Imagine, if you can, or remember, if you’re old enough, a long-ago time when music fans had to wait. Wait for news about music. Wait for reviews that were really previews of music you’d wait even longer to hear. (No teasing tasters, sanctioned streams, or illicit leaks in those days.) Anticipation and delay structured the daily experience of music fandom in the pre-internet era. All music and most information were things you literally got your hands on: they came only in analog form, as tangible objects like records or magazines.
In Britain, where I grew up, the primary source of news, commentary, and critique was the weekly music press: New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Sounds, and Record Mirror. The weeklies were stubbornly solid, slightly grubby things. Nicknamed “inkies” because their pages stained your fingers, they were printed on paper and shipped physically across the country, and also, in smaller quantities and at a more expensive price, to far-flung territories of the globe. How’s this for anticipation and delay? In those days NME and the other papers reached Australia and New Zealand by surface mail and thus arrived several months after they came out in the UK, by which time the British scene would have moved forward a considerable distance.
At a time when pop coverage in mainstream newspapers was sporadic and detached-sounding, and TV even more intermittent, NME, MM, Sounds, and RM were the music fan’s mainline to the rock world. People growing up in America in the 1970s got a similarly electric feeling of connection through magazines like Creem, a monthly, or Rolling Stone, published every two weeks. But because they came out 51 times a year (the Christmas issue was a double that lasted for a fortnight) rather than 12 or 26 times, the UK music papers created a far more immersive feeling, as if there was a rock reality running parallel to the official world of current affairs and mainstream entertainment. The momentousness and urgency transmitted by the inkies in their prime was totally involving.