Richard Butler is cool. The guy is absolutely dripping in the stuff. From the iconic Psychedelic Furs, to Love Spit Love, back to the Psychedelic Furs, Butler proves he’s got the one thing a lot of bands from the 80’s were missing….staying power based on originality.
Formed in 1977, the Furs released their self-titled debut album in 1980. A combination of punk and sixties psychedelia, the Furs became one of the most distinctive bands of the post punk genre. Butler, an art student who could be considered a bit of a visionary, saw music as a way to express things that painting couldn’t. After seeing the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in London and realizing music didn’t have to be complicated or even, well, musical, to become a vehicle of expression, Butler decided it was time to form his own band. Butler claims he doesn’t think “anybody starts out being original.” However, with Butler’s cryptic lyrics and raw, sultry rasp, it didn’t take long for the Furs to do exactly that.
The Furs music was filled with an energy similar to punk. What separated them from bands like the Pistols was the delivery. Where Johnny Rotten spitted slogans and anti-establishment angst, Butler chose an enigmatic, ambivalent approach as if to say “here’s our music if you don’t like it, oh well.”
Seven albums later, after the 1991 release World Outside, the Furs called it a day. Butler, went on to form Love Spit Love with help from bandmate and brother Tim Butler. The band’s self-titled debut released in 1994 was well received. Butler’s rasp had been slightly polished and the music, while having elements from the Furs, sounded a bit tighter and mature thanks to the addition of guitarist Richard Fortus. 1995 found the band recording a cover version of The Smiths iconic “How Soon is Now” for the movie The Craft. This was a brave move. There are a certain songs that have already reached infallible perfection and should never be covered. To do so is rock n roll sacrilege. “How Soon is Now” is one of those songs. It was the first time Richard Butler had disappointed me. However, he made up for it with the 1997 release of Trysome Eatone.
Richard Butler’s artistry goes beyond his music. A 2013 exhibit in New York entitled “ahatfulofrain” showcased his work that falls somewhere between abstract and visionary. Butler’s paintings are full of bizarre beauty with a dreamy quality that draws you into them. You can check them out here. https://player.vimeo.com/video/64023283?api=1&player_id=player_1
“As is so often the case with art-whether music, film, photography or painting-true beauty shines through in the imperfections.” -Nicky Wire
I love books. I’m actually kind of manic about them. (See what I did there?) Sometimes you come across one that is more than just a book. It’s an experience.
Nicky Wire’s Death of a Polaroid A Manics Family Album,is a rich, salient collection of stunning, personal images taken primarily by Nicky Wire and long time group photographer Mitch Ikeda. Almost 300 pages of poignant images sit between its pink covers. The images were chosen from Wire’s massive collection of Polaroids taken over the last 20 years. Wire describes it as “the unfolding and unraveling really, of four young kids that grew up in a bedroom, dreaming of taking over the world.”
A thoughtful foreword written by Wire, opens the book as he describes his ardor for the medium, which is followed by a in-depth conversation with Wire and Jeremy Deller. Deller, is an artist that has worked with the band over the years. In 1997 he put together an exhibit of artwork created by Manics fans entitled The Uses of Literacy. You can check it out here. http://www.jeremydeller.org/TheUsesOfLiteracy/TheUsesOfLiteracy.php
In an interview with the publisher, Farber & Farber, Wire stated his love of Polaroids was due to their “simplicity” and “instantaneous beauty”.
The images are “unplanned randomness” but placed in an order that creates a visual biography of the band. The majority of band photos are of the three remaining Manics, with Richey Edwards nicely represented in the early pages.
Wire’s embellishments of “The Everlasting”
The pictures taken by Nicky Wire show his love of the organic and abstract. To Nicky Wire, the Polaroid “…is perfect for the medium of cataloguing a rock and roll band.” Many of the images embellished by Wire, give the viewer insight to his unique perspective.
This collection of captured epoch moments in the history of the Manic Street Preachers is as diverse as their music. Like the Manics, it is beautiful, chaotic, and profound. Many of the images are compelling and provocative.
Death of a Polaroid -A Manics Family Album is not a book meant to sit on a shelf. It is an indulgement meant to be savored. As we move deeper into technology and social media, connecting with the rest of the world, a break back into a simpler time acts as a reboot. Nicky Wire may have Killed the Zeitgeist, but not before he preserved it in this book.
There is something undeniably satisfying about reconnecting with bands you loved during your formative years. Bands that have always been important to you, but as you got older, other things came along. While you still enjoyed the music, the youthful passion began to wane and those beloved discs, with their much-thumbed inserts and cracked cases, sat neglected on the shelf for a few years as you went on with life. Then one day as you look for something to listen to, you grab a CD off the shelf and shove it in your car’s CD player. As you listen to it with fresh ears and a more mature perspective, you start to feel a rekindling of the old passion you felt years ago. You listen again and you’re hooked, but it’s different this time; this time it’s better. The music talks to you on a different level. It’s a deeper, more meaningful connection.
Music is a form of expression and sadly, it seems today it has become a form of making money. Manufactured bands and solo artists that have to resort to ludicrous gimmicks just to sell records along with bands that refuse to go quietly into the night, have cheapened the listening experience. The emotion and expression has been replaced by banal, trite lyrics and melodies without substance. What was once a platform that inspired thought and change has been reduced to background noise played in shops, offices, and various public venues. With the exception of a rare few, modern music has lost its lifeblood and become anemic. Feeling I was drowning in melismatic mediocrity, I went back through my collection and found my salvation in The Manic Street Preachers.
My introduction to the Manics was brought about by a friend from Australia, with whom I shared a similar interest in music. He came to the States for a visit one summer, bringing with him, the newly released Generation Terrorists CD. The appeal was instant, “Stay Beautiful”, “Condemned to Rock and Roll” and the heartbreaking, “Motorcycle Emptiness”, conquered and converted me. Donned in white jeans, black eyeliner and leopard print, doused with aggression, the Manics became my religion. I had been a fan of the Sex Pistols, (long after their demise) finding their belligerence and pugnacious aggression against convention and authority very appealing. The Manics had all that; they also had intelligence and a sincerity that the Pistols did not. The Manics were, as the tortured Richey Edwards carved into his arm, 4 REAL. They could never have created the music they did if they hadn’t been. Generation Terrorists, along with The Queen is Dead, by The Smiths, were two of the most important albums in the formation of my musical evolution.
The follow up, Gold Against the Soul carried over the aggression of Generation Terrorists, but reflected a slight change in direction as James Dean Bradfield began to show an inclination towards a more melodic approach. Especially noted in “From Despair to Where” and the track that followed, “Scream to a Sigh (La Tristesse Durera)”. Tracks like “Nostalgic Pushead” and the ironically upbeat “Drug, Drug, Druggy” would have been equally at home on Generation Terrorists; while tracks like “Yourself” and “Symphony of Tourette” were an indication of what would come next-something no one expected. The deeply disturbing, The Holy Bible. I coveted Gold Against the Soul” just as I had Generation Terrorist and continued to be a devout parishioner.
And then…I stopped listening, and Richey Edwards disappeared, creating one of the biggest mysteries in rock music.
The Manics despaired about the fate of Richey, when he disappeared in 1995, and it was that despair that ironically saved them with “A Design for Life” off the captivating 1996 release, Everything Must Go. To quote Shelley the Manics found the “pleasure which exists in pain” and made Everything Must Go, a cornerstone in the Manic Street Preachers catalog. And along with its disturbing predecessor, The Holy Bible, itremains one of James Dean Bradfield’s favorites. It is also one of mine. It was this album that brought me back into the fold. The Manics had reinvented themselves-they were reflective, yet looking forward. They were changing their sonic landscape with the addition of strings and a tighter sound, while keeping some of the earlier energetic aggression in tracks like “Enola/Alone” and “Further Away”.
As much as I revered Everything Must Go, it didn’t prepare me for what was to follow-This is My Truth Tell Me Yours. Here, I must make a confession-I was afraid to listen to it. I was afraid of being let down, afraid the band had their moment in the sun and nothing the Manics did would live up to Everything Must Go. My fears were unfounded. This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, was a showcase for Bradfield’s musical maturity and Nicky Wire’s lyrical artistry coming out from behind Richey Edwards. Even Sean Moore’s drumming sounded more passionate. This was the Manics at their most brutal and beautiful. Tracks like “The Everlasting”, “Ready for Drowning” and “I’m Not Working” are rich with what Wordsworth called the “spontaneous overflow of emotion”. This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, pulls you in and doesn’t let go until it has squeezed out your deepest emotions and leaves you feeling a bit disturbed as if you have experienced a personal violation of sorts and secretly enjoyed it. Perhaps the assault left me emotionally drained, for it was the last Manic Street Preachers album I bought or listened to until 2007.
I’m not sure what is was about Send Away the Tigers that rekindled the devotion. It may have been the return to the guitar driven opening track, as well as Underdogs which gave a nod towards Generation Terrorists or “The Second Great Depression” which could have easily found itself at home on Everything Must Go. The Manics were back for me, and this time I wasn’t going to let go.
I realize I have left out a few recordings. Particularly The Holy Bible. The Holy Bible is its own entity. For me, I see it as something that cannot be lumped in with the rest of the Manics catalog. It is brutally disturbing and darkly beautiful. It is not for the casual listener. It is a powerful album, one that demands respect and caution. Each time I hear it, it leaves me feeling a bit uneasy, but yet I can’t stop listening to it.
James Dean Bradfield, a self-proclaimed lover of melody, is also a master of it-creating melodies so gorgeous, so sonically lush; it leaves you breathless, like a sucker punch to the stomach. The Manic Street Preachers are on a higher level than most other bands. They demand and receive commitment and dedication.
Simon Price, author of the brilliant Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) stated “The Manics still leave me uncertain. Which means they leave me thinking. This is their ultimate triumph.” (Price xiii) The lack of this in modern music is exactly why rock music has become dormant and cheap pop has become the genre of choice. We have become a society of distractions preferring to use machines and social media to do the thinking for us. However, as the Manic Street Preachers continue to inspire new generations of musicians, I am not ready to give up all hope. As long as our smiles stay genuine, the influence of the Manic Street Preachers will remain everlasting.
Being one of the few people in America who actually knows who Alan Davies is, makes him even more special to me, like being part of an exclusive club. The kind you want to tell people about, but you don’t for fear it’ll get too popular and then it won’t be special anymore. But I couldn’t do a blog about music or books without mentioning this one. “My Favourite People & Me, (also titled “Teenage Revolution” to correspond with the equally excellent documentary) really connected with me. Alan and I may live in different countries, be different sexes and have a different net worth, but one thing I proudly share with him, is that we are both children of the 80’s.
This book was a time warp, a trip back to the best decade ever. If you were there you know what I mean, if you weren’t well, I’m very sorry for you then…you seriously missed out. Our choice of hairstyles may have been questionable but we really did have all the best bands. Some of which are mentioned in this book.
As a life long Anglophile, (that’s just a less creepy way of saying I’m obsessed with anything British) I was familiar with most of the names in this book. Those I didn’t know, I used this amazing thing called the internet and looked them up. We didn’t have the internet in the 80’s but we had Atari and MTV which was all one needed for survival back then. As I read through Alan’s book, I was constantly surprised by how many shared experiences we had. How was it possible for me to have so much in common with a rebellious teenage boy, that lived in a different country? What an amazing, bizarre thing to discover. But I did, and it made me remember the religious devotion unlike any other to the things and people that I swore a lifetime allegiance to, until I tossed them aside for the next things and people. Which, if I’m honest happened on a pretty regular basis.
This book inspired me so much I based a semester research paper on it. It was, without a doubt the most rewarding and enjoyable paper I’ve written. It also earned me an A, which I shared with Alan via Twitter.
Needless to say, this made every second I spent on this paper (and there were a lot of them) worth it. But, finding I had a lot in common with someone I admire, was even better. Unlike so many forgotten idols and passions, my life long love of England is something that has never waivered. The events and people Alan mentions in his book inspired me to dig a bit deeper into what was happening in Thatcherite Britain. This led me into discovering The Jam and the immensely talented, Paul Weller. It also gave me the opportunity to go back and rekindle my love of The Smiths.
The best thing I gained from this book was getting an idea of what it was like to actually grow up British and discover it wasn’t all that different from growing up American. I find that comforting. I can’t thank Alan enough for giving me this trip back. Next time I’ll have to remember to send myself a postcard.
Ok that’s lame I know, but really, that’s where I got the inspiration to start my own blog. One of the best things about being a writer is getting to explore the space around you. Notice I said space, not world. My space is part of the world. The more I write, the more I learn, and the more I expand my brain, the more I expand my space. In my space I keep the things that matter to me, primarily music and literature, and occasionally clutter it with the random musing…it’s my space I don’t have to keep it tidy. Maybe you’ll find something that matters to you as well, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll find something that makes you angry or makes you think I’m an idiot, (and you may not be wrong) but in the end if it made you think, then I’ve accomplished what I intended.