The current plight of missing Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey James is the source of real concern for all the band’s friends and fans. One of Rock's best and most revealing lyricists, James obliquely identified some of his own problems in the haunting '4st 7lbs', from the Manics' magnificent third album, 'The Holy Bible'. Howard Johnson uncovers the story...
When guitarist Richey James carved the legendary '4 Real' slogan into his forearm in front of a sceptical journalist, he was making a point about the authenticity of his art that could not possibly be misconstrued. At the time few doubted that he had made the ultimate statement about the strength of feeling - and the pain involved - in his relationship with his band, Manic Street Preachers. Some people also thought he was an idiot.
Sadly, the events which have followed in the life of this much-loved, yet deeply troubled artist, have merely proved that Richey James wasn't kidding around. And there‘s no doubt how utterly authentic his interviews and lyrics have been. When there has been a real need for artistic licence, for Richey to say that he wasn't writing from bitter, personal experience; that the people in the songs weren‘t him, but rather an unspecified third person, the lyricist has been shown to be frightfully prescient, painfully self-aware, horribly truthful. And now Richey James has been missing for eight weeks already, and the only clues to his whereabouts are an abandoned car at the Severn Bridge and a missing £2,000 from his bank account. It's a messy question mark in the career of a band that restored a little bit of faith in the lumbering Rock beast.
The Manics unwittingly ushered in a new era for Rock music when they first escaped from their Welsh home town of Blackwood at the turn of the decade. Their major label debut double-album, 'Generation Terrorists', released in 1992, proved that Rock could be glamorous, controversial, intelligent and entertaining. i.e., Guns 'N' Roses hanging out with French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. The very epitome of the Manics' autonomous stance was Richey.
Once dubbed 'the most beautiful man alive', many might have thought that Richey had carved out the ultimate career. Bright, handsome, admired; everything could (and probably should) have been perceived as
The Story So Far...
Richey James was last seen on the morning of February 1 this year, leaving the Embassy Hotel in West London on the day he was due to fly to America with vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield for a promotional tour in support of ‘The Holy Bible’. The idea was to build the band's profile for a 30-date US tour.
The band‘s manager, Martin Hall, reported Richey missing at Harrow Road police station in London the following day, but decided to keep the guitarist‘s disappearance secret from the press for two weeks in the hope that he’d turn up again.
It is believed that Richey drove back to his flat in Cardiff Bay after leaving the Embassy Hotel, although there was little evidence that he was packing with a view to a long-term departure. He left behind credit cards, his passport and bottles of Prozac, the powerful and controversial anti-depressant which had recently been prescribed for him by his doctor.
Richey‘s car, a silver Vauxhall Cavalier. was discovered by the police on Friday February 17 at Auste Service Station on the M4 by the Severn Bridge. Cardiff police immediately ordered a thorough search of the Severn Estuary. No bodies have been washed up.
At the time of his disappearance Richey had recently shaved his head and looked very different from even the most recent pictures that had been taken. In his last interview, with the Japanese music bible, Music Life, Richey explained that he'd been irritated by his old style and that he‘d shaved his head as an antidote to the fact that he had not been sleeping well. He thought that taking the razor to his head might help distract him from the destructive thoughts he was having in the middle of the night.
According to the interview, Richey hasn‘t had a drink since last summer, which must be viewed positively, but the photos which accompany the piece show the guitarist to be thin and drawn:
"I used to start drinking as soon as I woke up." He explained. "So the day was shorter. Some people maintain that all the best writing is done by alcoholics or junkies. That’s crap; the more addicted you are, the less time you have to write."
The great craft displayed in Richey‘s lyrics has been an integral part of what has set the Manics apart from their contemporaries. It is the attention to detail, the desire to expose the most uncomfortable of subject matters, that has seen Richey hailed as a major talent.‘4st 7Ibs’ is perhaps the greatest example of his skills.
There has been no word from Richey since February 1. Reported sightings have not led to anything concrete. RAW would like to echo the thoughts of all music fans in wishing Richey a speedy and safe return.
Yet from the band‘s earliest days, the lyrics, penned by Richey and bassist Nicky Wire, betrayed more than a hint of distress.
When the band had first formed, all that Wire, James, guitarist and singer James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore could think of was climbing out of the well of hopelessness that Blackwood offered:
"Everybody, ever since you could comprehend it, felt pretty much defeated," explained Richey, The problem was, what had rescued them from the grey and numbing boredom was a life whose very frivolity threatened to crush them once again.
While those who worked with Richey know him as an intensely likeable young man, pleasant and courteous beneath the veneer there was patently a soul in turmoil. Inside he was struggling to reconcile a privileged position With feelings of being ‘the useless generation‘, as his tattoo boldly claimed.
The first indication that Richey was cracking under pressure came when he missed the band's summer festival appearances at Scotland's T In The Park and England's Reading Festival, on the eve of the release of the third, astonishingly excellent Manics' album. 'The Holy Bible'.
After a short period as an inpatient at a hospital In Cardiff,nthe band's management moved Richey to a private clinic in Roehampton, where he was diagnosed as suffering from alcoholism, anorexia and self-mutilation'.
Looking back in retrospect - and after the album‘s release - it's easy to see how much personal anguish was writhing around in the lyrics to '4st 7lbs'.
'4st 7lbs' is the kind of song most Rock bands couldn't touch. It deals with a real issue in a manner that's so bleak it could drive you to despair. Most Rock music, in sharp contrast, is designed to be uplifting. Mere entertainment.
'4st 7lbs' identifies the intense pressure brought to bear on young people - and young girls in particular - to conform to a standard look. This in itself is not a particularly original thought. Yet Richey turns the entire argument inside out and moves forward to the point where the subliminal message has become so ingrained in the recipient’s mind that they can't help but be dragged in beneath its influence. The pressure brought to bear is such that the only element of choice which remains open is to strictly control how much you conform.
The anorexic is often diagnosed as a person who has no control over events in their life and the only manner in which they feel they can exercise their own will is over their own body. To the anorexic there is something strangely beautiful in this wilful damage to one's own physique.
"Don't forget." Explained James Dean Bradfield, "You‘re talking about a guy here who wanted to call the album 'The Holy Bible', because he believes that everything on there has to be perfection: the music, the words, the artwork, everything. Richey has always been in love with rose-tinted perfection, so he was always in danger of being let down."
The bastardisation of perfection is a theme which is constantly being referred to in Manics' songs. and which has been a constant source of interest and distress to Richey.
Perfection. Control. Self-esteem, ‘4st 7lbs' deals with the crucial elements in Richey‘s life in unrelenting fashion.
When Richey emerged from his original period in the clinic to rejoin the band for a UK tour in
October, there was no doubt that his anorexic problems had taken a pretty strong hold. The finely-chiselled features seen on the band‘s early photos had given way to a gaunt visage, with sunken eyes betraying the fact that the guitarist was still a long way short of making a full recovery.
Now, of course, in a dark echo of the lyrics to '4st 7lbs'. Richey has disappeared - literally.
"And I don't mind the horror that surrounds me
Self-worth scatters, self-esteem's a bore
I long since moved to a higher plateau."
Has Richey James really moved to a higher plateau? Has he accepted that the life he was loading was dragging him towards the self-destructive perspective outlined in '4st 7lbs'? Or is it that Richey‘s last throw of the dice Is to disappear from View? For how long – possibly forever - nobody knows for sure. Maybe not even Richey James.