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The Beauty of Writing: Tony Parsons and the NME Legacy

If you want a more honest, fun and rewarding look at Britain, you could do a lot worse than former NME writer Tony Parson’s latest book, Men from Boys. The brutal honesty of an insightful and forward-thinking writer who perfectly understands the craft of storytelling. To take the particular and make it universal requires a poetic eye for detail and a philosopher’s mind for truth. Or to put it simply, he writes like a songsmith. Like a Costello or a Dylan who tells it like it is and shoots from the hip—unless the chorus calls for a change of tone, of course. It should be so; the narrative, the rhythm of the characters and the inner thoughts, without stopping and the reader can think about one, the other becomes the other.

I first met Parsons many years ago when Bob Marley was still Jamming and Elvis was watching The Detectives. These were the golden years of the Új Musical Expressz. I’ve been wanting to write about how this distinct group of writers has influenced me for a while now. I know the NME will continue to shine and attract quality writers who speak eloquently about the great music that continues to emerge from these isles in the nineties and beyond. But the class was different in the late seventies and early eighties.

Many of the writers associated with NME in what is now called punk and post-punk have since gone on to have successful writing careers in other fields, and this indicates the breadth of influences on their writing at the time. As I recall, the writers I’m talking about include Tony Parsons, his ex-wife Julie Birchill, Paul Morley, Ian Penman, Barney Hoskyns, Charles Shaar Murray and Danny Baker. As if this motley crew wasn’t enough, there was also photographer Kevin Cummins, who made Joy Division iconic, and Dutch master and later filmmaker Anton Corbijn, whose haunting, grainy monochrome portraits of Bowie, Beefheart and Miles stay with me to this day. defining images of the music I love.

I think this era of punk and post-punk started when the NME famously advertised ‘two hot young guns’, then the posts were filled by the outspoken Tony Parsons and the even more acerbic Julie Birchall. Many of you will know at least a few of these names from the UK’s various established Sunday and daily papers, not to mention late night arts chat shows. You’ve seen Petit’s moody and menacingly ironic road movie ‘Radio On’, in which Sting appears as a fading rock ‘n’ roller on the side of the road as the protagonist travels from London to Bristol. Not quite the 1 or the 66, but it was the essence of the post-punk rebirth of British culture. Petit was famously asked how he managed to make England so unrelentingly stark during filming in the late 1970s, and he replied that it wasn’t difficult, that’s what the country looked like in 1979.

What attracted me to writing for NME was the richness and passion for the subject matter, whether it was essentially this week’s singles or last weeks concerts. In retrospect, that expressed urgency is now lost. Here were people who were both aware of their creative commentary on a vibrant and unbridled era of creativity and political change. Many see the late 1960s as the zenith of revolutionary post-war creative change, but I’d argue that the era was just a decadent party for the admittedly large group of upper-class debs and working-class heroes who serenaded and photographed them. What happened just over a decade later was a more politically motivated sea of ​​change that swept beyond the metropolis into the cities, later checked in The Smiths’ ‘Panic’. The musical legacy of Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester record labels tells its own story.

Paul Morley, who still writes about the pop sensibility today, was particularly interesting. As an erudite writer who has always reflected on the hit parade, he never failed to provide his critiques of the week’s novelties, from Barthes to Borges, through Martin Seymour-Smith’s The Guide to Modern World Literature.

So that’s the beauty of writing, which allows dulled observers and new wonderers to write about what they get but can never get or reach themselves. After all, there would be no love songs, no poems and no great criticism if writers really had the answer to everything.

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