This article ran in Check This Out! around the time of the Manic Street Preachers first trip to the states
Attention all pathetic, unloved sluts!
Sitting around licking lollipops while clinging to your own sense of waste? The Manic Street Preachers drive that streetcar named destruction. Eric Blowtorch is your conductor. All A Bored!!!!
The Manic Street Preachers are your band - not, repeat, NOT this tuneless, no-cojone-havin' pseudointellectual fop you call Morrissey. Not this sensitive, emotionally correct quartet from Athens, Georgia, you call REM. Not these foolish asses, these ironic performance artists you call U2. These people couldn't rock you from your doldrums if you put Gene Vincent AND the Blowtorch up their asses! If you've got a brain cell to spare and an ounce of self-respect, you will STOP listening to these bands NOW! You will destroy your record collection, you will find something colorful to wear, you will stand up straight, and you will DIG the Manic Street Preachers, live and kickin' your ass, straight from...Wales.
The amazing thing about the Mannix is not that half of their incendiary lyrical bomb-heaving squad, the androgynous and articulate Richey Edwards, grew up in a house owned by his family for NINE generations and is almost as hip to everything good in popular culture as I am. Nor is it that they metamorphosed from tentative, dialectical terrorists drawing on everything good (the Clash, the Clash, and more of the Clash) for their three-minute musical manifestos and giving virtually nothing in return (cf. the mediocre New Art Riot EP) to barn-burnin', sneaker-stompin', beautiful melody-writin', student union-destroyin' ROCKERS in almost no time.
The amazing thing about the Manic Street Preachers is that they aren't twice as big as Guns n' Roses and Public Enemy - their two favorite bands - put together. They write tunes as good as anything by former labelmates Saint Etienne, they play tight and hard onstage, they're the coolest looking group EVER/the band every real man wishes he was in, and they've got major corporate backing (Columbia/Sony).
The big problem may be that their lyrics - while couched in catchy, repetitive slogans - are so intelligent, so funny, and so piercing that Americans are just too damn stupid to pick up on. Why do I single out the Home of the Slaves for this mental midgetry? The Manic Street Preachers hit Top 10 with damn near every single they put out in Britain. People read over there. I've seen it - it's amazing. Blue-collar, middle-aged women reading the business section of the newspaper on the morning train, more bookshops than drugstores, and newsstands with everything from Couples in Heat to New Statesman. King George is chuckling.
The death of literature in America hasn't gone unnoticed by the scabrous pens of Richie and co-conspirator Nicky Wire. From recent B-side "Dead Yankee Drawl": "Killed off literature for sex & violence/Fed a generation the equivalent of silence." This was, no doubt, inspired by their visit last April to One Nation Illiterate.
I was originally commissioned to do this interview by Downtown Edition, so maybe I should thank 'em for setting up the logistics, or claiming to. When I arrived at Cabaret Metro, shellshocked from the previous day's Big Payback in L.A., with the glamorous High Priestess of Soul, Leslie Stella, in tow, no one with anything to do with the band or the club had any knowledge of me, my paper, or my 'interview.' But I got the story. Maybe I should just thank the band and the club and resume earnest attempts to destroy DE, the accursed tin-eared industry jockdanglers who actually print things like "The suspect, still at large, is a young black male."
So here's how it went: Richey Edwards, guitarist/lyricist who proudly owns up to not having played a note on the Manics' debut album, walked in before the gig and seemed a little scared of the bright light. EB: Did you hear Chief Gates's comment to the effect that people should be thinking about peace, after his officers had gone out and kicked the shit out of so many people?
RE: I know. Um, in two weeks' time it'll all have quieted down and nothing will change.
EB: What's it like to have sort of an incendiary image but basically your impact is still within the pop marketplace and to have something like this happen?
RE: Well, we've been really big fans of rock music. You know, there was nothing in our town. We had no idea of, like, livin' in the city.
EB: Which town are you from?
RE: Blackwood, a tiny town - just like 1,000 people. A small village. Nothing there. We hadn't seen cities at all. And so music was mostly everything that we ever did. And you read all the crap that's written about the Rolling Stones or the Who. Or the Pistols - that they were a threat to society, that they were going to change the world. They did fuck all! I mean, the most you can do is have an impact individually on somebody's life - it means something to 'em. But journalists and writers like flamboyant images, they like destruction, they like all the crap about being in the band. The most you can do, the most we can do, is try and be an exciting rock band. You know, it's the one thing we were interested in doing.
Because the '80s culture in Britain was so staid and third-world and backward. It was so wrapped up in its own fucking ass (I love this phrase- EB), you know they really felt that the only worthwhile music was gonna be challenging and innovative. And we found it really very tedious. It was, like, more white middle-class kids playin' at bein' artists, when all they ever wanted to do was have a few beers and have a laugh! And that's why a lot of the classic rock bands were much more exciting to us.
EB: In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus says that nightclubs are basically the places where the revolution is born or where it goes it die. What's your experience in all the many nightclubs you've been in?
RE: There's never really been a revolutionary feeling. As soon as you get a basic level of capitalism, revolutionary feeling dies. That's why you never get any progressive governments anywhere in the world. I mean, the only government we've ever experienced in our entire life is the Conservative government, which just got re-elected again, two weeks back. And basically the reason the Labour Party lost is that they're so stupid and dull. They've this really old-world view of the working class, that the working class still believe in community, the working class still believe in helpin' everybody else. But when they say they're gonna put up taxes to improve education and health service, that's what people want. Even a fucking down-and-out tramp on the street, even in Britain, still dreams of havin' a 25-pound year, havin' a huge house, havin' a big car. And any government which says they're gonna really stitch up people with a lot of money is never gonna get over that.
EB: Do you think Labour has to adapt itself to Japanese-style capitalist philosophy, or do you think it has to become more oppositional to the Conservative policies?
RE: No, because all media, all press, all television is controlled by the ruling class. The more oppositional it becomes, it will become more and more marginalized. There's nothing it can do. It's just bankrupt; it's dead. There's no chance anymore. It's just gone. Even if all the crap which went on in Eastern Europe when 'the walls came tumbling down' and it was a big 'triumph for democracy,' for capitalism to prove that communism is really dead...which it is. I mean, it just seems to be that all it's ever going to be is capitalism along the lines of, like, Pinochet. The thing about capitalism: those people are still going to be completely oppressed. It's just no different at all. Maybe they can buy nice jeans, they can buy at McDonald's, they can buy a Coke.
EB: It's also proven that fascism is very much alive.
RE: The thing in Europe is that all communism did was just suppress the very backward, nationalist, almost feudal-type feelings. You know, some countries never evolve at a natural historical rate. They went from being peasant, agrarian cultures to being turned overnight through complete enforced dictatorship, the kind that destroys countries. And the basic thing is that the people never grew.They've got no basic feelings of democracy at all.
You know, that's why there's been a massive upsurge in fascism, misogyny , anti-semitism - it's all come back to the surface in Eastern Europe, and it's going to get worse.
EB: Supposing Manic Street Preachers become incredibly popular through hard work and amazing promotion from the record company and quality of the music, et cetera, let's say you're called on to do a second album (which they've just finished) and you're forced to break your initial promise. How would you face that?
RE: 'Course we'll do it, because our level of hypocrisy is on the same level of the media and the press.
EB: But it's very much on the table.
RE: Yeah, exactly. What we've tried to do is be honest, because at leas t we can completely expose ourselves. And, you know, we've all written lots of new songs. You know. We had 12 days off at Christmas. We went home. We'd been spending six months working 18 hours a day, and we still realized that music was still the dominant thing in our lives. And we just did three really great new songs straightaway. The difference is that, because we're honest, people are gonna always have problems with us, which is fine.
EB: What happens when some kid in Indiana buys the record because he thinks that "Slash n' Burn" sounds like Gn'R, opens up the lyric sheet, and can't begin to decipher what he sees?
RE: Uh, I think that, for me, is the best thing about us. Because, for us, really corny, cliche-ridden rock bands singin' songs about girls or livin' in New Jersey or Harley-Davidsons or like, 'I got my tattoo done on Sunset Strip' - it's so pathetic and it's shit. I mean, rock music is the music we like. But that brain-dead metal mentality pisses us off so much. And that was why a band like Nirvana getting so big and on the covers of basically, like, metal magazines...can only be a good thing because kids that have grown up with all the crap which goes with it - you know, cocaine party, 'I sniffed coke offa 23 models last night?' You know, that's got nothing to do with fucking real life.
That's why a big dichotomy which we came across when we were about 16, 17, 18 was that the one band which we loved the music they were making was Guns n' Roses when Appetite for Destruction came out, and then the other band which was saying everything which we couldn't identify with but at least they sounded pissed off was Public Enemy. And that's what we tried to cross. You know, we can only really make basic, straightforward white rock music, 'cause we're not patronizing people to pretend we understand the street, we understand New York City. You know, we live in a crap little town in Britain.
And all you'd hear on our record players was, like, the Stones and the Who. That's the only music which we would play. Our first idea was to become a rap band, but it'd've been so fucking shit, and so typical of a lot of white English bands at the time which suddenly changed from playing guitars to sampling and going, "Yeah!"
EB: "There's always been a Manic element to our music?"
EB: Do you think it's a drawback to the Master Plan - the fact that you can actually sing, write, and play? Whereas you haven't got a sort of Svengali-like person with the four completely misguided people?
RE: No, I think that's good, because at the end of the day those people always end up really fucking things up. I mean, you take a band - the most obvious band in terms of Svengali figures - Sex Pistols. Whatever you think about 'em, like, they've lived the lifestyle, they wrote songs, they created themselves almost.
EB: Matlock and Lydon, anyway.
RE: Yeah, and Malcolm McLaren came away with all the credit because he was a clever media person. He knew what to say. And there're so many people in England who really diminish what the Sex Pistols did, because they just think "Oh, yeah, they were just hype, just a media invention," which that went on with it. But they did write some fuckin' brilliant songs and said some really important things and shook up the music business.
EB: I meant to ask you about some of your favorite books, 'cause you do mention that you basically spent the first 18 years of your lives or so...
RE: Well, it's really the obvious ones you wold probably know, like Kerouac, Ginsberg...
EB: That's Ginsberg sampled on "Democracy Coma," (US album-only tune) right?
RE: Yeah.....but, I mean, quite English books. I don't know if they're very well known over here. Alan Sillitoe?
EB: Uh, uh.
RE: Very like grey, industrial, British books set in the 19... Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner - these were all made into films in the '60s in Britain. Just like very home-grown films. But they completely were just what our lives were like. And even crappy things. The one good book we got to at school is George Orwell, 1984. And Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. I mean, we don't pretend to be very avant-garde and read all these really obscure books We just like really corny books. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you know.
EB: You talk about the skillfulness of media manipulators such as McLaren. Now, who's been instrumental in your manipulation of the media?
RE: Well, I think that's why you're weaker if you haven't done it. We're just quite a natural band in that we all lived in the same town, we've all known each other since we were like four or five. All got together, lived within half a mile of each other,and in the end got really bored with most contemporary English music, started a band. We're just very cynical people. We saw bands do like all the pubs where we lived, do 200 gigs a year, get really big local followings, and they're all under the illusion that somebody from Sony Music will be driving through the middle of South Wales and go, "Hey, what a good band! Let's sign here!" And, or course, we knew they never would. We knew we had to move to London.
So we saved up our money for a year, moved to London, started playing, doing what we thought any sort of exciting rock band should do, and we were just really shocked. Like our first gig, we just picked up this mega review in Melody Maker, and this was like playing on the floor, no stage, in a pub, with no PA. And we said, "Why don't we rehearse?" We didn't even notice. They were just waiting to go and see, I think, the Wonder Stuff or someone like that, which was playing nearby. And next thing you know, like two weeks later there's like this brilliant review. So then from that we got a few more gigs in London. It just started increasing more and more. And I think people never really cared about us, 'cause the first thing people ever saw about us was the front cover of magazines. 'Cause when we moved to London, we had no agent, we had no manager, we had nothing. It was all done on our own backs, and every gig we got was just begging to pay money to play.
EB: Not bad. Did you learn any particular lessons from that famous other four-piece Welsh guitar band?
EB: Learn from their mistakes?
RE: Didn't learn anything from them; just never to be remotely like them. It's really patronizing, the way they suddenly decided to learn to speak the Welsh language, when they'd written songs about the bright lights of Mersey and Liverpool about two years before. And the Welsh language was never important to us at all. I mean, what's the point of resurrecting something that's just completely dead? Dead culture doesn't interest us.
What a quote! And I got it! With no help from Downtown Edition!!! At this point Richey was judged a risk to Manics PR, so a jocular and amazingly dressed (some white sort of rag-like substance, covered with crappy popular culture icons, a touch of leopard skin, and hundreds of those cheap department-store bangles) Nicky Wire was ushered in to 'field' the 'questions.'
EB: I was just talkin' to Richey about 'the sound of disenfranchisement, (I wasn't) and what happens when someone in the Midwest buys the record because it's got a rockin' guitar sound, opens up the lyric sheet, and their eyes pop out of their head.
NW: I think that's the best thing that can happen, you know. I don't expect people to get the message straightaway from us. But if ordinary rock bands can play it over and over again, then it's bound to get through in the end.
EB: I'm not sure what the method is in the lyric writing, but there is a sort of cut-and-paste quality to it.
NW: Yeah, well, that's 'cause me and Richey always write just poems or reams and reams of words more than anything like specific songs. And then we give 'em to James and show him, and they just turn into music. Me and Richey never write any of the music at all, and they (Richey & drummer Sean Moore) never do any of the lyrics. So it is like a Burroughs cut-up method, in a way.
EB: Do you think Traci Lords had any idea what she was singing about (on the single "Little Baby Nothing")?
NW: I think she did. I didn't really think until we met her. But when we met and she came over, we just talked to her about it. At the time we were getting misrepresented, we thought, in the press 'cause of Richey's arm and everything, and she was just saying, "You know, I keep coming 'round, and people will still say I'm a porn star. Whereas, if I was a man, people would just think I'm great, I'm a celebrity, I get to be me.' I think she completely understood the song at the end.
EB: Nice person?
NW: Yeah, she was the nicest American I've ever met, up 'til now. No, she was. She was really nice.
EB: Did you fly her over just for the purpose of doing the song.
NW: She flew over to see us in London, and then we recorded it in London the next day. It was really simple.
EB: It's good because she's almost aping James's vocal style.
NW: Yeah, really sweet and bubbly.
EB: I'm just curious as to what are your musical interests outside the realm of white rock 'n' roll?
NW: I haven't got anything; I'm more knowledgeable about literature anyways.
EB: Not reggae?
EB: Or soul?
NW: We all like millions of songs, but I can't really say I play 'em religiously. You know, I like lots of Otis Redding and lots of Bob Marley, but I couldn't say I play 'em a lot. Obviously, there's great songs in every genre anyway. And I've got respect for lots of people like Bob Marley, but I don't, really. It doesn't play a huge part in my life.
EB: Did PE get you interested in hip hop culture at all?
NW: Not me, more with James. All that got me interested was just black American rights, just becoming militant again. Music had gone so tame and watered down, and all of sudden they were probably the most extreme band that's ever appeared. There's nothing more articulate or intelligent in the entire world. I think it's the bravest move a band could make, to do that, at a time when everyone was singing about Harleys and...
EB: Have you heard Ice Cube's stuff at all?
NW: Yeah, I mean it's more blunt, but you need that. Sometimes like the Pistols singing "Get pissed, destroy" being really blunt and the Clash being more articulate - like that, you know. It's good; then you know you've got both sides!
EB: It's almost as if the Manics are a one-band musical movement. You don't seem to have any, like you say, Clash-Pistols relationship with anybody, or even, say, to quote somebody that might nauseate you, Smiths-Wedding Present.
NW: No, there's nothing like the Stones and the Who, even. That makes it really hard for us, taking bands out on tour and everything. There's just no one we can get on with or like, really. We're just such an insular band. And musically we just seem poles apart from everybody. Lyrically also, you know. We've just got nothing in common with anyone. I think that's just because people are scared to do what we're doing.
EB: Richey claims that you all don't read as many obscure books as you lead people to believe.
NW: Not obscure books, no. I mean, the big books in our lives are just the most obvious ones. From Kerouac to Orwell - for English people, anyway, the real obvious books. Something like Animal Farm by George Orwell is to us almost like a kiddies' book. And the same with 1984 - it's not hard to understand. Lots of the quotes we get are just from reading chapters.
EB: Does it get sort of maddening reading about all the mini-debates that swirl around you? For example, the last really laudatory thing I read about the Manics was someone saying that the androgynous look of the band was the truly revolutionary quality of the band. And then next week, you have this Right Said Fred interview where the writer's just like, "Right Said Fred are truly gay, unlike the Manic Street Preachers who co-opt it for their own capitalist means."
NW: Only England could come up with something like that. It's just the way we look, anyway. It only seems different in Britain. They just don't recognize that half of America is - you know, there's millions of bands with much more makeup than us.
EB: Are you able to laugh about it, at least?
NW: Oh, yeah. When we started, it was like the whole letters page was taken up with flak like "We can't take Manic Street Preachers seriously 'cause they wear eyeliner." Their lives are just so wrapped up in, you know, the Wedding Present and the Smiths, and there's such an ordinary rein as to their life.
EB: Richey had some interesting thoughts on the Rodney King verdict.
NW: I'm just completely astonished. I couldn't believe it.
EB: Does it make you want to do something even more hysterical than you've ever done?
NW: Oh, it does! It's just unbelievable. Just watching that tonight, it's the scariest thing I've ever seen. Just couldn't even comprehend the obviousness of it all. Just makes you want to bottle yourself onstage, just do anything, 'cause nothing could be as bad as that. You know, it just makes you want to fight.
EB: One last question here, and this is another question I also asked Richey: Do you think it's a detriment to the Master Plan, which of course you're...
NW: Credited with?
EB: From time to time, bands will edit and reshape...
EB: There we go. And the fact that you can actually write, sing, and play, on your own, and you're not sort of puppets of anybody, and you haven't got anybody in the band who's a true, pathetic wretch type. Isn't that sort of a detriment to the self-destructive rock 'n' roll cliche?
NW: I know what you mean. It's that almost what's expected of us is to do what every band has really done in fact, wasted themselves in some way. But that's where I think we're different. Musically we're all rock 'n' roll cliche, but as a band I don't think we'll ever change, 'cause we're so insular. And although we do get more estranged from each other - you know, the more touring you do, the less you remember you have to talk to each other - but I always think we'll have the dignity to get out before we turn into wretches. And I really hope that's true.
EB: I think Paul Weller's the one person who ever pulled it off.
NW: Yeah, I mean he did. A lot of dignity. Except for the Style Council.
That night, the Manic Street Preachers committed the ultimate sin. They sang, played, and posed like champions. They tore "Repeat" into a million pieces and sang the heart and soul out of "Little Baby Nothing." They played with more precision and fire than the Pistols could ever muster. They worked that sucker like blacksmiths of old. But they did not cause the world as Rush Limbaugh, Darryl Gates and Michael Stipe know it to stop turning.
The time was right, as Grooveblaster is fond of saying, to drop the bomb, and they dropped a dud. Likeable and engaging to a man, the fellas lacked that extra dickhead factor that would have driven the college/Anglophile rock crowd away in droves and attracted the necessary American male sociopaths and beautiful American female money-spenders. They weren't funny in the least. They were truly humanistic and truly beautiful, but without that extra behind-the-back razzle-dazzle, they were just a cheap record company experiment. Something even Downtown Edition could like.
I still pump the Manic Street Preachers' shit - their singles get better and better - when I'm getting ready for some good basketball or when the headlines give me headaches, but I'm pissed off at 'em. They came, they saw, they went home, culture and cash changed hands, and the quality of life was enhanced...by a fraction.