Richey James Edwards of the Welsh Manic Street Preachers was a huge fan of Cobain and thought of him as a kindred soul who was also suffering from existential depression. After a post-gig interview in 1991 with New Musical Express’s Steve Lamacq—who inferred that the band’s image was an artistic mask and that the music alone should say enough—Richey took him aside and said, “Believe me, we are for real.” He carved “4real” into his left forearm using a razor blade. “I was really fucked off,” Richey explained later. “I didn’t know what I could possibly say to him to make understand.”
Edwards suffered from vicious bouts of depression, anorexia, alcoholism, and self-mutilation. The latter started when a fan handed Richey a cutlery set before a gig in Thailand with a note that urged him to cut himself on stage that night. He did.
“I’m on my own, I’m very selfish,” Richey said in an interview. “Self disgust is self-obsession—that’s the truest line on there, probably.” Richey referred to “Faster,” a song he wrote for Manic’s monumental The Holy Bible from 1994. The lyricist (and second guitarist) cut his wrists on the eve of the record’s release, but he convinced his bandmates that it wasn’t a suicide attempt. “In terms of the S word, that does not enter my mind. And it never has,” Richey insisted in an interview, but few outside of his closest circle believed him.
The Holy Bible is one of the top three records of the 1990s. 4real.
It’s a creative collaboration, a defining masterpiece with a fat sound, hard flanging hooks, and sinewy leads accentuated by drummer Sean Moore. The stark lyrics about religion, eating disorders (“4st 7lb”), and iconoclasms were emancipated from Richey’s troubled head, while bassist Nicky Wire filled in the last quarter. Guitarist James Dean Bradfield says he struggled to set music to the dire stanzas, but the result is astonishing.
Even though the record climbed to number six on the UK album charts, it took a few years for critics and listeners to wrap their heads around it. The Manics are virtually unknown in the US (partly because their US distributor insisted on censoring songs and album designs in the name of morals and decency), but the Brits revered them as the hippest in Brit pop. In a way the Manics filled the same role on Britain’s musical landscape as the Bunnymen had before them. Not coincidentally, the quartet sported military fatigues and draped their amps with camouflage nettings a la Echo & the Bunnymen anno 1980.
The controversy surrounding Richey and death continued with the Bible track “Die In the Summertime,” but Richey spun that one too, claiming it was written before he experienced self-destructive tendencies: “Die In the Summertime was basically an old man looking back over his life, over his favorite period of youth, his childhood, basically. Everybody’s got a perfect mental time of their life and that’s what that song is about. And it was written last summer.”
Sure, that’s one interpretation. Although mentally ill, Richey commanded an incredible intellect. He was drawn to very heavy stuff such as the Holocaust, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. His artistic, literary, and musical heroes lived short, depressed, yet productive lives.
“He’s just a mess. Fucking nutter, the boy is,” Nicky Wire said after Richey was interred at the Priory, the same mental institution that Brian Jones had stayed at in 1967.
In 1995, the day before a promotional visit to the US, Richey disappeared from the hotel where he was staying. A note addressed to his sometime girlfriend read, “I love you.” His passport and wallet were found at his apartment in Cardiff Bay, which proved he had stopped by there after he left the hotel. But no more clues were discovered until two weeks later when Richey’s abandoned car was found near the Severn Bridge. The battery was flat, and it looked like someone had spent several nights in the vehicle. Could he have jumped from the bridge, his body dragged from the Severn into the Bristol Channel and from there to the Atlantic Ocean? “That’s the only time that I genuinely ever thought that, you know, he’s dead,” Moore said.
Despite no confirmed sightings since February ’95, the remaining band members still deposit Richey’s royalty shares into an escrow account in case he resurfaces. Richey’s heroes fall into two categories: they either staged their own disappearance or they committed suicide. More than a decade has passed since he vanished, but The Manics, Richey’s family, and innumerable fans still believe he’s alive. Is he peaced out in a monastery somewhere, or was that Richey James Edwards someone spotted on the beach in the Canary Islands or Goa, in Mexico or Iceland? “He was a very intelligent guy,” says Simon Price, who wrote Everything (A Book About The Manic Street Preachers). “If he wanted to disappear, he could’ve done it.” At the end of 2007 New Musical Express, Britain’s leading music mag, named the Manic Street Preachers recipient of the 2008 God Like Geniuses Award in honor of their outstanding, unique, and innovative career. Prior recipients include The Clash, New Order, and Primal Scream.