Friday, 17 January 2020


As you probably know, things have been inactive here at Then Play Long for some time. I stopped writing it three years ago, after Mark Fisher died, and for the last eleven months I have endeavoured to turn the blog into a book.

This has ultimately proved to be impossible, hence I am now informing you that the book has been cancelled. This is in great part due to fundamental issues with my proposed publishers which I won’t go into here, but in truth it was always going to be a doomed project.

The central problem is that books are not blogs, so I was obliged to write something new about everything that I had already spent the best part of a decade writing about. The agreement had been to do it A-Z by artist in keeping with the format adopted by David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary Of Film. That made things instantly problematic, since here was a book essentially piggybacking on the residual renown of another book. Moreover, it would not have been possible to write it as anything other than a reference book, and who needs another one of those? It would have been exceptionally inadequate, erratic and unreliable as a source of reference, nor was it going to constitute a candy-coloured cavalcade of easy, rosy nostalgia. More fool me. If I’d just done it that way, it would have been finished six months ago, would probably have sold in its thousands and I wouldn’t have to worry about the poverty of being a pensioner.

But no, I have to make things hard for myself. It was really going to be a disguised novel, or memoir, or manifesto, using number one albums as signposts on the road. However, it turned out to be undoable.

That isn’t my primary objection to its pre-emptive failure, however. In recent months, and keeping my own recent medical history and consequent magnified sense of mortality in mind, I have been wondering about the purpose of music writing, in particular whether it now has any purpose. I’m not convinced that it does. I don’t even bother reading most record reviews anymore. Why should I? The music’s out there to be listened to – it isn’t 1971 or 1987 and we no longer need a middleperson to tell us what and how to think. It’s enough for me to know that something’s out, and I’ll go and get it regardless of whatever broadsheet nonentity has said about it.

Worse is the creeping awareness that “rock criticism” may have been a mistake. Before 1967 everybody loved pop music of all descriptions and there were no boundaries until some rich white middle-class young men decided that some music was better than other music. We haven’t really recovered from that. I now think – what really is the point, other than to let the prospective listener know of something or someone they might not previously have heard of or even considered, in ways which will persuade (not compel) them to investigate?

BS Johnson made a short film in early 1969 called Paradigm in which the actor William Hoyland plays the same man at five different stages in his life. In his twenties he is energetic, enthusiastic, passionate and articulate. But as each decade elapses, he becomes less confident of his views and less readily able to express them. By the time he is sixty, he has nothing to say and no way in which to say it. I feel a bit like that now, except that my enthusiasm for new music is undiminished and if anything has intensified in recent times, as though a voice in the back of my head is saying, you’ve only got so much time left, best use it doing what you enjoy. And attempting to write the book of Then Play Long has not, by and large, been an enjoyable experience.

I can’t improve on what I said in this blog. And the blog can’t be published in its entirety because it’s too big to fit into any book, even at Ducks, Newburyport level. And I think of the twenty-nine years which this blog still has left, theoretically, to cover, and you know what? It feels like work. I turn fifty-six a week tomorrow. When I started The Church Of Me I was bereaved but I was still young and, boy, was I hungry to share my discoveries and did I have the energy to do so articulately and inventively. That thirtysomething chap no longer exists and I am more than happy simply to share my new discoveries with Lena – and vice versa. When I was younger and with Laura I was equally happy to do that and I didn’t write in public at all. There’s a moral there.


Mark G said...


I won't deny I was looking forward to it, but it's not worth killing yourself or your (random French term of reference meaning life force, enthusiasm, etc) over.

It's a tough one, explaining just why something is good or bad, and why this other one pales, by comparison..

Anyway, leave it to Ted Bovis, that great philosopher..

"Number one rule of Comedy, Spike: Never Explain"



Fidtz said...

Then Play Long is one of my favourite ever websites of any kind. Thank you for writing it (please leave it up!).

I think your point about Rock Criticism is well made. However, now people who like music can now listen to anything with such low friction, people are recovering from it finally, hopefully. I know old punks who now see the value in Yes and old Goths who like Taylor Swift on its own terms (not ironically).

Billy Smart said...

That's a shame - I was looking forward to that! The imaginary TPL book in my mind was more like The Anatomy Of Melancholy than The Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, which it was a stretch to imagine anybody writing while remaining sane and in good health.

David Belbin said...

Sorry to hear this but hardly surprised, as it was very hard to see how you would fit TPL into a book (and the the Thomson model, as you suggest, makes little sense). Why do rock criticism at all? Hard to know where to start. Writing about music brought me to Nottingham, nearly forty five years ago, for which I'm grateful and is, I think, how you got to meet Lena. I've been working on a commission that combines commentary and memoir, which I find hard, even with only five thousand words to play with. Otherwise, I tend to knock out reviews quickly for the free tickets. The days when there was decent money to be made, even from books, is far behind us. I have a huge pile of music books waiting to be read but it's hard to summon up the enthusiasm. That said, I just picked up a copy of 'The Blue Moment' for four quid from Oxfam and retirement is a lot nearer for me than it is for you, so maybe that'll change. I mean, what's the point of anything? But we might as well go on, considering the alternative... good luck to you both.

sean said...

This makes me sad, too—your writing has left a mark on my life, and I was excited for an artifact to bring into my home—but your explanation here seems both sensible and wise. There are things much more important than giving gifts to strangers. Wishing you well!

Bryan said...

The writings of Then Play Long has changed my life for the better. Reading it years ago was very important for my late teen self. I had hardly ever read something, up to that point in my life, that simultaneously shared my opinions and completely went against some of my others. It was healthy and made me reflect on music what it needs to be and what it ultimately can only be to ourselves and others. Perhaps it is minuscule, and has little point in the grand scheme of things, but that may have been enough. Thank you, best wishes.

roxymusicsongs said...

I started writing a music blog at 55 and look forward to working on it every day. I find I have more enthusiasm for life, music, and my young children with every waking day. Trying to nail down the validity of music criticism is like trying to nail down the validity of a golf magazine. It just is. It's what people do - if they're interested.

Good luck to you, I just discovered the blog, and if the goal was to communicate ideas to people, then you've succeeded. All the best.