From Rolling Stone to NME and Q magazine, the world of music music journalism has produced some of the most widely respected and revered cultural publications of the past century. However, like many print cultures, due to the rise of digital publishing the physical music press has seen a slow but steady demise. Now, being 20 years or more since “the beginning of the collapse”, writer Paul Gorman has collated its rich history in a new book, Totally Wired. The book chronologically traces the music press’ legacy, from the earliest known publication – the 1920s The Melody Maker – to its move online. But, importantly, Paul was also intent on giving a platform to some of the lesser known, more radical journalists and publications who have had their role in the music press omitted.
A writer since the age of 17, Paul has written for numerous newspapers, magazines and publications, and published his first book The Look in 2001, which focused on the intersection of music and fashion. To date, Paul has now published 15 books, which predominantly centre on aspects of visual culture, and covering icons like Boy George, Goldie, Barney Bubbles and Malcolm McLaren. In fact, Paul has published an oral history of the music press In Their Own Write, in 2001. But, Paul tells us that he was “never very happy with the results”, as he explains that “white men of a certain type seemed to dominate, and they were no means the whole story”. And so, preparing for Totally Wired, Paul says that he quite literally “took the book apart”. This meant adding in new material that centred on work from marginalised and previously overshadowed individuals – women, people of colour and members of the LGBTQIA+ community – “to provide a more rounded and hopefully exciting storyline”.
Including such material undeniably made the content of the book richer, bringing to the fore more unique and less commercial publications. Paul highlights Gloria Stavers as a key figure in revolutionising US pop publishing in the 50s and 60s, working at 16 magazine where Paul says she “catered to the demands of young females in America”, coming up with funny questionnaires for popstars to answer, and insider lingo – now a central component of publishing for young adults. “It may seem corny but this made readers feel part of a world apart from their staid parents,” Paul says. “In such generation gaps, pop culture thrives.”
Moreover, Paul said the project drew him to the more informal, colourful zines of the 90s like the California-based, largely female-run Ben is Dead, and Erica Smith’s UK based Girlfrenzy. Ben Is Dead ran on a themed basis, including ‘Disinformation’, ‘Obsession & Other Bad Habits’ and ‘Sex’, and covered “what used to be called alternative music and the emergence of grunge in a spiky way”, Paul explains. Girlfrenzy, on the other hand, was heavily illustration focused, applying both Erica and other contributors handy work. In one particularly humorous issue, Paul tells us one issue contained “a comic strip about an unfortunate married to a boastful music journalist who wreaked her payback in a relevant manner by assailing him with rolled up copies of NME and Melody Maker”.
Overall, Paul hopes that the publication will shed light on the music press at its best, the moments when it “gave expression to very talented people who may not otherwise have had an outlet”.
The book is now available in store and online and is published by Thames & Hudson.
Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of the Music Press. Black Music, December 1973. Published by Thames & Hudson
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.