'Journal For Plague Lovers' Track by Track:
NW: "It starts with an audio clip from The Machinist. If ever there was a film made of us, Christian Bale is the one person who could play Richey. Or maybe Michael Sheen. Both Welsh. Both mental. Obviously Richey never saw it, but it sets the tone."
JDB: "'The figure eight inside out is infinity'. It stands for the Scalextric of his mind: racing around and sometimes crashing and getting back on."
NW: "He was obsessed with the perfect circle and Van Gogh's figure eight and all that. It was a kind of recurring theme that he never seemed to get to grips with. But I don't know whether we relate it to that either. It might just be like James said, the internal maelstrom..."
NW: "'Riderless horses in Chomsky's Camelot...'. It goes back to 'Faster', 'I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer/ I spat out Plath and Pinter'. I love the insane ambition of his intellect."
Jackie Collins Existential Question Time
NW: "A lot of people in the '70s wore badges, you see it a lot in photos, that read 'Mummy, what's a Sex Pistol?' on it. It's just a sort of cultural reference point, I don't know if it's any more loaded than that. The song, I find, is pretty impenetrable. Greil Marcus was a massive influence on all of us... it does seem to make some sense [Marcus' book Lipstick Maces explored the links between situationism and the Sex Pistols]. The way everything seems to be connected. And Jon Savage's England's Dreaming... Lipstick Traces was much more than just a book on music, I could definitely see that, the same idea of recurrence."
JDB: "Most of the songs I've got a definite idea about what I think they're about. That's the only one where I'm very, very uncertain."
Me And Stephen Hawking
NW: "There's the mad line '100,000 watch Giant Haystacks in a Bombay fight'. He was obviously a famous wrestler in our time, he was the bad guy to Big Daddy. I'd love to know if Giant Haystacks fought in a Bombay fight and was watched by 100,000 people. Because if that's true... I don't know what the fuck it's about. It's just that amazing mixture, Richey was never afraid of mixing low art and high art. And that's why it's never elitist, it's just knowledge."
This Joke Sport Severed
JDB: "This song did feel like a dead flower to me, because it's got the possibility of just giving up on conjugal relationships or love. And that emotion is not turned to anybody in particular except himself. It's just saying, 'Perhaps I'm not worthy of love, or love in relationships doesn't work for me'."
NW: "I just thought it was another one that seemed to come to a conclusion after a process. 'I endeavoured/To find a place where 'became untethered', it just feels like he's looked at the possibilities and a lot of the conclusions aren't pretty or positive, but they are...rational. It's just nice to know, I think, well, I know for a fact from the last 10 days that we were with him, that he'd reached a place where he was much... not happier..."
Journal For Plague Lovers
JDB: "I think it talks about when the malady doesn't fit the cure. And how the cure sometimes homogenises the person. Like, 'PG certificate, all cuts unfocused'... the cure will sometimes bring a bland focus to what is a real problem."
NW: "Because, of course, The Priory is a mixture of all pseudo-God and religious bollocks and doctors trying to cure you. He quickly realised that the cure means having to destroy the entire entity that you are. And I don't think he's prepared to do that for the sake of survival... [ironically] in the modern world. Fucking turning into a therapy session, this. Although when he was in The Priory and Eric Clapton was there and he offered to come round and jam, that was one of those moments where you couldn't write anything funnier, in a tragic situation."
JDB: "God bless Clappo, he wasn't being nasty..."
NW: "He wasn't... he just thought, 'Hey, rock'n'roll musician, come on.' I would love to have been there to see Richey's polite, 'Well, maybe not...' 'Matron, bring my Strat, close the door.' And Richey's like, Fuck, I'm getting out of here!"
She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach
JDB: "There're some people he met when he was in one of the two places having treatment and I think he just digested other people's stories and experiences."
NW: "Especially the NHS hospital in Cardiff. Obviously everyone was trying really hard, but it wasn't a nice place to be. Visiting there, it did wither your soul. I don't know, is this song about that? He was capable of a kind of pettiness towards any idea of marriage or love, or relationships. There's a deeper way, but there's also...he just couldn't fucking understand it, you know? It wasn't for him. Back in university, when I got dumped by a girl, he would laugh and mercilessly take the piss out of me for weeks on end. In a funny way, but in a (laughs) kind of savage way as well."
Facing Page: Top Left
NW: "The institutionalisation of beauty, and trying to be all those things that you're never gonna get to. This seems to say, 'I've given up on all that bollocks'. 'I've long since moved to a higher plateau' - I think that line from '4st 7lbs' really counts on here. On this album he really does reach that plateau of... the disgust has perhaps turned to ultimate realisation. Kind of got over the disgust and [quietly] just reached a new level."
NW: "A few of the lyrics to this are stolen, well, borrowed from the film, Reflections In A Golden Eye. Marlon Brando does actually say in it (adopts Brando wheeze), 'I'd like to live without clutter, live without luxu-reee'. The film itself is beautifully shot. Richey did have a fascination with the idea of Brando, with someone that was so beautiful."
JDB: He loved him because he was the idealisation in his mind of what the ideal man could be, but also because he turned to shit as well."
NW: "Exactly, yeah. The idea that he walked around his island in a nappy, eating and fucking..."
JDB: "That's why he's his kind of the perfect role model, because he rejected his innate beauty and talent and turned into Jabba The Hutt."
Doors Closing Slowly
NW: "'Silence is not sacrifice, crucifixion is the easy life'. It's just a classic Richey line. That's him pressing buttons that he knows he's pressing. His religious obsession or rejection of it is quite strange."
JDB: "It runs deeper than you would ever have thought."
NW: "It ran really deep and it's not something I don't think we've ever felt. Religious oppression, it just hasn't been a realisation in our time, in our country."
JDB: "(Jokingly) No, we've always thought there's been a really good separation of church and state."
NW: "(Laughs) Exactly. I mean, he went to Sunday school for a couple of years and he always talked about how he really hated it, but it does seem to have had more of an impact than just that."
JDB: "I think the supposed beauty in religious art, like the depiction of death as being beautiful and glorious, kind of troubled him and inspired him by the same turn."
All Is Vanity
JDB: "I loved 'I would prefer no choice, one bread one milk one food'. That's showing his slightly unfashionable side, his left-wing authoritarian side: 'Sometimes I'd prefer to live in a utilitarian Eastern Bloc culture where I don't have to worry about choice and how glorious or glamorous I could be, I just wish I was restricted."
NW: "And that still resonates with us so deeply today. The idea that there's so much choice now, that when we apply that to music, people think it's great that there's so much music and that's so obviously not the case because so much of it is utter drivel."
JDB: "It mentions Une Odalisque by Ingres [a painting which caused scandal in the 19th century because of the way its female nude is unnaturally distorted], and talks about the idealisation of beauty, or 'What is ugliness?' I love the way that 'All Is Vanity' deals with one issue and 'Pretension/Repulsion' seems to resolve it for me. In a twisted way."
NW: "It's one of the greatest rock couplets ever: 'Shards, oh shards, the androgyny fails/Odalisque by Ingres, extra bones for sale'. That's never gonna appear by anyone else. It shouldn't work, but it does. I just bow down at the altar of that as a lyric."
Virginia State Epileptic Colony
JDB: "You get the overall cynicism of treatment trying to subjugate the intelligence of the patient. Somebody saying, 'There's not one thing you've told me that is gonna make me better'. You get the overall cynicism of someone saying, 'Just get the fuck out of my room and let me try and solve these problems myself'. And it is heavily laced with sarcasm. I also feel it's Richey doing a bit of research here and integrating the story of the Virginia State Epileptic Colony [a US hospital that involuntarily sterilised 4,000 patients deemed 'unfit' to reproduce between 1920 and 1972] into his own experience."
William's Last Words
JDB: "It's important as a lyric, whether it's semi-autobiographical or about somebody else, because you spend an entire record sometimes listening to Richey speak in tongues, and on this lyric you get genuine traditional warmth. It's almost like reading a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem or something. And it gives you the hint that, during the process of writing all these lyrics, Richey hadn't lost his essential humanity. It sounds overblown, but that's the impression I get... It was the only time I ever got close to what you might call a soft-focus B-movie moment in the studio. Close-up: will you see a tear fall from his eye?"
NW: "There's two ways I look at it. Either it genuinely is about someone else, because I know when he was in the institution in Cardiff, he was writing a lot. Either that, or it's a giant analogy from The Entertainer and Archie Rice, that sadness at the end of the career. I know he loved that film and it reminds me of that. But I didn't pick those lines out on purpose, it isn't like I wanted to make it seem more applicable to the situation, I was just drawn phonetically and in terms of the music, because I write quite simple songs. When I played it to James and Sean, they weren't shocked, but there was a lump in the throat. There is a sense of calm in it."
Bag Lady (hidden track)
JDB: "'Bag Lady' is the most reminiscent of 'The Holy Bible'. Perhaps that's why we shied away from putting it on the record, as well as just aesthetic symmetrical reasons. Sonically, it actually sounds like 'The Holy Bible', sounds more claustrophobic, crammed with just a bit too much stuff. And also because it's not as resolved, the lyric itself. This is the only lyric that really weighed me down, I wouldn't wanna inhabit that lyric too much. The push and pull between pretension and repulsion, between being vain and rejecting any notion of what is ugly or beauty, must have been exhausting at this point. On the record it rejects ideology, it rejects God, it rejects love, it rejects possibility. There you go! The perfect album for our worst economic downturn of all time."