The great Dave Laing has died. He was a father figure of popular music studies. His book The Sound of Our Time was published in 1969. It can be regarded as the first scholarly book about popular music written by an insider and fan. He was one of the founding editors of Popular Music, the first academic journal devoted to the subject. His 1985 book One Chord Wonders offered one of the first, and still one of the best, scholarly analyses of punk rock. Dave was also one of the most knowledgeable and perceptive writers about the music industry. He was a person to turn to whether you wanted information about the founding of this industry or if you wanted to assess the transformations of today.
Yet Dave achieved most of this outside of academia. He did not hold a university post until 1996. Before that he was a freelance author, journalist and lecturer. Between 1972 and 1984 he contributed to Time Out, Sounds, Let It Rock, the Radio One History of Pop and many more besides. In 1984 he assumed a post as Research and Press Officer for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). From 1987 to 1996 he worked as an editor for the music industry journals Music Week, Music Business International and Financial Times Music & Copyright.
The popular music studies community is devastated by his passing, with numerous emotional tributes appearing on email threads over the last day or so. We are all saying the same thing. He had a unique knowledge of popular music, he was exceptionally generous with this knowledge, and he was phenomenally good company. I always made a beeline for him at conferences, relishing his incisive intellect and wit.
I first got to know Dave ten years ago when he was one of the examiners for my PhD thesis. He was rigorous, picking me up on what other examiners might pass by (I was reprimanded for detailing the wrong year for Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, listing the date of the German language publication rather than the translation I had used). He also improved the work tremendously. The structural changes he recommended helped me turn the thesis into Vinyl: A History of the Analogue Record. Subsequently, Dave worked with me on the first PhD I supervised. Over the past two years we have been co-editing a book together. I knew that he was ill, but he had kept from me just how serious things have been.
To say that Dave will be missed is an understatement. He is irreplaceable. His passing has taken me back to Laurie Anderson’s ‘World Without End’, which has one of the most devastating lyrics in all of popular music:
When my father died we put him in the ground
When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down