighties and early nineties (Simon, Stubbs, Paul Oldfield, the Stud Bros, Taylor P), the Wire with Mark S at the helm, even those few pages of i-D over which Kodwo and Steve Beard presided for the best part of the 90s: all these magazines/ papers were urgent, indispensable, inspirational for a time. No doubt there are hard social, demographic and economic reasons why they ultimately went into decline or died out altogether, no doubt miserabilists and impossibilists (aka 'realists') will argue that the conditions for those flashes of pop-publishing brilliance were anomalous and couldn't be recreated today. No doubt...
But I'm not persuaded. The tragedy of the likes of Penman and TP languishing in demi-employment, while PR hacks snort record company coke; this is a cosmic injustice that demands some recompense, some karmic payback.
The catalytic power of magazines, their capacity to dream alternatives, to escalate - and produce - scenes. Perhaps it IS gone, gone forever as pop writers become corporate lackeys, but I reserve the right to mourn its lack.
Posted by mark at March 26, 2004 07:45 PM
saying i'm wrong isn't fair. for people my age there's never been a magazine that mattered and theres never been a writer even slightly interesting let alone inspirational. they're all shit and i was just saying it's better to look at that in a positive way then hark back to some mythical golden age. the whole receiving the word from on high is over and a good thing too.
so mark, have you given up on even the possibility that mags/periodic publications can get back to that space/quality? surely the fact that things like the Wire are still going in albeit a less virulent form - means there is still space out there for genuine thought material?
Is there not a chance that you and other bloggerspherites (Penman, Reynolds, etc) could launch something, maybe web based at first (possibly just web based and hyper linked...)?
or do you think i am missing the critical freeing jump that bloggs have allowed? I still feel that there is a place for a collected (and as such; grouped acceleration potential) zone of longer / specific works (i.e. articles) that people would regard as quality, and would happily purchase (or maybe just download)...
what do you think?
what do others think?
if not you and others, then someone , surely there are people out there who are similarly shitting tears into their cornflakes at the brainless, thoughtless, asinine fuckworded publications that hackney the concept of journalism and wiritng... surely others will come again to form such productive networks again, just as intensively charged musicians continue to emerge, so too I am sure will writers and thinkers in corresponding zones continue to emerge...
(I know the threshold (possibly undesirable) is that of printing scale etc... but this doesn't have to be / start at that level)...
And this isn't about the 'voice from on high' as luke says, this is about precisely not that... that mode was one of the traps of the magazine form, arbiter of judgment and icon definer... this is death to thought, at the hands of power...
will someone pay me to write about war?
And buy me cigarettes for my efforts.
Luke, well I did qualify the statement - saying 'at least it wasn't ever thus.' Yes, better to be +ve, but the golden age was far from mythical, I can assure you. Just think Penman was writing for a major weekly music paper! And Simon! And Stubbs! Plus I might pt out that our little network is HIGHLY contingent/ parasitic upon PREVIOUS print media : the fact that Simon in particular has a print-derived following has been a major factor in getting the thing going.
For these reasons, Al, no I haven't given up hope on magazines. Don't see the pt in a web-based magazine; this would have all the vices of print-based media (chasing ppl for copy etc) and none of the advantages of blogs (autonomy, speed of response). In any case, the current network is effectively a constantly mutating text connected thru hyperlinks. A print magazine wd be like going back to amity beach at the moment I fear, but one is DEFINITELY needed....
A curious thing: just as the economics of magazine production make small publications feasible, the breadth of voices available collapses. I think a big factor is WHSMith's continuing reduction in the number of titles it carries. You used to be able to do 10K at newsstand in your early days no trouble; now you don't get the chance.
If it doesn't dissolve the point of the discussion entirely, I'd like to bring in the mp3 / p2p debate here. If we are in an age of fan-to-fan interactions, and it seems very 1998 to even suggest it, then a magazine seems redundant. The purpose of such a magazine is I suppose to be a journal of record and a rallying point for the disaffected who are not yet part of a network. Leaving aside the difficulty of making such a proposition work economically, I wonder if Mark is being a little nostalgic here. If Luke doesn't fancy such a title, then perhaps our notional audience isn't very interested.
Just a quick thought on the web front -- couldn't something simple and automated be done with our RSS feeds? Page that automatically take the blog circle jerk's articles, indexes them by content, and creates a "best of" site? Hmmm?
Maybe I am being nostalgic - although I find this term increasingly unhelpful: is it nostalgic to say that jungle was better in 94 than now? that when the NME had visionaries like Penman and Morley it was superior to its current state of fear-cowed hackery?
The analogy with p2p is all-too convincing; that's exactly why I'm sceptical about the impact p2p will have on music, i.e. the equivalent of Penman etc forced to give away their work for nothing coz the internet produces an expectation of getting something for nothing.
Great idea about the automated site, Paul, but I'm so ditzy about blogs n stuff; how would it work? Do blogger sites have rss feeds yet.
I certainly agree that the NME in the 80s was better than now. It had much better writing then, which it could afford, because it had a much bigger readership. It was physically larger, and it loomed larger over the cultural landscape to a far greater degree. (Pace Reynolds -- MM never had the same kudos or clout. Never had the design or photography of NME either.) People forget what a paucity of media there was then: barriers to entry meant there was little scope for voices other than the big players. It was physically and financially very difficult even to do a fanzine. This was actually rather a good thing -- the fanzine underground was very healthy then. Eden first became aware of me through my writing in zines like Grim Humour.
None of this is arguable or nostalgic. But it might be nostalgic to say we can go back to that. I'm not saying it's nostalgic to want good writing about music and culture; not at all. But it might be nostalgic to want good writing that is supported by a SINGLE substantial medium, whether print or digital. The world is different now; not better, but different.
And probably worse, which is why it's worth us old timers whingeing to people like Luke about how it used to be. We now have fewer large magazines, and a dwindling number of specialist titles, all owned by an ever smaller number of conglomerates. Worse, mainstream titles like newspapers cover the scene. Far from promoting the scene, as one would expect, this satiates many people so they don't need a "proper" magazine, and even if it doesn't, it captures loads of advertising revenue from smaller titles. It's a lot like the revenge of bars and pubs on clubland: keep the punters drinking with ersatz DJing and they no longer have an appetite for real clubbing.
i don't think a magazine of what you guys do is appropriate - something inbetween -like the idler or my man here http://www.strangeattractor.co.uk/.
all your stuff is a bit bigger than mag style stuff - a bit more grown up as well .