Manic Street Preachers 1994 Glastonbury set.
(Thanks to @manicstmania)
The Manic Street Preachers’ continued success does little to ease the unhappy life of its leading light.
Bournemouth, 1992. It is a miserable rainy Tuesday afternoon - I had spent the morning wandering around, trying to find the hotel, and wondering why the older natives of Bournemouth seem quite happy to sit on garden walls, fully exposed to the rain, and wait for their buses. It looks as though someone has been around the suburbs, dropping grannies off, and forgetting to pick them up again.
It is the first time that I have gone on tour with a band, and I am slightly nervous. Having read Hammer of the Gods and watched Spinal Tap too many times for my own good, I rather expect the band to be insular, selfish, self-obsessed and stupid. I suspect it might be quite awkward having to hang out with them for a whole day.
I worry that people will think I am a groupie, so I selfconsciously carry a notepad and pen around with me at all times. I rediscovered this notepad in a box of junk last week; it is filled with noughts and crosses, and a shopping list of make-up I intended to buy. I had started smoking the week before I went to Bournemouth. I remember sitting in my hotel bedroom, practising how to light up in front of the mirror, and reminding myself to inhale.
There is a knock on my hotel door. I open it, and standing there is the most untouchably beautiful person I have ever seen in my life. His hair has that “rockstar” glow. His skin is translucent, and punctured only by two huge, soft-brown Bambi eyes. He has the kind of bone-structure that would make Kate Moss’s agent weep. This is beauty beyond lust.
His name is Richey Edwards; his band is the Manic Street Preachers; and he cannot play the guitar. Instead he writes the lyrics, draws up their manifestos, does most of the talking in interviews, and looks beautiful. He is doing this very well today.
He fusses around, making tea for both of us, charmingly inquiring as to whether I want to sit on the bed or the chair. The interview is the most intense conversation I have had in my life. I have to gallop mentally to keep up. Later, instead of the supposed groupie-action, the Manics sit around in the hotel lobby, drinking miniature bottles of vodka, and argue heatedly about the miners’ strike and Welsh politics. Richey calls a representative from his record company a “slag, a parasite,” and finally goes to bed at 4.30am, alone.
Two years later, in the height of July we hear that Richey is leaving the Manic Street Preachers. Something has gone wrong. He is still as eloquent in interviews as ever - “I drink a bottle of vodka a night, not because it’s hard or clever, it’s sad, but because I can’t get to sleep” - but there’s a definite feeling that things inside him are badly awry.
The Manics’ manager, Phil Hall, had died a few months previously from cancer; and one of Richey’s best friends from university had killed himself halfway through the Manics’ gruelling promotional schedule for the first single off the album. Promoting is difficult at the best of times; if it happens halfway through a period of mourning, the pressure can become intolerable. So Richey quit the band.
Three weeks later, he was rushed to hospital. Nobody quite knows what happened. He stayed in his local hospital for a week and was then checked into a private clinic to deal with his alcoholism, self-mutilation and borderline anorexia. In a year already overloaded with people who have buckled under the weight of the music industry machinery, Richey’s story seemed the most poignant of them all. A courteous, beautiful, fiercely intelligent and prodigiously talented man, whose breakdown was looked upon, in some quarters, as a scam to get more press for the new album, The Holy Bible.
The Manics played the Reading Festival without Richey, on the anniversary of Philip Hall’s birthday. For once, Reading didn’t seem like a celebration - a three-day amnesty on sobriety, dignity, washing and sense - and instead became a low-key memorial service for those we had lost and were losing. There was a sense of rock’s excesses catching up yet again.
And so, with all of this history weighing down the recent months, I went out to Bordeaux, with strict instructions not to talk to Richey, to meet the Manic Street Preachers again.
James, the Manics’ singer, has had a new haircut, and looks even more like the “brute with cheekbones” that Julian Clary is eternally lusting over. He is as charming as ever. The Manics are one of the nicest bands in the world - nice as in polite, considerate, amusing, eloquent; not as in the wussy, weak-tea niceness of, say, Juliana Hatfield or Peter Gabriel. He sits in the shabby dressing room, and sips on a beer.
How’s this tour been, then?
"The first day I was really, really nervous," James says, picking at the label on the bottle with his thumbnail. "I was so on edge about Richey, in case he started cutting himself up again. I kept thinking, ‘If you cut yourself up now, son, everything will be wasted’."
Do you understand why Richey does it?
"Well, um, everyone’s got a corner of their heart and mind you can’t get into. Richey was always much more into books and films than rock ‘n’ roll - and I think those art-forms are much more idealised. I think they influenced the way he viewed life, and the way he thought it would be." James pauses, and looks out of the window. "Whenever I talk about Richey, I think of that quote from Rumblefish, y’know - ‘He’s merely miscast to play; he was born on the wrong side of the river - he has the ability to do anything but he can’t find anything he wants to do.’
"If he hadn’t been in the band, he’d probably end up like Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles, very cardigan, very slippers. And it’s as easy to go down the slippery slope living that lifestyle as it is being a ‘rock star’. There are an awful lot of housewives hooked on tranquillisers, you know.”
Do you think Richey will ever hurt himself again as badly as he has done?
"Well," James starts, slowly, "he has wanted to cut himself on this tour already, but hasn’t. And that’s a first. We’re taking things slowly. He knows he can leave the band whenever he wants, whenever it gets too much. From the first time we knew Richey, we knew we wanted him in the band. If he left, the band would probably be over. I can’t imagine the Manics without him."
And I can’t imagine a world without the Manics. More than vital. Still the best rock band in Britain.
James Dean Bradfield performing on Unpeeled with @stuartmaconie & @andrewcollins. He plays acoustic versions of ‘She Is Suffering’ and ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’
James sounds about 12 and is apparently singing naked! (I don’t think he really was!)
If you ever wanted to know which of the Manics James has seen naked, this is the audio to listen to!
(I have absolutely no idea where I found this, I was digging around my archive and found it, so thanks to whoever I got it from.)
Nicky: It looks at the way that society views prostitutes as probably the lowest form of life. But we feel that we’ve prostituted ourselves over the last three or four years, and we think it’s the same in every walk of life.
Marlene Dietrich said that she’d been photographed to death. Red Indians believe that every time they’re photographed, a piece of their soul goes. We came to a point when we felt a bit like that. I don’t want to come across like Eddie Vedder or something, because we’ve always made an effort to make our pictures fairly aesthetic. But you just come to a point where you think, ‘Why are we doing this?’ It must come with maturity.
There’s a line in there: 'Tie his hair in bunches, f*** him, call him Rita if you want'. You do get to a position when you’re in a band where you can virtually do anything you want, in any kind of sick, low form. It’s not something we’ve particularly indulged in, but it is a nasty by-product of being in a group.
Richey: Prostitution of The Self. The majority of your time is spent doing something you hate to get something you don’t need. Everyone has a price to buy themselves out of freedom.
Nicky: It’s not a completely anti-American song. It compares British imperialism to American consumerism. It’s just trying to explain the confusion I think most people feel about how the most empty culture in the world can dominate in such a total sense.
I’ve got an ambivalent attitude to America. I can’t tell whether I should embrace it or just be confused by it. When we went to New York, I’d watched ‘Cagney & Lacey’ so much that I felt like I knew New York already when we got there.
The last lines [F*** the Brady Bill/If God made man they say/Sam Colt made him equal] are about the gun laws that Clinton is trying to bring in. It would disenfranchise the black community, who generally don’t have licences. The white rednecks in middle America do have licences, but statistics show they cause as much crime.
Richey: America is still trying to convince itself it is positive, enlightened and absolute. Zapruder the first to sow doubts behind the reality/death of JFK. Bradey Bill typical - glorify gun culture until The Massacre gradually moves from the inner cities to the suburbs. The consequence arrives. Still believe Democrats are an alternative.
Nicky: There’s a line: 'Horthy's corpse screened to a million'. Horthy was a Hungarian fascist military dictator before the second World War, and the devotion that a fascist dictator can achieve just shows such a terrible flaw in human nature. There’s always a chance that it’ll be revived, because there’s a worm in human nature that makes us want to be dominated.
Richey: East European truths - Horthy+Tisu (anti-Semitic/Fascist) - revived and brought back home. Facts ignored. Carve your mortal certainty there. Should we have been born/still born/walking sideways unable to make a decision of any consequence. Modern life makes thought an embarrassment. Your true reflection=Junkies, winos, whores. Who’s responsible?
Nicky: It’s quite a simple song, both musically and lyrically. It’s kind of like the Buddhist thing where you can only reach eternal peace by shedding every desire in your body. I think the last line, 'Nature's lukewarm pleasure', is Richey’s view on sex. I can’t really explain it, but that’s the way he sees it.
Richey: ‘She’ is desire. In other Bibles and Holy Books no truth is possible until you empty yourself of desire. All commitment otherwise is fake/lies/economic convenience.
Nicky: That was the song that me and Richey worried about the most, and did the most work on. It was written as a reaction to the glorification of serial killers. In ‘Silence Of The Lambs’, Hannibal Lecter is made into a hero in the last scene of the film - people feel sorry for them. It’s like that line from Therapy? 'Now I know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels'. I don’t f***ing want to know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels, and I think it’s quite appalling to put yourself in that position. Everyone gets a self-destructive urge the urge to kill, but I don’t particularly like the glorification of it.
There’s a book by Marcel Foucault with a chapter called ‘Archives Of Pain’. Richey and I did that book at university, and it had quite an influence on us. It talks about the punishment matching the crime. But the song isn’t a right-wing statement, it’s just against this fascination with people who kill. A lot of people don’t like to see rapists getting off with a £25 fine.
That line: 'Kill Yeltsin, who's saying?' - well, Yeltsin is a figure of hate to us. A person who’s basically an alcoholic… That’s a personal, petty Manics thing.
Richey: Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’ - visibility is a trap.
Foucault - Savagery is necessary.
Is revenge justified? Nothing in common with Manson or Dahmer cult and its current fashionability. There is no glory in innocent death. Death/Murder/Redemption part of the human condition.
Nicky: All those lines like 'Breshnev married into group sex', are just analogies, really. It’s trying to say that relationships in politics, and relationships in general, are failures. It’s very much a Richey lyric, and some of it’s beyond my head. He’s saying that all of these revolutionary leaders were failures in relationships - probably because all his relationships have failed!
Richey: All adolescent leaders of men FAILED. All love FAILS. If men of the calibre of Lenin and Trotsky failed, then how can anyone expect anything to change. Won’t get fooled again.
Nicky: Every word of that is Richey’s, and it’s pretty autobiographical. I think that when he was admitted to hospital, he was down to about six stones, which, for a five-foot-eight 25 year old, is pretty grim.
There’s been a lot of media coverage of anorexia lately, and I think for a lot of people it’s like the final act of self-control. Nothing can alter your course; you’ve got to keep control of what you’re doing. But of course it’s like a slow death. Any association with self-abuse and self-control is quite romantic in a naive sort of way, but obviously, the reality of anorexia is much worse than the idea.
Richey: Vanity/innocence/anorexia - True or False.
Finding your own self worth and admiring yourself for it, whatever that involves. Kate (Moss), Kristin (McMenamy), Emma (Balfour), Karen (Sky Agony Aunt).
Nicky: These two can be twinned together, because they were both inspired in the same way. Last year we visited Dachau, Belsen and the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, and those three places had quite an intense influence on us, and on the whole album. Dachau is such an evil, quiet place. There’s no grass, and you don’t even see a worm, let alone any birds. All you can hear is this humming of nothing.
In the museum at Belsen, there’s the original sign which hung there. It says, ‘Welcome to Belsen Recreation Camp’. It’s the same with the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. When you’re young, you’re brought up to think that the Americans dropped the bomb because they had to end the war, and loads of Americans would have been killed otherwise.
But when you go there and see the pictures of the whole city completely flattened, and the black rain, and all the people who died from the secondary effects… If anyone goes to those places and doesn’t feel an immense sense of loss, they’ve got no soul.
The lines: 'Churchill no different/Wished the workers bled to a machine' are about how Britain always thinks that it has a superior attitude. But as soon as the war was over, the attitude was: ‘Let’s get back to normal and exploit as many people as we can again. Keep the proles happy, tie them to their machines, and send them out to war again to be killed when we need to’.
Richey: Brother/sister songs. Visited Dachau and Hiroshima. What reflections should be for everyone. Otherwise we’re all Edward Scissorhands Avon Lady. Winners dictate history. Holocaust one of the few examples where even truth is being questioned. Revisionist historians. Danger of Schindler’s List - Portrayal of merely flawed man. Never question our own past - myth of Churchill.
Nicky: I think that’s more than anything about the right to freedom of speech, and freedom of the media. Once the state gets control of that in a country, you know everything’s f***ed. That’s the one thing that I think is really frightening about Political Correctness - the eradication of words. It’s just so Orwellian - destroying words, changing dictionaries and changing the meaning of words. Obviously, PC as an idea is inherently good. So is socialism and so is communism, and they ended up being abused. A lot of PC followers take up the idea of being liberal, but end up being quite the opposite.
Richey: Links PC+PCP+New Moral Certainty. Language aimed at the working class. Condemns the very people it aims to save. Self-censorship wrong. ‘Liviticus’ used by homophobes to justify their hatred. To take one sentence from the bible to justify views very PC.
Also PCP the Revolutionary Portuguese Communist.
Nicky: Frankly, a lot of it is all Richey again, and I was always completely confused by it. But when he wrote it he told me it was about self-abuse. The opening line is: 'I am an architect/They call me a butcher' - and of course, he’s been carving into his arm and all that…
I think it’s the most confusing song on the album. I added some stuff about the regurgitation of 20th Century culture, and the way that everything’s speeded up to such an extent that nobody knows if they’ve got any meaning any more.
It’s probably the first time that we’ve written a song and not completely understood what we’ve written.
Richey: Strength through weakness. All morality sown in the soil of the ruling caste. Self-abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural. Society speeding up - finds worth is failure.
Nicky: That’s the simplest song, musically and lyrically, on the album. It’s about how people always look back to their youth and look on it as a glorious period. No matter what walk of life you’re in, you always revert back to childhood and look at it as a beautiful time when, as the song says, 'Someone, somewhere soon will take care of you'.
Richey: Why do anything when you can forget everything. Memory more comforting than future.
Nicky: Again, it’s all Richey’s, and there’s lots of disturbing images: 'Scratch my leg with a rusty nail/Sadly it heals…/A tiny animal curled into a quarter circle'. It was one of the first songs we wrote for the album, and I found it pretty disturbing when Richey first showed it to me. Now, of course, it’s even more so, and I think this and ‘4st 7lbs’ are pretty obviously about Richey’s state of mind, which I didn’t quite realise at the time. Even if you’re quite close to someone, you always try to deny thoughts like that.
Richey: Condition of old age - youth always remembered fondly. OAP wants to die with favourite memory month in mind. Adult memories tawdry, of little value.
(Found on richeyedwards.net, originally from Melody Maker.