sugarpuffins My NME was rubbish. I wasn’t there for the underground press invation, or for the Titanic sailing, or the Kinderbunker. I missed the post-structuralist years. I never read about Youth Suicide. I was even too late for C86. My NME was go-karting with the Senseless Things and Birdland covers.

Because I read every word of it, my NME was also fantastic. I read, and tried to understand, the Orbit column about dance music. I pushed my way through Jungle Brothers reviews and double-page Tone Loc interviews, and gradually pieced together the bones of an appreciation of hip-hop, at least on paper. I read interviews with old warhorses, never-weres, no-hopers. I turned lines from reviews over in my mind, trying to translate them into the investment – or not – of £5.49 at Our Price. I insisted on spending my holiday pocket money on a Stone Roses cassingle from the Arndale Centre in Manchester, because it was the Arndale Centre in Manchester. I taped and retaped Peel. I told myself I cared about go-karting.

The usual indie story, then. It was a function of boredom, of course, boredom and hunger. It’s very little reflection on the NME, which was enormously important to me and – in any clear-sighted reckoning – largely rushed and terrible. Its virtue was that it was there. It had the chutzpah that comes with needing to fill 60 pages a week – one year Bob Dylan celebrated a landmark birthday, so of course they interviewed Bob. And The Dylans. Sometimes that could still produce a spark – googling the NME in 1989 I let out a gurgle of delight on seeing The Sugarcubes’ cover: THESE PEOPLE EAT PUFFINS!

Melody Maker was better, I’m told. It had better writing, I’m sure. A more refined sensibility, which treated Einar as an artist, not a puffin-munching freak. But every time I bought it back then it seemed to have the fucking Mission in. The music papers weren’t only selling writing, they were selling community, a sense of finding your people, and nothing personal, my people just didn’t include Wayne Hussey. Even if they did include the Wonder Stuff – who says 15-year olds make sense, even to themselves?

As it turned out, the things a reasonable reader might have pointed to in my NME and said “this is good” – a residual respect for black music; an excitement around house; an awareness that pop fitted into a wider culture; a bouncy sense of cheek – were all hangovers of better days, echoes of what the paper had been, not what it was becoming. (Within a few years, Melody Maker really would do all those things better). The community it was selling didn’t really need that stuff – not as much as it needed Mega City Four and The Frank And Walters, at any rate. Make a community too tight and inbreeding happens. Ten years on and some of those new bands had the Innsmouth Look.

You can’t choose when you’re born – culture comes at you and some of it sticks, never mind the quality. Sometimes the things that formed you aren’t worth remembering. But they formed you anyway. What can I say about my NME? When I first read it, I think it did its best, and I loved it.