Oct 07

richard cook (1957-2007): some memories

FT4 comments • 792 views

cook/fallRDC was my editor at NME, and predecessor at the Wire, which has just put up a page of tributes from people who worked with him, including mine


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    (click on the fall review once, then again on the bigger one that appears, to read it)

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    Marcello Carlin on 5 Oct 2007 #

    I said this to Mark in the pub last week but I’ll just share the memory of my sole, very brief and indirect encounter with RDC. It was early 1982 and as a triple zero tolerance (three divided by zero isn’t always zero) improv/post-punk/New Pop first-year Oxbridge Nazi I was especially zero tolerant of anyone who considered Escalator Over The Hill to be less than the greatest piece of recorded music ever, the necessary punctum glue which not only formed but held in shape everything that I have ever felt to be valuable and profound and tacky and transient in music in the 35 years which have passed since I was first exposed to it.

    It so happened that ECM gave EOTH its first bona fide boxed reissue in nearly a decade right at the end of 1981 and I remembered RDC being a bit snarky about it in his NME review of Westbrook’s Mama Chicago a couple of years eariler so in early ’82 I wrote a long and slurry letter pointing out how wrong he was about it and that he should RECTIFY INST.

    He never replied to me directly, although to be truthful I wouldn’t have replied to my letter; but a few weeks later, in a column which I’d not seen in the NME before – or since – entitled Double Take, there was RDC with his long and apologetic recantation. No further words were needed; it was understood. I was suitably grateful for that and humbled by it.

    We never came into direct contact; occasionally Laura and I would see him in the audience of whatever improv gig we were all attending but that was about it. But his influence, perhaps buried beneath the squeakier klaxons of Paul M and IPen, maybe reached further in my perception of how and why (to) be a music writer. As just one example, I well remember the series he and Graham Lock did in the NME throughout summer ’81 on post-Parker jazz and improv innovators; simple, concise articles on all the key figures, packed with the necessary information and remarkably OTM discographies as well as subtly pointing out to readers exactly why they should be bothering with these (despite Pigbag, Rip Rig etc., still relatively obscure, to the larger world) people.

    And other pointers, like his brilliant NME singles column of September 1985 which eloquently cut down the incipient C86 nazis on the paper at the time (and maybe that should be singular rather than plural), demanding proper plurality; and that is something from which I have never stood down in my own viewpoint. Or the sideways shadows of goodbye emanating from his review of New Order’s Low-Life (“I’d say this was New Order’s Closer.” And his too, as far as the NME was concerned). Or anything really; the Fall of Hex Enduction Hour described as “coming awfully close to the truth (about music)” – listen to it and you would be hard put to disagree…

    But he was just one part of that huge, all-embracing nexus which took in Barney’s feel like goin’ home fixations, Chris’ Germans, great New Pop writers who never get mentioned because they were not “New Pop writers” (Phil McNeill on Lexicon, Lynn Hanna’s singles column 15 May 1982); and Ian and Paul (and Danny B) per se; in other words, that NME marked me at an age when any marking is indelible.

    Maybe the rest of it was all a comedown from the Wire; I regret to say that I hardly ever looked at Jazz Review, for faults which are wholly my own (but then I wasn’t feeling “jazz” in the nineties), but again, he was there with his carrier bag throughout, in the background, getting on with it, and as one habitual supermarket carrier bag sporter to another I can only salute him for at least trying to wind a lovely path around so many apparently disparate avenues and form that particular city. There have been too many painful losses recently for me to assimilate properly – people like Roach, Rutherford and Osborne whom I wanted to emulate when I was a child, long before I started taking in the NME – and I note the date of RDC’s passing as well as the cause and quietly shiver…

    …but the important thing is not to let the idea die with the man. There isn’t “that” NME anymore or that Wire and probably no real equivalent, even or especially online, but some of us continue regardless, because we have to, and in my case for reasons which go far beyond music, and we continue to weave our crazily rational colours because its colours they are finer than the grey I peer out and see everywhere else.

    Were this an audio post I would conclude with a portion of Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy’s version of “2 Become 1,” perhaps the tenderest thing LB ever did and it also turned out to be his epitaph, and then the colours swirl and we realise that the Spice Girls – vocally tutored by an ex-member of the SME – are only living in the observatory next door.

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    mike on 5 Oct 2007 #

    Beautiful tribute, Marcello. I hadn’t thought about RC in a long time – in fact not until a couple of days before the shock of seeing his obituary in The Guardian, which only served to heighten the sense of shock – but when I did so, it was in the context of placing him as one of the greatest music writers that I have ever read. (And I speak from the disadvantaged position of the irredeemable jazz philistine…)

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    Billy Smart on 6 Oct 2007 #

    And let us also not forget the photographers, illustrators and designers who helped to form the nexus that made Neil Spencer’s NME the most exciting and inspiring music magazine there ever was.

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