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Music

Top Twenty Albums: Seven Manic Street Preachers; The Holy Bible (1994)

 The music is always the thing, but there are many, many reasons why the Manic Street Preachers hold a special place in my life.
 
This piece cover their career until the demise of Ritchie James Edwards.

White Collar Working Class in background, the same age and this is the key for me…. Educationally, politically, and intellectually aspirational.

Libraries gave us power…”.

Too bloody right. Books have always played a massive part in my life. There isn’t a time I can remember NOT being in the middle of a book. I read War and Peace when I was 14. Dostoyevsky, Russian history, Irish writers such as Frank O’Connor and James Joyce (yes, really) were the staple diet of my teenage year, followed by the discovery of Jean Paul Sartre and other French Existential writers at the age of sixteen. Along with reams and reams of sports books.

As long as it’s coupled with, and not a barrier to social interaction kids have got to read, read some more and just carry on. How can you NOT be curious and passionate about the world, and it’s people when you read.

We three lads were driving home last night and discussing (quite heatedly actually) the philosophy of atomic physics, and the recent book the God Delusion. Non of us are “privileged” boys. We are (hopefully) well adjusted people but because we are all gluttonous for books, we can argue our case and learn from each other. (“I want to know more about the pre Cambrian Wipe-out!)

And literature is the spark. The thing that makes you feel. Really empathise and get angry. I could barely speak when I read, at 15 Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country with it’s descriptions of Apartheid South Africa. But it was the book’s opening, it’s description of the sun coming up over the Veldt that took my heart when I was asked to read my favourite passage of literature for Book Week at the school where I worked. The power of Paton’s art seems unimaginable, how the guy can literally paint with words still blows my mind.

And recently GB84 by David Peace took me back to that horrible era when Thatcher declared War on one section and Class. Visceral and evocative. Just brilliant and a reminder of why the Labour Party is just so important in a myriad of different ways.

Books made, and still make me want to change the world. They gave me vision, energy, passion and a will to get out there and just do it. So when my History teacher made me apply for University I thought; why not?

Books taught me about people, why and who we are, our motivations, lusts, evil side, what we can achieve when we get it right. But you have to get out there and live it as well. Mix it with people and put into action what you’ve learnt. You can have 1sts, Degrees and what not coming out of your arse, but if you don’t apply it it’s jack I’m afraid.

Take Nausea by Sartre…. If you don’t want to change the world and the way you think after reading that, you must be clinically dead.

Ditto La Plague by Camus, or Down and Out in Paris and London, plus the Road to Wigan Pier by Orwell

And that’s exactly what James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore, Nicky Wire and the late Ritchie James Edwards did.

Inspired by the Clash, Arthur Scargill, Morrissey, Albert Camus, and Gramsci amongst others, the Manic Street Preachers grab you by the throat and shout Wake Up! Look Around You! Change it!

I saw the Levellers in the early ‘Nineties and the support band were a right royal shambles. They looked awful, sounded even worse, and the bass player rambled on incoherently between songs…. My introduction to the Manic Street Preachers and I thought they sucked Big Time.

This was around the time of the release of their debut record Generation Terrorists, and it’s amazing looking back at it now what a great collection it is, taking the ethos of the Clash and mixing it with a hard, difficult sound reminiscent of Nirvana.

You Love Us reminds the listener of how the Band meant every word and note they played, and who it was for. The audience is everything to these boys.

Motorcycle Emptiness

Life lies a slow suicide
Orthodox dreams and symbolic myths
From feudal serf to spender
This wonderful world of purchase power

Just like lungs sucking on air
Survival’s natural as sorrow

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us

and Little Baby Nothing

No one likes looking at you
Your lack of ego offends male mentality
They need your innocence
To steal vacant love and to destroy
Your beauty and virginity used like toys

You are pure, you are snow
We are the useless sluts that they mould
Rock ‘n’ roll is our epiphany
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair

 These are the outstanding tracks, the former inspired by the film Rumblefish, and is overtly political dealing with teen alienation in a consumer driven society, but the hard core dysfunctional vision of the band is exposed via Slash and Burn (referring to US policy towards civilians in Vietnam) and the everlasting Motown Junk

Motown junk a lifetime of slavery
Songs of love echo underclass betrayal,

All you slut heroes offer is a fear of the future
We live in urban hell
We destroy rock and roll

Some statement of intent from a band in their early twenties.

The lyrics are what made the Manics great at the start, but they also write a mighty fine tune to go with them. This is masked (like Nirvana) by the heavy musical approach, but when you pare it down they are pop pure and simple.

Their career consolidated with Gold Against the Soul which is driven mainly by politics, but Edwards was starting to implode via drugs, alcohol and a terrible sense of self loathing and this is what produced the Holy Bible in 1994.

Looking at the lyrics on their own made me feel a bit voyeuristic. There is suffering for your art, but this is like reading the diary of a severely ill mentally ill patient. And that’s what he was.

This is how I would describe it.

This album doesn’t like you.

This album does not want to be your friend.

This album doesn’t want to put you at ease, this is an album that wants to let you know about all the evils of the world, and that you are responsible for them.

Themes such as prostitution, anorexia, mass-murderers and the Holocaust are portrayed throughout the album, with the bleak soundtrack throughout.

If White America Told The Truth For Just One Day It’s World Would Fall Apart is the best deconstruction of US Neo Con Foreign Policy that exists, written ten years BEFORE Iraq.

Images of perfection, suntan and napalm
Grenada – Haiti – Poland – Nicaragua
who shall we choose for out morality
I’m thinking right now of Hollywood tragedy
big mac: smack: phoenix r: please smile y’all
Cuba, Mexico can’t cauterize our discipline
your idols speak so much of the abyss
yet your morals only run as deep as the surface

I love a free country
the stars and stripes and an apple for mommy
conservative say there ain’t no black in the union jack
democrat say there ain’t enough white in the stars and stripes

God made man they say
Sam Colt made him equal

And it’s the intro to Archives of Pain that absolutely shocked me to the core, as a parent of one of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims describes her feelings towards what we only knew as the Yorkshire Ripper.

Edwards goes on to unravel his feelings thus;

If hospitals cure
then prisons must bring their pain
do not be ashamed to slaughter
the centre of humanity is cruelty
there is never redemption
any fool can regret yesterday
pain not penance, forget martyrs, remember victims
the weak die young and right now we crouch to make them strong

Just incredible.

And then in She is Suffering and 4st 7lbs (see video)  goes on to see Edwards describe the absolute misery of his life long anorexia…

Days since I last pissed
cheeks sunken and despaired
so gorgeous sunk to six stone
lose my only remaining home
see my third rib appear
a week later all my flesh disappear
stretching taut, cling-film on bone

I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view
I want to walk in the snow
and not leave a footprint
I want to walk in the snow
and not soil its purity

Brave? Stupid? But undoubtedly shocking. This is how it feels, to be so unbelievably and inexorably fucked up to the point of such self abuse, and ultimately suicide.

This song helped ME understand so much. But was it worth it. Should Bradfield, Moore, and Wire have said; Enough. You can’t sacrifice yourself like this in public?

But they didn’t, Edwards did, and the rest as they say is history.

Ritchie James Edwards took his own life on 1st February 1995.

Is this masterpiece his legacy? Should it be? I have no idea but I hope that no one ever NEEDS to make a record like this ever again. But the insights into the human soul provide a stark warning that we must look after each other.

Power produces desire, the weak have none.

The Manic Street Preachers message is DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

  

 

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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