When one thinks of the famous 27 club – a rock ‘n’ roll heaven – usually, the likes of Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones comes to mind. Some might know that the original member of this fictitious and overly sensationalised media strategy of glamorising fast living, was Robert Johnson, the blues player who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. If you’re someone who digs even deeper into these mythologised, dionysian archetypal rock stars, then you may have also heard of Richey Edwards, the spokesman and mastermind behind the origins of the Welsh band, Manic Street Preachers. Richey Edwards disappeared between February 1st and the 14th in 1995; his car was found parked near Severn Bridge, a famous spot for suicide. Because his body was never found, Richey’s family were reluctant to declare him dead instead of missing. As of 2008, Richey Edwards was presumed dead. Following his disappearance in the ’90s, there were alleged sightings of Richey throughout the continent of Asia. Perhaps he still alive.
The Manics formed in 1989 and, displeased with the bands dominating the main scenes of Britain, Manic Street Preachers sought to make intellectualism sexy, combining politics, sex, popular culture, literature and iconography – they created their own brand of punk rock. As Richey himself stated at the time, “We are the most original band in the last 15 years. We don’t want to do anything that’s been done before.” Their first album, Generation Terrorists – of which its sound can be described as The Clash meets Guns n’ Roses – was a blistering diatribe on western imperialism, backed by their own manifesto influenced by situationist philosophy, Marxism, writers such as Albert Camus, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, and Dostoeyevski; the Manics declared they would sell over a million copies of their first record and then disband and vanish back to their hometown of Blackwood in South Wales. Instead, the Manics stayed together after Generation Terrorists, and would release their sophomore album, Gold Against The Soul and then a third, The Holy Bible; the latter being their most controversial and groundbreaking.
The most interesting aspect to Richey Edwards is that he wasn’t really a musician. The band’s bass player and one of three surviving members, Nicky Wire, once commented: “It’s a really weird situation with us as a band, because Richey had no real musical input whatsoever at the time. The lyrics were always 50 per cent mine 50 per cent his, but to a lot of people, he was seen as the leader of the band. He was a leader in some sense, he enjoyed doing interviews, and he enjoyed looking fantastic and people kind of saw him as a figurehead.” The reason for his role as leader of the band was his charisma, intelligence, and his artistic voice. Edwards had some resemblance to Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd and inhabited the same kind of archetypal role as Barrett. Richey Edwards, while on the surface seemed too fragile and introverted, deep down he possessed the spirit of the Romantic poets; he was in the same league as Ian Curtis, Jim Morrison and Patti Smith, who have all become somewhat archetypes of mythology.
Richey Edwards was obsessed with image and notoriety. Richard wanted fame. While he was a deeply introspective poet, he was also vain in many ways. In an ironically humorous way, he wanted to become an image for the discarded and disenfranchised, but this humour would serve as a protective shield against criticism; on the inside, he wanted to be adored.
Manic Street Preachers, with their own invented slogan of “culture, alienation, boredom and despair,” challenged everything around them. While growing up in Blackwood, a small town in the southern valleys of Wales, the Manics as kids witnessed the miner strikes. Present in the atmosphere of the country was the sense that the Welsh had been beaten down; they became the black sheep of Britain; the bulk of every British joke. With this in mind, the Manics promised themselves to not be beaten down, “to become so intelligent, that we could not be beaten,” James Dean Bradfield, the band’s singer, once remarked.
Nicky Wire reminisced, “At the time, there definitely was a gap for a working-class intellectual band, you know, who made a noisy racket.” During their concerts and in their music videos, they would display quotes by famous writers and philosophers, such as Albert Camus’: “And then came human beings; humans wanted to cling but there was nothing to cling to.” Or “I talk to God but the sky is empty,” from Sylvia Plath.
As for Richey Edwards, more than anything else, he wanted to be taken seriously. During an interview Steve Lamacq conducted with Edwards, Richey set out to convince Lamacq as well as those who were watching that he and the Manics were ‘for real’. Just to prove how real they were, Richey carved ‘4 real’ into his arm during the interview. It was a horrible sight for everyone present at the time. Afterwards, he was taken to a hospital. Besides the sheer dedication and an unwavering thirst for artistic articulation, Richey was undergoing severe depression, at times drinking way too much and taking Prozac. Heroin, however, wasn’t something he would touch, stating in his own song, ‘Drug Drug Druggy’: “Heroin is just too cliche.” It seemed at times, that everything Richey said and did was well-rehearsed and planned. From his interviews he did with journalists, spouting out scripted diatribes of culture, boredom, alienation and despair; Richey created his own destiny.
He was preparing throughout his teens to be the rock ‘n’ roll idol he would become in his 20s. He wanted to create an image out of himself as a cultural martyr; perhaps he chose the age of 27 to disappear – Richey would succeed in mythologising himself by creating one of the greatest mysteries in rock and roll history.
Listen to The Manic Street Preachers’ ‘You Love us’: