An abandoned car on the bridge that spans the real and spiritual divide between England and Wales could have spelt a tragically poignant end for one of rock music's highest profile bands. Instead, since that fateful day in 1995, the Manic Street Preachers - minus their flamboyant and troubled guitarist Richey Edwards - have managed to turn themselves into respected, serious and astonishingly successful stars.
The mysterious disappearance of Edwards, coming as it did on the eve of the Welsh band's departure to America to promote a new album, was a truly personal loss for the other three members of the band - and one from which they have never recovered, at least emotionally.
"The last three years have been our most successful," says lyricist and bass guitarist Nicky Wire, "but, not necessarily the best."
This archetypal rock'n'roll story of rebellion, alienation, anarchy and tragedy should really have followed the well-trodden path of its forbears - with the Manics disbanding and their glory days attaining cult status.
But the politically-minded band - Nicky Wire, lead singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore - have re-invented themselves with a potent, more user-friendly image - one which has earned them two Brit Awards and chart success with both albums and singles.
Now, with their new album - This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours - certain to enter the charts at number one, the Manics are the subject of an in- depth BBC documentary.
Part of the new Close Up arts strand, From Despair To Here tells the story of the band, from their childhood days as friends in the economic gloom of Blackwood, through their earnest adolescence and onto the rebellious, nihilistic route that Richey Edwards seemed pre-destined to tread.
"They took lipstick, Lenin, Marilyn Monroe and Marx and put it all together," says GQ editor James Brown. "They understood that the combination of politics and iconography made it exciting. They were full of hate and desire."
Initial success meant that the band was under pressure to perform - and the sincerity of their pop politics came under the spotlight. They were regularly accused of simply adopting political causes to make up for their admittedly limited musical abilities. This criticism was to lead to one of Edwards' most notorious and headline-grabbing acts.
In the midst of having his motives questioned by yet another probing journalist, the disturbed musician drew out a razor blade and proceeded to slice the words 4 REAL into his arm.
It was a horrific act, but it got the message across - the little boy who had been nicknamed "Teddy" Edwards because he was so cuddly, had become a bulimic self-mutilator, who was eventually to find himself in a mental hospital battling against severe depression.
"He was in a terribly bad way," recalls Nicky Wire. "He went to an NHS mental home and when I saw him there, he was drugged out of his skull - it was total cuckoo's nest.
"He was very thin and the humanity had gone out of him."
Even now, the remaining band members refuse even to contemplate the death of Edwards and keep an optimistic, if draining, open mind about the whole unhappy business.
Wire says: "Every time the phone rings, or there is a knock on the door, I think it could be him. There isn't a day goes by that I don't think about him."
The band are quick to acknowledge that Edwards' departure meant that a new direction had to be found for the music and Wire has now become their inspirational lyricist - a move he insists would not have happened had his friend still been around.
The new album contains three songs written for Richey Edwards, including the poignant Nobody Loved You - a thinly veiled plea for him to come home, for the sake of his still-grieving family.
But the rest of the tracks are as political as Edwards would have wished, dealing with the NHS, the Spanish Civil War and the pockets of poverty that still scar Britain.
"The teenage angst and the sloganeering have gone," says Mike Connolly, director of the BBC film. "They are no longer party animals and I guess the nihilism went with Richey. The songs are still melancholic - but there is a new optimism."
Horror of horrors, a sense of humour has even crept into the Manics' view of the perplexing disappearance of their friend.
"He was in a Vauxhall Cavalier," says Wire with a wry smile. "It was much more Reginald Perrin than Lord Lucan."
Close Up: Manic Street Preachers - From Despair To Here is on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesday.