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.