A Positive Rage (Steven Wells: 1960-2009)

June 25, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | 6 Comments


In his writing persona, Steven Wells was many things: scenester, poet, self-important prick, cynic, idealist, embittered old Trot, the best music scribe of his time and the last punk alive. He’d write about the things he loved (multiculturalism, heavy metal, high fructose pop, socialism) in the same style and with the same searing intensity as those things he hated (fascists, Belle & Sebastian, trendies, Travis), and when he was at his best, there was no one who could write such a riot of words.

Not that you should mistake him as just an obnoxious agitator. As the internet proved long ago, anyone can create their own blog, come home drunk and dribble an artless stream of expletives into cyberspace (indeed, some write the country’s biggest blogs). No, Swells’ rage was directed, focused, positive.

In a crowded & often confounding cultural landscape, Wells objected to the country’s dwindling music press being saturated by the safe-sounding snooze-music of middle class sophists who took themselves and their student union ennui way too seriously. He hadn’t the time for equivocation, ambivalence or nuance; he wanted belief, sweat, and arm-flailing abandon. For him, ‘nice’ was an adjective of despair; ‘riot’ was a state of ecstasy.

In search of these elusive qualities, he’d slaughter his own magazine’s sacred cows, hammer some hot new artist & hype the kinds of bands that nobody but him believed were deserving of rapturous write-ups. He could be gloriously right, he could be hideously wrong, but he was always deliciously entertaining. He just gave a fuck.

All of which is probably the kind of gushing professional eulogy that the man himself would’ve hated; dismissed as pompous, middle-class, say-nothing simpering. So rather than work myself into even more of a lather, I’ll end this with the last recorded words from the man himself, and his final dispatch for the Philadelphia Weekly:

And of course all this bollocks is written by an idiot who has polished his image as an existentialist, atheist hard-man and anti-mope, forever sneering at the tribes who wallow in self-pity — the gothers, the emo kids, the Smiths fans — the whole 900-block-wide marching band composed entirely of the white male urban middle classes who are convinced that (as the most affluent and pampered human beings who have ever walked the planet) theirs is a story worth hearing. Blissfully unaware that they are but a few generations away from regular visits to the doctor who would wind parasitic worms from their beer bloated assholes using sticks. (Check out the AMA logos, those smiling beasts are not snakes.)

You could blame this fallacy on poor education, cultural deterioration, or simple moral decline.

Me? I blame it on sunshine. I blame it on the moonlight. I blame it on the boogie.

More tributes here, here, here & here.


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  1. Well said mate. He will be missed.

    Think he would tut disapprovingly at my own little goodbye post: http://oldrope.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/in-memory-of-steven-wells/

    I’m half expecting one last email from him, from beyond the grave, to give me a hard time about it and tell me to write about something more worthwhile, the cheeky bastard ;o)

  2. Swells was a big part of my NME reading days. I’m not convinced he ever persuaded me one way or the other about buying a record – but I did love reading his punchy prose. RIP and all that.

    • I suspect that if you trawled the bowels of the ‘net hard enough, you’d be able to find some of the god-awful attempts at Swells imitation I wrote as a pretentious 17-year-old. I’ve mellowed out (or long since given up hope of emulating him) since then, and never agreed with him much anyway, but he just made music – making, playing, listening – sound as exciting & purposeful as it’s meant to be. In an age when too many people write about music as though they’re describing a mere product – like they’d be just as comfortable writing about an Ikea catalogue – that quality was rare. When he stopped writing for the NME, I stopped reading it.

  3. Neil, you said it more succinctly than anyone else lad. Fair play mate.

  4. His descriptions of what seeing Mogwai live in their loudest period – 1999 to 2001 – were wonderful to behold, and still manage to take me back to the uncanny sensation of feeling my inner ear bending under the force of yet another crescendo. I disagreed with most of what he wrote but describing the Mogwai live experience as akin to being “fucked in the ass by God” is nothing if not accurate

  5. […] clips (as have PW in the Attilla piece) – deffo grateful for them; Dear Kitty’s nice post, Bleeding Heart Show, the infamous Everett True, A Fog of Ideas (both the original Swells post and a more than generous […]

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