This week I read a couple of books on what it is to be a rock critic: one set in the 70s, the other in the 00s. Nick Kent’s Apathy For The Devil is a year-by-year memoir of his time writing for the NME when . There were good – mostly American – writers before him, but Kent was the one who raised rock criticism into an art-form. What’s more, he lived the life of a rock star, travelled with them, partied with them, the whole deal, drugs and all. By the second half of the decade he was a bona fide junkie, homeless, broke wandering the streets of London in search of his next fix. And yet he still somehow managed to write, juggling his obsessions with Zeppelin and the Stones with Iggy Pop and punk. (He was briefly in an early incarnation of the Sex Pistols). I like his writing – and would recommend his collection, The Dark Stuff – but as a person he comes across as flaky, arrogant, weak-willed and sad. It’s a wonder he survived, but he did, found a good woman and now lives in Paris.
Straight afterwards I read an uncorrected proof copy of a book called Rock Bottom by Michael Odell, who wrote for the NME and Q Magazine in the noughties. It’s also about a rock critic’s struggles with the absurdities of his job, but is less a memoir and more of a confession. Actually it reads like a novel. Odell had a breakdown in 2005, but instead of turning to drugs he sought help from a psychotherapist, unearthing a hornets’ nest of childhood stuff along the way. His ‘interview’ with a drug-addled Pete Docherty at the end was a lesson learned. Having revered him for years as a rock god, an artist who ‘meant it’, Odell thought better of it and walked out.