The coolest Summer of my youth had arrived. Thirteen and on the verges of discovery, of what I did not know but a loud surprise that would render my soul immersed in the facing future of a life less ordinary. 1996 and the glory of its days awakened in the coastal shine of Sprite soft drinks and lunches made with the finest of freshly prepared sandwiches.
Helping my dad at work, excavations to lay the platform for future building. First year of Senior school finished, some torrid exchanges concluded in the dream and hope of it somehow getting better. For 3 months nothing but sunshine and fresh faced attitudes, an example of memories that would hold with me forever. That is where my love of everything Manics was born. Long Wave Atlantic 252 I thank you ever so much for your awakening, it remains the strength in me today long after you have passed into the folklore of cross-divided music.
Back then there were many songs that caught me. Dodgy “Good Enough”, Supergrass “Alright”, anything by Oasis – they were the band of my youth, the ones I identified myself with the most. The sheer need to feel harmonies of fire, a fire that would captivate all parts of who I was becoming as a person. Ageless in my heart also. Then they played “A Design For Life” and my youth became immortal, immortal through the eyes of a band I had never heard before, a sound I had never heard before. Classic yet pounding, wave upon wave of sound against the backdrop of a Summer light on rain and heavy on passion and growth.
That was my first introduction to a band who would end up changing the very way I think about life, the beliefs I hold, the values and morals which I subscribe to. Everything from ideas about Politics, Religion, Economics would be guarded heavily in the influence of their message, their music and their attitudes. Pre 1996 Manics was not even a light flicker in my imagination at that point, it was a time to enjoy a Summer of fun, a Summer of hard work and a Summer of discovering the joys of music I had never been aware existed.
In truth I wasn’t much of a music aficionado growing up, I liked sounds but I was more interested in words, in writing, in poetry, in sport than I was in listening too intently to a song and hearing each note and wanting to soak its message in fully. To me it was joyous but it was just a “thing” rather than something more meaningful which could change the very outlook and perceptions I had. It wasn’t until my College years that I fully understood or was willing to explore and understand the true meaning and depth with which the Manics created music.
Perhaps it came with growing up properly. I’m sure at 12 or 13 I was far too young to understand pre-1996 Manics, the true darkness and depth of what they wrote about, of what Richey wrote about and all of the weighty issues they tackled with such extreme force. I just loved “A Design For Life” for what it appeared at the time, a well-crafted guitar anthem, nothing more nothing less. The passing years allowed me to form my own thoughts and opinions on music with a much broader scope and helped me in understanding the torture and pain that was so much a part of the early Manics repertoire.
Having been through College and made some horrific mistakes, ones which I still regret regularly, Know Your Enemy is still an album which I hold dear to my heart. It helped me to form so many of my own ideas on subjects like War, death, pollution of the earth’s attitudes and beliefs system and was a constant source of strength while I set about doing my utmost to entirely f**k up my life for a period of time. It was listening to this album and soaking in its message that led me to my ultimate fascination with all things Manics and exploring what it was about the band that simply filled my soul with a unique wonder.
To the past I went, to before that fateful Summer, to find out their history and what had led them from the very beginning of their origins. It was there I discovered The Holy Bible, an album so stretched into sorrow that it’s hard to even listen to it today without feeling a complete sense of overwhelming hopelessness. It was stunning in its concept and provided me with an uneasy feeling at first. My early Manics impression was of a band that made cheerful guitar anthems, not soul gripping masterpieces of human horror. I guess though, at the place I had found myself in life it was much more easier to eventually understand and welcome than it ever would have been as a 13 Year old.
Reading back on the reasoning for its concept and how they wanted to get back to their roots and away from the idea of being “too American” I also discovered the true extent of the pain the band were going through, especially Richey Edwards. The spiralling downwards of his life, the addictions and self harm and substance abuse were so overpowering and that came through vividly in every song, no more so than on the song Faster.
Beginning with a read passage from George Orwell’s film adaptation Nineteen Eighty-Four, it thunders violently into the first verse, guitars clashing against the violent noise of background abandonment “I am an architect, They call me a butcher, I am a pioneer, They call me primitive, I am purity, They call me perverted, Holding you but I only miss these things when they leave”. Faster is one of those songs that was unique in many ways. There has never been a clear definition of what it was about, even Richey himself was never fully clear on its meaning but from reading passages it seems as though mostly the song is a depiction of Richey’s tortured state of mind. Him wanting to be recognised for being something more than what he felt was. A soul so wounded by cuts and by abuse that he is struggling to find a way out, to find some kind of lasting happiness.
The second verse continues along similar lines with the lines “Self disgust is self-obsession honey and I do as I please, A morality obedient only to be cleansed repented” suggesting a desperate need or want to be cleansed only after he can fully admit to himself where he has gone wrong. James’s vocals are strewn across the landscape in almost violent clashes with the theme of the song and what it is trying to portray. Verse 4 is one of my favourite lyrical verses of all time. “The first time you see yourself naked you cry, Soft skin now acne, Foul breath so broken, He loves me truly this mute solitude I’m draining, I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing” It vividly depicts the hatred he felt for himself, everything about himself, both physically when he looks in the mirror to emotionally when he feels nothing, just emptiness everywhere. It is a haunting portrait of a man who is climbing further into the abyss and cannot find a way to climb back out. James emphasies the final line “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing” in a way which brings meaning and depth to where the song is headed and to where Richey is headed, deeper into misery with every passing second.
The next verse starts off with the lines “Sleep cannot hide thoughts splitting through my mind, Shadows aren’t clean, false mirrors too many people awake” again showing his utter contempt for what surrounds himself, this time not so much in his physical appearance but even in the shadows lurking. They are equally as unclean and a strain on his already soulless existence. The verse finishes with the lines “If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down, I’ve been too honest with myself I should have lied like everybody else” Richey seems to be looking at himself and trying to find peace with the fact that he not alone feels ugly but others who are equally unclean have figured out ways to deny that and to live a life of lies. Richey could never do that. He was always honest in admitting how fucked up he was and for him that must have seemed like the most horrible of existences, someone so swept up in lies, vacant and alone.
The following verse is a repeat part-chorus “I am stronger than Mensa, miller and mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter, I am all the things that you regret, A truth that washes that learnt how to spell” It’s interesting that this is a repeated verse, it signifies a somewhat strength in himself and his abilities as a wordsmith, certainly removed from the previous hatred he felt. I guess as complex a character as Richey was emotionally and for however much he hated himself physically he understood he had a gift and talent for writing that stretched beyond the mere ordinary. Vocally this verse ranges from the sensitive to the extreme. It emerges in sound and range with James repeating the final few words to emphasise Richey’s lyrics powerfully.
The final verse is a thrilling rush of the same line repeated with ever more increasing lust and vigor “So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything” The hopeless feeling that no matter what happens everything will die is repeated with the kind of vicious thought and energy that consumes a soul and fills it with pain and dread of someone’s life hanging out to dry.
The song essentially plays out like it’s title, starting off with powerful drums and building to a crescendo of guitars in the final repeated verse, going faster and faster with each passing line. For a soul that couldn’t stop itself from sinking into the depths of despair, Faster is a song that memorably and tragically speeds up a life illuminated in sheer anguish without a real sense of hope.
It remains one of the Manics finest pieces of energy induced trauma, played out with a raw passion for emotional hatred and soiled souls begging for help. A few short months removed from its release, Richey disappeared never to be seen again. A life filled with anger, pain, sadness and despair finally disappeared to a place free of all the destruction and chaos that had marred his soul so tragically. His lasting gift were these words, these thoughts and emotions that simply could never be fully understood by anybody else but at the very least left us with a lasting glimpse into a damaged soul through songs and through lyrics that will forever remain imprinted in early Manics’s folklore.
The Manics as a band have moved on and as such so has their influences and past and future references, they are a different band now from what they were back in 1994 and also much different from my early impressions as a 13 Year old boy. The Summer of ’96 remains forever in my memory, forever a distinguished awakening to a new sound and a new band that would capture my heart and soul so completely. But equally the legacy of Richey’s life also lives on, as a reminder what depths a soul can sink to while in equal measure leaving a manuscript of brilliance and genius through lyrics and thoughts and feelings. They go hand in hand, forever interlinked and taken with him in his heart to his newer place, away from the noise of a society that could never understand his hopelessness and pain.