A personal history of Manics fandom by The Anchoress
Manic Street Preachers changed my whole world. Not so much as a musician – there was Kate Bush, Prince, and Bowie for that – but as a reader; a consumer of culture; a dreamer; another small-town girl plotting a big escape.
The Manics left an indelible mark both on my mind and on the course my life would take. And now I find myself in the unusual (and simultaneously terrifying) position of being invited to support the band I adore and who have acted as some kind of surrogate teachers for me since I was a pre-teen. This is the band that turned me from an awkward introvert into a leopard print wearing book-bothering library fiend who was the first in my family to go to university. Not bad for a rock and roll band that threatened to disband after releasing one album.
Beyond music and beyond traditional notions of fandom, The Holy Bible is an album that I hear time and time again has steered the course of people's lives and been the catalyst for so many PhDs, novels, satellite town escapes and minds opened to a world of possibility. And this is what music should do, isn't it? If we are to think of its loftiest ambitions, beyond soundtracking key moments in our lives and making the mundanity of it all that little easier to bear...
So, what exactly does it mean to be a Manics fan? First of all, let’s discard those cliches of us all as self-harming and po-faced (not that there’s anything wrong with being either of those things. Even better that a band could make you feel less alone in it too...). As with many bands that reflect and refract back the issues and concerns so many struggle with through adolescence and beyond, it’s easy for the uninitiated to write the band off as irrelevant to those who’ve come out the other side of university. For me though, what’s particularly interesting is the relationship the Manics have with their female fans that disrupts much of what we think we know about music fandom. As a young girl, being a fan of a band can be as much a process of sexual awakening - a cathexis of all the pent-up frustrations of pre-adolescence projected onto the idealised Other. The history of the boy band after The Beatles is also the history of generations of young women’s sexual identities being forged in the fire of imagined trysts and bedroom walls plastered with first crushes. And then we have the Manics. The band who wrote “Little Baby Nothing” - a song that almost perfectly inhabits the female psyche and imagines how it feels to be nothing more than an object of vacant desire.
While there was certainly some element of the “non-threatening male” in Nicky and Richey’s androgynous looks and kohl-rimmed eyes, as a Manics “groupie” (and I use the term very loosely here) you were more likely to end up with a PhD than an STD. This was a band that encouraged you to devour books and films and suck in culture; to open your mind, not your legs. They were a band that glamourised the idea of being intelligent - a notion that can be endlessly empowering for a young girl looking for a way to be valued in a world that seems only concerned with the value of appearances. As the working class kid who’d been taught that education is your only route to social mobility, and as that kid who’d been relentlessly bullied for being “smart”, this was a revelation to me. You could be well-read and wear fake leopard print. You could have intellectual aspirations and be glamourous. The two were not mutually exclusive. Wow, I thought. This changes everything.
Faster was the first Manics songs I ever clapped my ears on. I can still remember how it just completely stopped me in my tracks with its litany of literary name-dropping. There was no hope for me after that. Being a Welsh, precocious, council estate school attending girl with aspirations for something more than the life I was born into, I decided they were my compass through it all. I set about a project of self-reinvention and self improvement. I would write down every book and author that they had referenced in old interviews. Then I’d go to the local public library with a list and order Andrea Dworkin’s Mercy or Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, accumulating piles of books and scribbled notes as I slowly educated myself into a new future of possibilities. Libraries gave us power indeed…
The twin worlds of literature and music that the Manics first introduced me to continue to collide. Ten years later, I’m embarking on my PhD at UCL and follow that up by releasing my first album, a concept record about a ghost writing novelist, replete with a reading list and epigram for each song in homage to the band who first opened the door for me.
As a music fan first and foremost, I hope I'll never grow out of the thrill of being acknowledged by some of my musical and cultural heroes. If you told the 12 year old me that one day I would be sharing a stage with the band that started it all, there would probably be a considerable amount of squealing. There would definitely be some flailing of arms. All internalised of course, as I was the kind of adolescent who didn’t know how to express much. Until a certain Welsh band showed me how.