Thought For The Day
Glossy Barfout

It's a spooky thing, but whenever a magazine decides to do a big piece on Momus, it invariably goes out of business. I've just heard that a magazine -- a good magazine, a title I'd only recently started buying regularily, a magazine whose theme is creativity rather than commerce or celebrity -- is folding, torn apart by lack of advertising revenue, poor circulation, and battles over editorial direction.

I adore magazines. To hear that a good one is dying in its prime really makes me sad.

Glossy League Division

Formulate an answer to the question Who am I? by making a list of the magazines you buy regularily. Go on, try it. Not just magazines you read to pass the time on a train journey, but titles you seek out, magazines that make your heart leap when you see a new issue on the stands.

A league division table of my top 35 magazines would be:

Division One
Quickening heartbeat on sight of new issue,
sense that core self might be redrawn by something inside, 
obligatory purchase
BT, Tokion, Studio Voice Village Voice, New York Review of Books, Index, Artforum Frieze Crash
Division Two
Worth a good flipthrough in the store, may well buy it if it looks like an interesting issue
Beikoku Ongaku, Barfout, H, Cutie, Marquee Hermenaut, Surface, Big Wire, Blueprint, i-D Magic, Nova, Blocnotes Merge
Division Three
A bit embarrassingto be seen reading this but it was lying around and actually it's quite absorbing
Fruits, Petit Glam Dazed and Confused, Sleazenation, NME, The Face, Mojo, Q, Wallpaper Les Inrockuptibles

New Nova

Five years ago my list would have included a lot more computer titles: Interactif, Wired, MacUser. Ten years ago the style and music press would have featured more prominently: i-D, Blitz, Actuel, NME.

Blitz and Actuel went belly up at the end of the 80s, unable to reset their zeitgeist clocks when the decade changed. It can happen that a magazine dies and is reborn in another decade. My brother's girlfriend used to be commissioning editor at a publishing house owned by lyricist Tim Rice. Her two big coffeetable titles were a book of photos of Kate Moss called Kate and a selection from the pages of late 60s and early 70s Nova magazine. Nova died in 1973, but has been revived this year. I think it's obvious it'll never live up to its former incarnation as the magazine of cardine-clad eyebrowless glam rock androgynes. Its hour has passed, but Nova's honour is to have captured the moment better than anyone else.

The Good Die Young

When a magazine dies a sensibility, a style, a particular way of looking at the world vanishes forever. What's worse, it always seems to be the best magazines that go under, the ones that we read, the ones that over-estimate rather than under-estimate the public, the ones that focus on creativity rather than celebrity.

A good magazine can die young and leave a beautiful corpse. Even though I've never seen a copy, for instance, I know from cultural histories of the 60s that The International Times was where it was at, and I'm sure that a yellow copy happened upon in a junk store would be a time machine powerful enough to bring a whole subculture back to life. I'm sure a couple of naked photos of Germaine Greer and a rant by Jeff Nuttall about performance art and bomb culture could conjure 1968 as vividly as Charles Shaar Murray, writing his cheesecloth-and-cocaine prose in the NME, could take someone who wasn't even born then straight back to the heart of the 70s. I'd love to see a copy of mid-70s Screw, the subcultural sex magazine edited by Jim Haynes in Amsterdam. I'm sure it would make just about everything available today look sorry, PC, and tame.

It's the very things that make magazines trivial and tendentious -- their unnecessary depth of detail, their uncritical allegiance to the transitory memes of the moment -- which make them so brilliant a time-travelling resource, and, finally, valuable to other ages even when they're only diverting in their own.

One of my prize possessions is a CD-ROM containing every page of every National Geographic magazine from 1960 to 1995. The articles that, at the time, I would have found dull and worthy I now find fascinating: long explications of mainframe computing, with deliciously wrongheaded prognostications on the future applications of the Univac. But actually the greatest thing for me is the advertising. Advertising in the present is an irritating buttonhole. But advertising from the past is a delight. Those typefaces! That odd, clunky -- or witty, Ogden-Nashy -- copy style! Those implicit promises of cutting edge kudos attached to Super 8 cameras and long-dead video game consoles!

Actually, that's probably the reason I love retro-tech, secondhand clothes, and anything foreign. Things that exert a normative power in their intended context, socialising us and influencing us to converge to prescriptive models, suddenly have the opposite effect when they're put in a new context (another country, another era). They encourage divergence, exploration, fresh ways of thinking. At short distances the spume of cultural disjecta can become excessively familiar, warm, kitschy. But if you delve a little deeper into the junk store you can find stuff that time or distance has transformed -- like the best art -- into something perverse, challenging, unsettling. (Another reason we urgently need a non-perjorative word for 'kitsch'.)

Glossy Junky Map

Like any jetset junky, I can tell you where to go in each city to find high quality magazines. In LA check Little Tokyo or locate the gigantic newsstand hidden just off Hollywood Boulevard (make a right three blocks east of the Chinese Theater). In London, visit Colindale's Oriental Plaza for the best prices on Japanese titles, the basement of Waterstones Art Bookstore on Long Acre or the ICA Bookshop for art. In Tokyo make for ABC in Roppongi, Shibuya Tower for foreign stuff, Digitalogue in Harajuku for really cool designery things (and font floppies!), Nadiff for art. In Paris, Collette on Rue St Honore is your best bet. In Dublin head for Temple Bar. Amsterdam is a magazine lover's paradise where the cafes have surprisingly decent selections lying around. But if you want to buy, there's a great place, here, just follow me towards the Prizengracht... In Edinburgh, mail order is about your only option.

In New York there's Universal News on Broadway, Asahiya at Grand Central Station or Kinokuniya at the Rockerfeller Center for the Japanese, Other Music for music, Zakka on Grand for cool Jap design and style stuff, Zao on Orchard for a good selection of Japanese and French fashion and art titles. And ah! The daddy of all rare and fabulous magazine stores, a place where I feel like I've died and gone to heaven, Printed Matter on Wooster Street. This is the Soho Mecca for artists' handmade books, zines, CDs, tiny-run surreal scrawly publications you'll never see anywhere else accompanied by exhibitions like the current show of Sonic Youth artwork and posters since 1981.

In fact, my mental map of many a city features the most interesting possible route from magazine store A (Japan Centre, Piccadilly) to magazine store B (Waterstones, Long Acre). One of my biggest dilemmas when I move house is trying to decide which titles from my huge stacks of glossy paper I should box up and transport across oceans, and which I should jettison. Sifting through them all, I end up absorbed, fascinated, reading stuff I never saw first time around, hardly aware of time passing until I suddenly notice that evening has arrived and I can't see the pages any more.

This time round I boxed only Frieze and Studio Voice -- a magazine in a language I don't even understand! I suppose one day I may learn Japanese, and then I'll be glad I paid top dollar to have them shipped behind me across the globe.

Sometimes I buy a magazine twice, because when I see it again I don't remember reading it and think it's one I don't have. Are magazines talismanic?

I remember, ten years after graduating, throwing out -- with a weird sense of identity-seppuku -- copies of the literary magazines Bananas and Gambit, well-thumbed issues full of short stories by Ron Butlin and Thomas Bernhard, articles about plays by Tadeusz Kantor and Dario Fo, magazines which, through four years of chrysalloid growth at an ice-cold university in Aberdeen, drip fed me valuable dreams of a future life as a decadent cosmopolitan butterfly.

Important To Be Trendy?

There are risks involved with high magazine intake. I think the french word 'tendence' is a good one for the biggest danger. 'Tendence' means 'tendency' or 'trend', but it also has a suggestion of 'tendentious', which means misleading. The kind of magazines I'm talking about can, like drugs, lead you into a world of total unreality and of alienation from your fellow man. The implication that a 'tendence', starting off in the ateliers of a few highly creative taste-makers, can end up influencing the whole direction of humanity is, unfortunately, tendentious.

Magazines won't give you harsh truths and eternal verities, they'll just tell you about the tiny, exciting ripples on the stagnant pond of history. You only have to look at a magazine from ten years ago to realise how dangerous it is to give yourself up to the trends of the moment, and how regrettably foolish you'll one day appear if you dress, think, speak and act the way even the coolest magazines suggest. Take them, by all means, and take them regularily. But keep reading your Moliere, your Shakespeare and your Sam Beckett for the eternal verities.

Covergirl Dirty Work

What magazines do best, though, is give us a delicious sense of glamour, a sense of how our lives could be more sexy, more colourful, more exciting, more intelligent, more glossy. They convince us that somewhere someone is cooler and more keyed-in than we are, and can teach us by their example to be just a little bit more creative.

To this day, if I meet someone I've first read about in a magazine, I feel like I'm in the presence of a demi-god. And few things in life feel as rewarding as seeing yourself spread across two pages of a magazine you respect and read regularily, even if the pictures aren't as great as they might be and the sub has picked out the most insufferably pompous thing you've said (Momus in Time Out London, 1999: 'I'm a cross between Robinson Crusoe and Randolph W. Hearst').

I've never been on a magazine cover, but I can dream, can't I? (Actually, I let Kahimi Karie do the covergirl dirty work for me. She's much better at it.)

Magazines reflect contemporary life with its tendentious trends, its haphazard happenstance. Like FedEx or a Chinatown fishmonger, they try to deliver ideas to you while they're still fresh, because nobody wants old ideas just like nobody wants old fish. If you're an artist, magazines don't wait until you're dead to cover you, which is kind of nice. And if, like me, you think bandwagon-jumping is second only to bandwagon-building as a respectable creative activity, they're more useful than the municipal bus timetable.

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