Thursday, 25 June 2009

Steven Wells

I didn't always agree with him - at times I thought his dogmatically pro-pop-culture stance could be (inadvertently and obviously quite against his intentions) appropriated by the very people he despised the most, and of course he was tainted for me by staying with the NME well into the Europhobia-for-the-soft-left phase it will clearly never now leave - but fuck, 48/9 is no age. He'd clearly have hated people saying he was comforting to have around, but - as with his old adversary Mark E. Smith - you always felt, whether or not you agreed with him or liked what he'd done that week/year, that his presence was A Good Thing. He undoubtedly played to the gallery (probably to stay in work) in his later years at the NME, but at his best he made people think and think again, which is more than most writers ever do.

For he was capable of a lot more than the tabloidised NME of his later years there would allow him to do - his pop-culture evangelism, for all that I'll always be in two minds about it, was always and only ever on the side of those who create the best pop and the idea of what it could/can be, set free. He never pretended (unlike some NME writers I could mention) that the media controllers - those in charge of the mass culture industry who claim ownership of everything it does - were on the side of the Left. When I started buying old NMEs I noticed that his writing about politics and the culture industry, and especially the politics of the culture industry, was a lot more subtle and multi-layered - particularly in his July '86 piece about the Christian Right and specifically the odious Peter Mullen - than I'd been used to from him (or from the NME more generally) in my own adolescence, and one of the main reasons why I wish the NME had stayed as it was at that time is that he'd have been encouraged to write more pieces in that vein, rather than just play to the crowd and phone in rants about Belle & Sebastian or whoever, which - funny as they were - were as unrepresentative of what he was really capable of as the "Mr Agreeable" columns were for David Stubbs. His Guardian and Philadelphia Weekly stuff late on showed what he was really capable of, and it is to be regretted that the books he was apparently planning never came to fruition. Also, of course, he contributed to On the Hour and The Day Today, neither of which has been equalled since and certainly won't be by the cawing and LOLing excuses who dare to pretend to fill their shoes today.

I'll miss him. RIP.

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