There are, perhaps, better ways to prove a point, but few that make quite so much impact as taking a razor blade and slowly, deliberately, carving the words '4 Real' into your arm. It seems preposterous now, looking at their sports casual beards and establishment-sanctioned rock, but back in 1991 the Manic Street preachers' career looked like being a gloriously stupid blur of mascara, Clash riffs and big girls' leopard-skin blouses. A few devoted fans had been hooked by the glamour, sure, and the press adored them, but only as gladiatorial opponents. At this stage, however, nobody was quite sure who were the Christians and who were the lions, and labelling them 'punk rock fakers' seemed the strongest line of defence.
For a band Whose ideology blossomed in the dank air Of teenage bedrooms reading the press that now mocked them, it was all too much. On May 15, 1991, after their show at the Norwich Arts Centre, Richey Edwards took NME journalist Steve Lamacq aside for a quiet word. "I was talking to Steve for an hour to explain ourselves," Edwards later explained. "He saw us as four hero-worshipping kids trying to replicate our favourite bands. There was no way could
change his mind. I didn't abuse him or insult him, I just cut myself. To show we were no gimmick, that we are pissed off, that we are for real." Nobody was more shocked than Lamacq himself, who helped call an ambulance to Norwich General Hospital.
The effect was astonishing. Whether you saw it as a gesture that tapped right into punk's veins, or a sick, attention-grabbing ploy - and NME deliberated for some time over whether to print Ed Sirrs' lurid pictures - the Manics were never seen in quite the same light again. With hindsight, of course, slashing your arm so deeply that you need 17 stitches is clearly the work of a man who was troubled. Emotional. Ill. At best, it was an ambiguous triumph,
yet the air Of reverence and sadness that now palls round the Manics shouldn't make a heart-felt, down-in-flames gesture into a mere tragic symptom.
When he called NME the next day to apologise to Lamacq for any distress he might have caused, he was asked if he felt foolish for hurting himself so badly. He was unrepentant. "I just feel like the rest of this country," he said, banging my head against the fucking wall."