Richey Edwards’ public life played out like that of a rare character in the story of alternative rock. Fiercely determined to create legitimate art, daring in his public discourse, his lyrics touched on ugliness and despair, as much as redemption and beauty. Edwards was confident about citing not only the Clash as inspiration but also Nietzsche and Camus. And, since he always looked to theorize the Manic Street Preachers’ tactics and act as an inciter, it is worth looking at Richey’s favorite books.
Richey Edwards was a person very critical of the state of the world, but wanting to be massively successful and accepted for his art in a world he distrusted. Richey Edwards certainly distinguished himself from the crowds of would-be rockstars of the time. And while his pessimism is evident in much of his work, there is great determination to add real weight to his words.
Manic Street Preachers released the album The Holy Bible in 1994. In many ways, it’s the groups’ masterpiece. It was their third album and the last with the original guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards. Famously he went missing soon afterward. His whereabouts or any details of what actually happened to him have remained unknown until this day. The album is regarded as one of the greatest in alternative rock history. It’s certainly a work that is dense, well thought out, and in many moments shockingly engulfed in darkness and despair.
Manic Street Preachers members divided labor like a hippie commune. For the most part guitarist/vocalist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore worked on the music, having the most knowledge and experience of playing their instruments. Bass player Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards worked on the lyrics and constituted by default (at least in the early days of the group) the image of the group. He, also, left a tremendous hole within the group that coincided with Edwards’ disappearance.
With their first release, the Manic Street Preachers announced their objective to sell more albums than Guns n’ Roses and split up right afterward. The plans did not quite pan out, but the band continued to play and to get better. By the time of their third album, The Holy Bible, they had achieved their peak in terms of creativity. The British press who had supported the Manics initially especially in light of their image and inflammatory statements now heaped praises on them for their musical achievements.
Richey Edwards had a degree in political history and just a slight glance over the lyrics he contributed to the Manic Street Preachers would reveal he was a very smart guy and an avid reader. The web site www.richeyedwards.net offers a treasure trove list of (presumably) Richey Edwards favorite books. The list is certainly impressive in terms of his taste in literature, but it’s also important as it acts as a sort of guide map to the early work of the Manic Street Preachers.
There might be little surprise that some of Edwards’ favorite authors include Dostoevsky, Ballard, or Genet, writers with a similar interest for the beauty of the natural world and the conflict with the corruption and ugliness of humanity. The first lyrics on the Holy Bible on the song Yes are: “For sale? dumb cunt’s same dumb questions/Oh virgins? listen, all virgins are liars, honey”. Edwards was certainly not someone to mince his words or hide his disgust for some of humanity’s worse aspects. It also did not help that he came from a culture seemingly obsessed with defeatism and from a town in Wales that had suffered great economic depression and massive unemployment rates.
Edwards also seems to have an interest in authors similarly interested in the decay of human morals, like the Czech born Franz Kafka, Octave Mirbeau, or William Golding. Edwards also displays an interest in the beat generation authors such as Burroughs and Kerouac, the philosophy of Camus, and the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, or William Blake. In fact, in a TV interview, he referred to “A season in hell” by Rimbaud as his favorite book.
Below is the full list as published on the aforementioned web site. Imagine that, rock music that actually makes you want to read a book.
Small Craft Warnings / Suddenly Last Summer / Baby Doll – Tennessee Williams
Go Ask Alice – Anonymous
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
A Season In Hell – Arthur Rimbaud
Junkie – William Burroughs
The Myth Of Sisyphus / The Outsider / The Fall / The Plague – Albert Camus
Poetry by any of the following:
The Boy Looked At Johnny – Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons
Mystery Train – Greil Marcus
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age Of Rock – Nik Cohn
Crosstown Traffic – Charles Shaar Murray
Elvis – The Last 24 Hours / The Lives Of Lennon – Albert Goldman
1984 – George Orwell
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Fire Next Time / Another Country – James Baldwin
Borstal Boy – Brendan Behan
Less Than Zero / American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
Lord Of The Flies / The Inheritors – William Golding
Prick Up Your Ears – John Lahr
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Desolation Angels – Jack Kerouac
The Dice Man – Luke Rhinehart
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
The Catcher In The Rye – J. D. Salinger
Birdy / Pride – William Wharton
Naomi – Junichiro Tanizaki
No Longer Human – Osamu Dazai
The Trial / The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
Frisk – Dennis Cooper
Notes From The Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Bernice Bobs Her Hair – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Black Rain – Masuji Ibuse
Thirst For Love – Yukio Mishima
The Picture Of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Miracle Of The Rose – Jean Genet
Crash / The Atrocity Exhibition – J. G. Ballard
Blown Away – A.E. Hotchner
Knots – R. D. Laing
Under The Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
The Waste Land – T. S. Eliot
The Torture Garden – Octave Mirbeau
The Runaway Soul – Harold Brodkey
Featured image source: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images