Two moments. One relevant to what I want to write here, one not.
First is walking into Bristol with Jane on the way to work. Take a hard right, into the park. And I'm struck dumb.
On the left, the corroded concrete of the skate-park, wearing its graffitti make-up proudly. On the right, exhibitionist trees with their red-slut leaves piled around their ankles. And above, no sky, just a thick white piece of paper that's low enough to induce claustrophobia.
Oh, England, my England, so ugly, so mine.
The second is on the bus. I take my seat and start reading. I become aware of some schoolkids a few rows behind me mumbling "PC GAMER! PC GAMER!" in baiting tones. I smirk, and ignore it. It's a busy busy and I can do without it, y'know? However, they persist, upping the noise up a notch. It becomes undiginified to pretend not to notice, so I turn around, and nod. "It his him", states the couple of boys. Lads. College age or thereabouts, showing off in front of a couple of girls, about videogames of all things. I turn back and continue reading. The fucking around continues for a while, before their raised conversation turns to other matters - taking the piss out of people on the sidewalk. They joy of mocking. I understand.
The college bus-stop comes up and the majority of the bus disembarks. And now, I'm expecting something as they get off, but really can't predict what. Being kids, it could be anything from quiet giggling to a slap on the back of the head depending on their mood and demeanor. But no, nothing.
Until one of them is nearly off the bus. He turns around and gruffly and simply states: "Good Magazine. Good Writer".
And then he's gone.
Now, you have to understand, that I don't do this for that. But it doesn't mean that every time I think back to it, I'm filled up and grinning like a simpleton.
What makes it all the better is that what I was reading was Neil Kulkarni's much praised Metal column in the final Careless Talk Costs Lives, where he opens up like heart surgery. How defenceless Kulk's been in his writing in CTCL has been one of its major attractions - or, at least, fascinations - of the twelve issues. As one of my formative music writing influences, his original power was the best Hatchett-man the music-press could offer, annihliating all-comers with his swinging prose-bludgeon. As a teenage fan of viscera, I digged it in the same way I dug That Bit In Scanners. I wanted to see people bleed for my amusement.
I exagerate. There was always much more to his writing than simple SplatterSports, but his sense of hardness was unshakeable. No edges to ground down - or rather, only one edge and that's the blade of the axe. It's characteristic that the first time I noticed his writing was when he was extolling the power of Public Enemy. If his writ ing was a band, it'd be Chuck D and Flavor Flav's gang of radicals pop extremists.
(Now there's a game that could be worth playing. Journalist X is the writing equivalent of Band Y. Or, for the tech sorts, game Y. Maybe later...)
But he's changed. In this column, he talks a little of why and how. And, specifically, why Music Journalism and Music is important, and why its worth doing and why Careless Talk was worth doing.
It's a little soppy. Which is fine. In fact, chunks of the final issue tend towards sentimentality. Which is, yet again, fine. The writers have earned it for saying No when everyone else was saying Yes, and doing for free, and meaning it, even if what they were saying was rubbish. All of which goes doubly for my own work, clearly.
So, yes, Careless Talk was prissy and often cloying. It was wrong as least as much as it was right. But there was never anything even remotely careless about this talk, and in this modern age that was reason as much to cherish it. If you buy the final issue, and you have any interest in pop music at all, you'll walk away with a dozen new albums you'll desperately want to pick up. And, even better, until you opened its pages you'll have had virtually no idea they existed at all. CTCL managed to reclaim the idea of music press as an otherworldly thing - voices from beyond, speaking of events diverse in the spirit world.
I still recall my first memory of the Inkies. In Smiths, scanning the shelves, I notice them for the first time. I look at them, absorbing the fairly-badly shot image of a band on the cover. I remember reading the coverlines, and not recognising a single band name - or at least not feeling as if I was worthy enough to own a record by any of them (Christ - at this particular age I thought that if I tried to buy - say - Public Enemy record, the clerk would stop me, grab it from my hands and say "Sorry, son, not for you. Take this Megadeth album instead and be gone, eh?"). But despite that, it was nonchalantly cool to stick in my memory. Even if it wasn't for me, I wanted it to be for me. And one day, it was.
Reading my stuff in the final issue I had the sharp realisation - always surprising - that I'm not actually bad at this music writing stuff when I try. Which is unusual, as mostly I feel like a piece of fucking shit at best. This doesn't stop me sneering at most music writing, of course, as I tend to think while I'm clearly a piece of shit, at least there's plenty of fibre in my diet and it's a firm and shapely turd, instead of liquidly smeared at high-velocity over a backstreet bog. I throw in a handful of short reviews, and a couple of thought pieces. One a live review on Ladyfest Bristol (The Cringe-death pun of WHITE MAN IN CLITORIS PALACE. But I couldn't stop myself.) and another trying to cut through the rewriting of history that's beginning to happen around the British Popscene 94-97 (RUE BRITANNIA). For those with a vague interest in my comics, the former is what the first episode of PHONOGRAM is essentially "about", and the latter the basis for the entire first story arc.
There's plenty more to see in the issue, of course. CTCL always managed to scavenge a number of Old Skool writers of note, finally getting Taylor Parkes' words into this one - where he brings a surprisingly quiet authoritorial voice to his review of the Can re-issues. Everett True and Stevie Chick's features regularly hold the entire magazine together, with the latters voice seeming stronger than ever. In terms of writers first given a big stage in CTCL, take the immortal and much-hailed Miss AMP. She appears in the finale with an off-handedly perfect Peaches interview. Dan McNamee continues his nervous breakdown-as-music-reviews and it appears, after two years, that I've finally realised his name is "Dan" not "Dave". Houghton doesn't write enough, but when he does he's equally cerebral and funny, all the more distinguished in that he despises the majority of the IndieShit - God knows magazines with a divided internal voice are some of my favourite things. And many others, who I won't mention to try and avoid making this paragraph seem like a name-checking list.
Good magazine. Good writers.
If you haven't got hold of one yet, for God sake buy this one.
What's next? Updates on CTCL's site, but essentially Steve Gullick and Stevie Chick is heading up a quarterly high-production-value photo-lead music magazine called "Loose Lips Sink Ships". Everett and McNamee are editing a monthly (no, really) word-lead magazine called "Plan B". I'll probably be writing something or another for it.
Song of the moments: "Left To My Own Devices", Pet Shop Boys.
I probably would, y'know.