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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, July 04, 2005
    I use the NME
     
    It's no mystery why there's so little detailed and critical debate over debt relief and trade in the mainstream, the mainstream including of course all those who played or supported last weekend's musical events. Our media have abandoned all pretence at being investigative or critical; illustrated by Sunday's Observer which published a spreadsheet listing the 'G8: key questions on the key issues'. This included breathtakingly complacent statements like, The deal is mostly done on aid (when in fact a tiny proportion of the nations who need aid have been offered it, and only on IMF terms which could ruin them anyway), and Climate Change: disaster's been averted. And a ridiculously weak-kneed 'interview' of Gordon Brown by the usually quite sassy Barbara Ellen.

    So while it's good to see new generations of campaigners coming through, it's a wonder any of them have a clue what they're campaigning about. It's no wonder none of us have enough of a clue. Struck me while watching tonight's BBC Four documentary about the halcyon (70s-80s) days of the NME, that nothing exists now in youth media to compare with that publication which connected ground-breaking music, philosophy, sociology, outsider art and politics in an unpredictable and always stimulating brew which people lapped up - I remember the ache of anticipation to see what inspiration the next Thursday morning transaction at the newsagents would bring me.

    It makes me think that Live Aid was made possible because of the heavily-politicised rock culture of the time, in which NME was pivotal (remember Geldof cut his teeth in rock journalism). Live 8 rides on the back of the truly radical successes of twenty years ago.

    Charles Shaar Murray was one NME writer who certainly influenced a generation, the generation which provoked Rock Against Racism, Greenham and Red Wedge. His BBC quote explains why NME then was so good, and makes me wish for something even remotely similar to resource us today:

    "I think we tapped into the best instincts of youth, we gave people a hell of a good time while we were doing it, we challenged them to be sceptical about the world around them, we didn't just praise everything that came down the pop cultural chute. We did this in the most entertaining way we could, we had fun, we were sceptical, we were broad-based. I think we provided a great service to youth, and I wish there was something like that around today because I tell you, even at my grotesquely advanced age, I would read it."