“The biggest disaster which probably happened in the ‘80s was the Smiths,” says Manic Street Preacher Richie Edwards. “The shadow of the Smiths is so enormous over this country. I mean, the press talk about them as ‘the ultimate rock 'n' roll band!' And they’re just not. They're the most obscene thing we ever heard. When we first heard the Smiths, it was like, ‘this is just the saddest day of our lives, that this—the press' champion-is the future of rock ’n' roll.’ And then we just realized that England is just the most fucked-up place.‘
Rock 'n' roll is virtually non-existent in 1992. Either you have some reptile with hair below his shoulder blades who's never heard of Prell, much less a guitar tuner, playing 20-year-old Tony Iommi SG riffs with considerably less finesse than Black Sabbath and calling it “art.” Or you have 25-years-too-Iate ﬂower children playing acid-soaked heavy metal with a twinge of funk and calling it an “alternative.” Or, if you're unfortunate enough to inhabit the isle which gave the world boiled beef, you've got what Manic Street Preacher Richie Edwards ‘ likes to call “these fey lil' indie bands, ...like Weddin' Present, all these gray, gray borin' bands, fey lil' people starin' at their own shoes."
Whatever happened to rock 'n" roll? Whatever happened to amped-up boys leapin' three-feet into the air, armed with Gibsons, possessing a dress sense which spells “cool” to The Kids and “Martian” to Everyone Else? Whatever happened to three chords and a middle-finger jabbed into the Universe's eye?
I was beginning to think rock 'n' roll was a lost art and was ready and, willing to hole up in my black leather cocoon with my Iggy Pop records. Then one day l was pawing through the Limey rock press, which is always good for a guffaw, considering they invent trends like Bagpipe Ska weekly in order to tear 'em down the next week. But then I see some obviously deranged androgyne peering at me through his pancake and eyeliner, looking like a punk-rock Bay City Roller decked out in a violet nightie, the legend “Spectators of Suicide“ spray-stenciled across its face in some perverse tribute to Joe Strummer’s “White Riot" days. Offered for my inspection: His left forearm, the Princely legend ‘4 Real” freshly carved into its surface, a red ooze washing out from the incisions.
Meet Richie Edwards, twenty three years young. He plays guitar, writes lyrics, serves as spokesman, and carves his flesh for Manic Street Preachers. They’re here to save rock 'n' roll in a blaze of power chords, bloodshed, hero-worship, cosmetics, confusion, and naiveté. And the English rock press hate them for it.
“The thing is that everybody accepts the horrors that governments do,“ says Edwards confronting the American rock press in the cottage studio in Surrey where the Preachers cut their new double-pocket debut LP for worldwide release on Sony. “Yet they get really offended if there's like swearin' on TV. That's a really fucked up set of values that we really wanna change.
“I mean, like when the Gulf War was goin' on, people were comin' back in like bodybags. And so many old people durin' this got really offended when we smashed up a Gibson onstagel We smashed a Guitar! That was offensive to them! And yet they saw thousands of bodybags comin' back, and they didn't give a fuck! But a smashed guitar was like a big deal!"
You'd think, in the wake of Pete Townsend's ritual splintering of Rickenbackers in the '60s, such a move would raise more yawns than ire.
'It's because in the '80s over here, nobody was doin' it, Yknow? So, to all these journalists weened on fey lil’ indie bands, we were just like the devil resurfaced.”
Who are these demons, you ask? James Dean Bradfield, lead guitarist/vocalist and crafter of allthe Preachers' music with his cousin/Preachers drummer Sean Moore. There's also Nicky Wire (nee Jones), Minister of Four Strings, Leaps and Funny Faces. He does all the interviews with Edwards, who is the Preachers' Public Enemy-stylee Minister of Information and Art Director. So busy does this task keep Edwards, he hasn't the time to play guitar on the band's records; Bradfield handles all six-string duties on disc.
The four grew up in each other's bedrooms in Blackwood, Wales, “A completely destroyed-like, post-industrial town where all the business is just gone.” Like a lot of other bed-room mirror pilots, the nascent Preachers spent their time hooking down whatever culture their starved mitts could clasp upon, reading out-law authors like Burroughs and Kerouac, pouring over bootleg videos and cassettes, spinning discs. And, most of all, reading the big three, Limey rock weeklies: NME, Melody Maker and Sounds. As the lads found themselves with said weeklies' Heroes Of The Week time and again, they decided in the Grand Punk Tradition—which they only discovered during the Grand Punkstalgia Daze of '86—to take matters Into their own hands. If no band would come along proffering the mix of sex and subversion and Situationism and hedonism for which they were starved, and still have time to decry social/political/cultural injustices, then they would become that band.
They would steal from the Who, the Stones, the Dolls, the Pistols, the Clash, Hanoi Rocks. Guns N' Roses, Public Enemy, the outlaw authors they revered, and every tragic Old Hollywood starlet they ever adored. They would move to London, ask questions, piss off the old, thrill the young, rake their skin, play college balls and get booted out the front gates. They ended up resembling Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers or the Dead Boys in the Dolls old make-up, clad in hand-me-downs from Mick Jones closet left from his London SS days. And they would divide their once-beloved weeklies sharply; they were readable fun for the first time since said weeklies lost their best writers, Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray.
Still, one must ask what all this in 'Motown Junk' about Holland/Dozier/Holland keeping the working classes under The Man's thumb via the composing of danceable love songs is all about? Don't people need to dance? Don't they need to fall in love?
I’ll admit our political stance is confused, that we're really fuckin' naive. The thing is, in this country in the mid-'8os, there was a movement called Red Wedge, where they really tried to align any kind of political group with the Labour Party. And it was sooo gray and dogmatic and so useless, that every young person thought it was such a waste of time. It was Just old men screaming out long, impossible words. It really turned us off. Whereas bands like Hanoi Rocks, who Just looked so cool, we were much more Interested in them. So, we just wanted to like have a very broad political consciousness without any kinda specific ideology. Now, the fact that we've got a lack of any specificity really gives us a lot more flexibility, I think. Were not based in like any kinda camp, any party politics. We're much more like a challenge to passive consumption. That's where our politics are. We just wanna sing about the new conditions and the passions that have come up since the war. Everybody's getting more and more obsessed with III' things which are never gonna change their lives. Y'know, it's just sad. We wanna be at war with just passive spectators, I s'pose.
But five million bands before Manic Street Preachers attempted to save the world through rock 'n' roll. What makes them think that they will be the ones to finally succeed at it? 'We're Just gonna try, aren't we? That all we can do, really. It’s better than burying your head in the sand.”
Manic Street Preachers are such obvious dreamers, and are so publicly trying, it's a miracle their label Sony has rewarded 'em with a worldwide record deal. It's even more miraculous when you take into account not one of the band's singles has graced the UK Top 40, nor has one of their gigs drawn more than 200 bodies tops. This band's truly a phenomenon existing only In the music press, blown out of proportion for the crimes of aping rebel rock forebears, making great rock singles, and being loudmouths. They've got Wham's old producer glossing enough of a commercial sheen over 'em to send "Stay Beautiful" upward bound, and they've got enough carve blanche to talk their label into financing their biggest pipedream: A two-record debut LP supported by extended an kamikaze mission into the American Jungles, after which Manic Street Preachers ride off into either the sunset or their folks' living rooms in Wales, where they'll spend the rest of their lives soaking cathode ray tubes and "Where are they now?" mentions.
It could happen, but not the way Manic Street Preachers envision it. Their romance-and-Babycham-soaked noggins haven't enough focus to see that a '9os hotride update of vintage UK pogorock'll never net 'em Guns N' Roses-style megastardom. The best Manic Street Preachers can hope for is to follow the Pistols and Dolls down their paths to Glorious Failurehood. Which is fine: Those two Glorious Failures inspired two generations of garageband guerillas to pick up Gibsons and commence firing. Which is another necessary development to our—and rock's—continued survival. As necessary as their singles. As necessary as the way they shake up a few Billy Bragg fans with typewriters so badly. At least they've got England screaming, again. At least they've proven somebody remembers real rock 'n' roll.