‘I USE the NME”, snarled Johnny Rotten in Anarchy In the UK. So did I, and so did millions of other music fans and musicians. The Pistols may have been thinking more about press campaigns of calculated outrage. But for millions of a certain vintage, the NME was a compass, an inspiration, even a target for your ambition.

The end of its print edition this week (after 60 years of publication) has unleashed a swarm of memories in the media. I have my own to tell. But it’s also set me brooding over the very point of writing about pop music.

In the late 70s and early 80s, for this kid at least, the point of it was to map the explosions of punk and post-punk. To find out exactly who was making all these outrageous statements and compelling noises. The NME did this better than anyone else, because they had the most daring writers – the funniest, the most engaged, even the most scholarly.

I remember the one-line career destructions in reviews by Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Danny Baker or Steven Wells, gawping and shuddering at their merciless cruelty. The NME also connected with me politically. Explicitly anti-Thatcherite, they got into bed with Labour’s Red Wedge campaign (which sadly made barely a dent in Maggie’s 1987 electoral landslide).

But most of all, I loved a set of toweringly self-regarding and ostentatiously intellectual writers; Paul Morley, Ian Penman, Don Watson, Barney Hoskyns, Chris Bohn, Richard Cook (yes, all pale and male). They were given thousands of words each week to mythologise, deconstruct and reconstruct the significance of some set of knock-kneed scruffians (whether they justified the critical attention or not).

References to French philosophy were plentiful – as were tales of hedonistic, er, participation with the artists. Bliss it was in that very dawn to be an NME scribe. As an undergraduate at Glasgow University, over a limp Hillhead croissant, I would rabidly devour these pages. How could I ever enter into this ink-stained, moodily staring, near-perfect universe?

Bizarrely it took only a few years – first as a freelance writer for the NME, and second as a musician. My then girlfriend (and later mother of our children) Joan McAlpine was studying journalism at City University, London. I had tagged along, and decided to chuck myself at the music press.

I didn’t really connect with the actual music critics, as they hung about in their crepuscular Camden pubs. They were like turbo-charged versions of the cynical cool kids at the back of the class – muttering code among themselves, while undergoing random personality shifts. (That was me being naive about the drugs, again.)

I’m still not sure how, but in 1985 I did eventually click with a large and genial Scotsman called Stuart Cosgrove, who was then “media editor” of the NME. (I also wrote book reviews for Mat Snow, who once gave my essay on second-wave feminism the headline, Never Mind The Bulwarks.) Stuart sent me to television and movie previews, and once commissioned me to write a convoluted feature on TV magicians (Dr Cosgrove did a PhD in cultural studies, after all).

I fondly remember Stuart demonstrating Northern soul steps to us one evening in his Notting Hill flat, crammed with records and books. Nobody really had a bean. And everything was possible.

Then even more things became possible. Hue And Cry broke into the charts: Stuart called to arrange an NME interview with my brother and I, which became a front cover lead story. We all ended up in New York, draping ourselves languorously around the Javits Centre, prattling on about post-modernism. Three Scottish chancers, seriously disbelieving their luck. (You may see the disbelief all over my sour coupon on said cover, pictured.)

The National:

Stuart’s Harrington jacket was on a shoogly nail at the time in the magazine. He’d been waging a war to have black music, particularly hip-hop, given equal editorial status with white indie guitar bands. Stuart left his job about it (but won the editorial war in the long run).

The NME’s feature editor was James Brown, who went on to found the lad’s bible Loaded. He has subsequently said that “the one thing that defines my editorship is that bands like Hue And Cry will never make it on to any of my front covers”. C’est la guerre.

But these wars are long over now – or at least, their combatants are too old, weary and post-music-biz to fight them. Meanwhile, contexts change profoundly. In recent years, the NME had been attempting to be a positive, “general-interest” music magazine for a younger audience.

They even developed something (with the University of Salford) called “Lifehacks”, a kind of training programme for the creative industries. I am imagining the substance-stained centaurs of the NME’s classic era, looking grimly at headlines like Why Perfect Careers Don’t Exist (possible response: “No shit, Sherlock”).

The music press has another option for survival. Simon Reynolds – one of that original crew of music-critic intellos, except they were on Melody Maker – has called it “retromania”. This means talking about new music as mainly citation, quotation and mutation of past forms. Or as those old NME brutalists might have put it: if it smells, it sells.

The proof of this is everywhere. The three biggest “general-interest” music mags on the shelves at the moment – Uncut, Mojo and Q – have, respectively, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and David Bowie as current front cover leads.

Yet if you’re not bothered about selling copies of anything, you can go to the web and find every niche interest covered by some form of music writing. And that includes the head-wrenching think-pieces I recall from my NME-reading youth.

My London stepson is currently doing music “vlogging” (his moniker is Nawtystep on YouTube, specialising in “dark electronic music”, in case you’re interested). He came to me the other day with a blog about one of his essential artists, Burial, saying “I can’t make any sense of this. Can you?”

And there he was, published on Pitchfork (like The Quietus, a web-home for brooding and involved music writing): Simon Reynolds, with a piece titled Why Burial’s Untrue Is the Most Important Electronic Album of the Century So Far. The piece announces that it will delve “into the politics, emotion, and musical history behind the disquieting masterwork”.

And so it does. Reynolds plausibly links Burial’s off-centre, murky soundscapes to a general societal collapse of faith in the future (and particularly for Untrue, the horror of wandering around London after the 7/7 bombings).

The beauty of our current digital moment is that you can, with relative ease, instantly hear what sounds the critic is trying to interpret. I was lost for hours doing this, in a trance of musical and cultural self-education about “hauntology” (look it up). And my stepson and I had a deep and broad talk about it, too.

The NME might not be around that much to “use” anymore, Johnny-Rotten-style. But the NME sensibility is something that I still treasure, both as a critic and a musician. You only get one shot at this.

Why not take the things you love – including grooves, songs and malcontent visionaries – as seriously as your life?