Richey Edwards: the last great rock star
by Ben Myers
Louder Than War. It’s a great name for a publication isn’t it? And given that it was the three word review deployed by El Comandante himself Fidel Castro, to describe the Manic Street Preachers concert his aging eardrums has just endured ”â the first in Cuba by a Western rock band, no less ”â totally fitting.ÃÂ It says a lot. It stands for something.
Because to their fans the Manics, like Castro, continue stand for something immoveable too. Something founded on rigid ideals and a commitment to The Cause. In Castro’s case, it’s a resistance to capitalist imperialism, and in the case of the Manics a commitment to the socialist principles that run through the south Wales valleys like an untapped seam of the finest anthracite, yet all the while continuing to play what in the 21st century is an undeniably conformist type of music: guitar-based rock ”Ën roll. No-one said they weren’t riddled with contradictions.
That the world may have irrevocably changed since they ”â both Castro and the Manics – embarked upon their careers has only strengthened both their resolve and their arguments. Look, they seem to say. That hegemony we always warned of? It’s happening. Culturally. Politically. Economically. Musically.
To compare a simple musical group who remain completely anonymous in certain world territories to the biggest political thorn in the evil empire’s side and figurehead of workable of leftist resistance is, of course, a large and slightly absurd leap to make. Not least because the group in question are signed to Sony records and are more than willing participants in the promotional schematic designed to shift maximum units under the guise of achieving “mass communication”Â.
Yet it was the Manics Street Preachers’ commitment to vocally opposing all that seemed pointless, unimaginative, churlish, sub-standard, predictable, flabby and complacent in their musical contemporaries when their first carpet-bombed the music press with hyperbolic, Angry Brigade-styled missives in 1990 that attracted me to them. Here was a band who, even if they were just flirting with the language of Situationism, at least knew what it was, and had the gumption to utilise it for their own means at a time when mainstream music was almost completely devoid of anything that even hinted at resistance culture. Here was a band to get excited about it.
Much of this searing rhetoric came from their guitarist and Minister of Information Richey Edwards, a history graduate whose own literary tastes read like a syllabus for any budding modern malcontent: Genet, Mishima, Rimbaud, Behan, Tanizaki, Huxley, Wilde, Burroughs, Laing and so forth. Sexual, political, social, intellectual or moral subversives, one and all.
It was for this reason ”â the fact that no other rock star in living memory seemed so committed to devouring the same poetry that I was drawn to ”â that two decades later I would sit down and write a book inspired by the final days of the young man in question: Edwards himself. The end result was my recently published novel Richard, a work whose general premise ”â fact-based fiction ”â is currently divided opinion.
The key word here is ”Ënovel’ because although Richard is an historically and factually accurate documentation of the rise, trials and tribulations of the Manic Street Preachers it all also assumes the unthinkable ”â to guess what was going on in our protagonist’s head as he embarks upon one of the great modern mysteries: his struggles with depression and his subsequent disappearance in February 1995.
Writing the book was not without its pitfalls. To attempt to occupy someone else’s headspace ”â someone more successful and intelligent, yet more damaged too ”â took its mental toll. But it was the kneejerk reaction to the book that took me by surprise. While most reviewers have so far responded surprisingly positively, some critics have overlooked the many literary precedents of fact-based fiction, drama or cinema and jumped straight to dismissing the book as exploitative and unthinkable, without actually reading it. It is, some have said, blasphemous.
But that was still no reason not to write Richard. For here was a story that needed telling in a way that free from the constraints of linear biography or investigative journalism. Here was a man who deserved better; a man whose ideas indirectly took some small town socialists all the way to an audience with Castro. Here, IÃÂ hope, was a man who would understand the medium.
It’s 2010 now and rock ”Ën’ roll is no longer the devil’s music. It could be argued that its salad days are over and it is now nothing but an amplified death rattle that no government, regime or religious institution should fear whenever new generations fall for the lure of the three chords.ÃÂ As a format it is difficult in the Western world to see pop and rock music as anything other than entertainment now.ÃÂ Yet it is still just about capable of producing the occasional individual thinker. I see Richey Edwards as one of the best of his time, a man whose life should be remembered and re-visited.
Richard by Ben Myers is out now on Picador.