A Word to the Wise: Stay Away

Caitlin Moran

(THE TIMES, Fri Mar 3 1995)


The remarkable thing about Richey Edwards's disappearance is not that he's gone, but that more pop stars have not followed him.

After the disappearance of Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers four weeks ago, the usual reminiscences about nutter pop stars were wheeled out -- the tale of Julian Cope chasing the rest of the Teardrop Explodes around Welsh mountains with a loaded shotgun; of Syd Barrett wandering around with a penguin on his head before quitting the industry and going back to live with his mum, and so on.

The attitude that some pop commentators have to these affairs is downright unsettling. The consensus seems to be: "Well, it's the end of so-and-so's sanity, and in some cases their lives, but that photograph of them looking wasted four years ago will make a great T-shirt now." This voyeuristic glorification of mental instability is something that has blighted the music industry, and has put some musicians in very real danger, as their behavious is not seen as symptomatic of unease and trauma; rather as part and parcel of being a bit-part player on _Top of the Pops_. And it has to stop.

Pop star nutters, as we shall affectionately refer to them, are seen as a rare breed, and when they eventually collapse and/or implode, it's seen as an event as rare and unscheduled as a meteor shower: just a weak person caving in. Actually, it's a miracle that _more_ pop stars don't sink into the electric storm of madness. I could name you four stars who have been on the brink of mental shutdown for years now, and it's changed my attitude to creativity and music forever.

When I first became a music journalist, I believed music was the most beautiful and important thing in the world; a benign force that would, if used properly, cure the body of any illness, from general feeling ickyness to mange and gout. I believed that if I could physically get inside music I would live forever; and that certain songs, if played loud enough, would make my neighbours come round bearing cakes and fruit, begging to borrow the record. This is probably part of the reason I have had to move house so often.

Now, having spent several very distressing evenings talking to people whose music I loved so much my body ached just to think of it, I believe that music can be utterly destructive and debilitating. Just as a woman's body irrevocably changes shape after she has had a child, so I now believe that musicians' heads warp and bend and change shape after certain songs have been in there. Imagine, for a moment, how you'd feel if it was four o'clock in the morning -- that spook-time where it feels all the clocks have stopped and you're the only person left breathing in the world -- and suddenly _A Day In The Life_ comes into your head. No wonder John Lennon went mad and started taking all those drugs -- he wasn't trying to enhance his creativity, he was trying to drown out the music.

Music is selfish, a dark magic that chooses an artist and lives inside him or her like a cuckoo-child, gradually pushing out everything else that takes up their energy and emotions until all that's left is music. This is why, when artists finally lose their muse, they descend into alcoholism and drug addiction. These pastimes are pretty much the only things that are as all-consuming as music.

Most musicians' lives are purely devoted to music, and all the trappings that go with it -- who they go out with, who they talk to, what they read, where they live, are all dictated by music. It is an incredibly insular world, and one that makes it very easy to lose a sense of perspective. This is why when, on paper, Kurt Cobain had everything to live for, the fact that he was not enjoying playing live any more was enough for him to shoot himself.

So musicians not only have to contend with the emotional instability of being creative, but the physically crippling lifestyle of writing and touring.

Around the age of 13, with your hair slicked back and a tennis racket slung low over your hips as you rock in the mirror, a rock star's lifestyle seems something to be deeply envied. Not so. Going on tour with bands is a de ply depressing experience -- hours of damp, rainy boredom in concrete dressing rooms or tour vans with people you've spent the past four years doing exactly the same with, followed by gigs you've played a thousand times before. Then on to pokey hotels, a life spent in isolation from friends and family.

There's no way out once you're famous -- even former rock stars are still newsworthy. As soon as you get on to that music industry treadmill, you're on it for life. You can take a guess at what exactly you'll be doing at 4.30pm on November 22, 2002, and probably be right. Maybe there are worse curses than knowing your future, but I can't think of one right now.

So back to Richey Edwards. Most people believe that, as his car was found abandoned at a well-known suicide spot and his Prozac was left in his flat, he has, indeed, killed himself. I'm not so sure. Richey was one of the most - -possibly _the_ most -- intelligent people I have ever met. He was aware of everything I have just written about. He knew his life was mapped out for him, and that the treadmill of writing and touring and recording that he loathed would never let him go.

For months before his disappearance Richey had been obsessed with the Perfect Disappearance -- people who sucked themselves out of their social circuit and were never seen again. He bought dozens of books and studied the subject very carefully. Leaving his car at a suicide spot was, I think, a deliberate ruse to dissuade fans, the police and the press from looking for him.

Hopefully -- for Richey's sake -- we will never see him again; and if we do, it will be when the music industry has changed, and doesn't destroy those who give it the most: themselves.