A Google search of ‘Why do we Continue to Obsess about things that Disappoint us?’ throws up some Psychology Today self-care tips, celebrity obsession blog posts and if you keep scrolling, plenty of poorly curated Reddit feeds. At the height of my obsession with the Manic Street Preachers I saw them live at OnBlackheath in 2015. As the band laboured through their classics, my excitement curled into its shell like a hormonal mollusc. I was disappointed, even embarrassed. Why, of all my family, was I the most excited to see these 3 grumpy Welsh men? Who the hell were these guys, I wanted MY Manic’s! James Dean Bradfield with a crucifix on his chest singing ‘We live in urban hell’, spitting on the crowd. What had this Dad-bod done with my band! My 15-year-old self could not cope.
Upon discovering their early 90s incarnation 2 years earlier, a bunch of no-good atoms smashed guitars on stage in my adolescent brain. The Manic’s were effeminate and masculine, glib and anti-establishment. They cross-dressed, talked about books and miners strikes in interviews. They sounded like a scruffy Guns N Roses, not too punk, not too rock. They towed the line between my burgeoning Grunge love and MTV tuned palette.
Their self-destructive mantras ‘I believe in Nothing, but it is my nothing. Were clunky, poetic, nihilistic, smothered in leopard-print. ‘We thought we were a million times better than every band.’ Was the ballsy boast, and I was sold.
My true obsession began around early 2014, by which time delivering me to their glory days required hours of Youtube and sentimental fanzines. I bought 10 albums, 2 compilations, 2 EP’s, I read 3 fan written books and watched every gig and interview there was to consume. I printed off Richie’s infamous response to criticism on the 15th of May 1991 when he carved ‘4 REAL’ into his arm after a gig at Norwich Arts Centre (right) and stuck it to my wall, much to the perplexity and disgust of my friends and family. His dark, hunting eyes would follow me around my room for 3 years. Merch followed, T-shirts, mementos, a pair of white jeans (not strictly merch but required!), I quickly covered the arse of said jeans with anti-climb paint on first use and haven’t removed the stain since. Crucially no matter what I said or did, they were still a tired old touring band.
One reason for this was my Manic Street Preachers never existed. I thought Richie was beautiful, I thought writing the lyrics before the music was poetic, I thought the look was tasteless, sexy and cliché. I even thought my friends dislike or at best indifference was kind of alluring. I was rejecting the greasy haired indie aesthetic that seemed to be re-establishing itself again with Alex Turner’s discovery of hair gel (although I still loved the Arctic Monkeys). They didn’t dress like Topman models and say things like ‘I like riding motorcycles indoors” (real Johnny Borrell quote) In my head they lolloped around, undereating, being anti-machismo, reading Sylvia Plath and Tennessee Williams. If I could do that, or get close, it wouldn’t matter what era I was in.
The disappointment of the band in reality caused me to start Reading collections of fans experiences at the time. I listened just as extensively, if not more, to discography post-Richie, even into their dwindling mid-2000s years despite some of the music being truly terrible (‘Emily’ from Lifeblood is a grim example). Every piece of music I heard by the Manic’s had become potential to manufacture my own world. The quality or lack of quality in the art had become redundant.
They said things like ‘I wanted to be popular, nothing else.’ It was arrogant but honest. At 15, I thought it looked dazzling to be famous, more so to achieve it while still so naïve and impressionable yourself. They addressed sex (‘Yes’), masculinity (‘Little Baby Nothing’) and morality (‘Archives of Pain’) while Richie Edward’s disappearance meant the Manic’s went on to become both grief stricken and ironized. As a young Nicky Wire scoffed in 1990 “We’ll be dead before we have to (write love songs), anyway.’ But Richie for so many years was only missing, leaving them in limbo. A limbo I could not tolerate much longer. A year later I defaced my ‘4 REAL’ picture and retired my printed photo wall. I had to obsess about the Manic’s long enough for them to feel fully 3-dimensional, for me to gather enough information to build an obsessive Rubic’s cube of fact and fiction. Only when no side of the story was fully complete could I see the contradictions in these musicians I loved so much. Only then could I exhibit any youthful self-care, and listen to someone within 20 years of my age, which I promptly did, maybe a little Manic Obsession wasn’t such a bad way of getting started.