Better to burn out than fade away: a parallel between Morrissey and New Musical Express

As written by the great Neil Young and reproduced by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note, this aphorism is probably one of the most famous in the world of rock music. I thought it was quite relevant to two recent events I experienced and which were very much connected with my discovering and love of music in my teenage years.

New Musical Express (nickname NME) was without any question the music Bible for many youngsters from the early 70’s to the mid 90’s. This weekly magazine reached its peak during the punk, post-punk and brit-pop years and at one stage its publication figures were in the hundreds of thousands. Numbers are not all there is to it though and more important in an age when internet was not even a concept, I was one of many people waiting with eagerness to receive (quite late) the latest music news, articles about my idols or new bands to discover. My favourite section was the records review and the straight-to-the-point way of writing of its journalists has remained a fantastic inspiration. I guess it also made me what I am and it gave me in particular a fascination for British music, which was not complicated for a teenager living in France. We all know the joke: “French rock music is the equivalent of British red wine…”.

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Thanks to one of my best high school mates, I subscribed in November ’85 and remained a faithful reader until last month, when NME editing group concluded that the printing version was not sustainable anymore. A real relief I must say as nothing is more painful than watching something you cherished decline at such a point that you feel more embarrassment than anything else. NME ended his first life in 2015 to become a weekly free magazine but the spirit was totally gone and I am sure I was not the only one to be ashamed to see such a cheap publication still bearing the name of my previous beloved magazine.

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Although there were probably more famous covers, the issue that made what I am today was the second one I received by post, dated 30/11/85 and including the journalists’ vote of the 100 greatest albums ever made. Click here to review this amazing list. R.I.P. NME.

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The parallel with Morrissey is an obvious one. NME were the first magazine to champion The Smiths when they appeared on the musical scene of the early 80’s and Morrissey used to write chronicles in the newspaper earlier in the 70’s about his beloved New York Dolls for instance. At one stage, when he went through his first solo years of the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a joke to rebaptise the NME New Morrissey Express so strong was his presence in the magazine.

..and the question therefore is: should Morrissey also realise that he lost his flame a few year ago and that one only follows him because one knows the beauty and power there used to be in his songs…many years ago. His latest albums are not necessarily bad and there are still a few interesting things to discover here and there but no real subtlety and charm anymore. The way he keeps on hammering his hate of the Royal family or meat eaters for instance is a bit pathetic and closed to the old racist uncle you have to meet at a family wedding ceremony. Interesting to see also how Johnny Marr aged gracefully physically and mentally-speaking, which is not really something one could say about Morrissey.

I went (probably for the last time ever) to see him live at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2018. I must admit the show was quite pleasant although really lacking subtlety. Morrissey’s physical appearance is also a bit unpleasant and one sometimes has the impression to see a sort of “Morrissey in Vegas” show. If I were you, Mister Stephen Patrick Morrissey, I would follow the example of NME and start to think about stopping making music. The man has a real writing talent by the way so would it be the right moment to start another career?