Thursday, June 25, 2009


I was going to say something about how sad I am that Slaminsky’s chucked in the towel, but then I thought, hey, it’s her call, it’s not like she’s dead or anything.

Then I found out that Steven Wells (aka Seething Wells/Swells/Susan Williams) had lost his three-year battle with cancer.

I never met Swells. I did occasionally exchange e-mails, and once had a bit of a phone barney with him. (I called him a plagiarist; he called me a whinger; we both agreed that the idea of reviving the musical Hair in the 1990s was an affront to good taste.)

But at the same time, I knew him intimately, first because of my teenage obsession with performance poetry; and later because for several years he was the cleverest, funniest writer in the NME, in that late-80s/early 90s phase when it was past its best but still the best thing going. What was great about him was that even if you disagreed utterly with what he said (he loathed the Smiths, and I’m sure it was he who argued that Sonia had made a greater contribution to pop history than Morrissey ever could), he was still more readable that a dozen hacks who just regurgitated your own prejudices and served them back to you. Which is why, presumably, there was no longer a place for him at the NME, and he plied his trade instead at The Guardian, the Philadelphia Weekly and online spaces such as Quietus (where this gorgeous pisstake of Radiohead comes from).

He died on Tuesday, the same day that the editor of the NME was appointed to take over at Top Gear magazine. Little more needs to be said. (Although Betty says it.)

PS: Everett’s collated some of the many tributes; another from Akira the Don; and here’s the man himself on sport and blogging and stuff.


La Bête said...

Oh, fantastic. Just reading that Radiohead article and this paragraph is one of the finest I have ever read: 'In 1999 Travis asked ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me?' At my command thousands of NME readers sent whiney Fran Healey a postcard reading "Because you're a cunt". But I then wrote a personal letter to Fran, stating that if he really wanted to know he should ask Thom Yorke but that he might not like the answer because it would almost certainly make him like down on the pavement, like forever.'

RIP indeed.

Jerry said...

I've written something over here.

Annie said...

I feel like Andy Warhol, who was miffed when his being shot by Valerie Solanis was knocked off the front page by the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Poor S Wells. Though I don't recall him from my NME reading days.

Billy said...

I often wonder why Swells didn't become a full time performance poet on radio 4. You know, like that Atilla the Stockbroker.

But then I wouldn't have experienced the joy of him doing the letters page.

patroclus said...

Swells was one of the few writers I remember from my NME-reading days in the early 90s. I tried to read his whole cancer story in the Philadelphia Weekly but found it unbearable (though excellently written). It's such a horrible, horrible disease. Sad news.

Tim F said...

He was almost *too* good, wasn't he, Bête? Like eating a whole white truffle in one go.

Thanks ET, have linked to your obit roll.

Sorry, Annie, you've been pushed even further down the list now. Not to mention the Jeff Goldblum thing.

It all came down to the letters page, didn't it, Billy? I'd always turn there first - but if he was editing it, I'd leave it to last, because I knew it would be worth waiting for.

Tim F said...

Sorry, P, missed you there. Yes, one thing the cancer stories brought out (maybe a bit late) was that he wasn't a music hack or a sports hack or whatever - he was a writer, and he could turn his hand to anything that engaged him. It's horribly sad, but he went down fighting (although he spurned the notion of 'bravery').

Jesus, imagine if someone had had the guts to send him to Iraq...

Dick Headley said...

It's not all bad news. I had a comment from rswipe the other day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

decent post, like your tale about arguing with Swells on the phone, made me laugh mate.

Thanks for your kind words about me own memories.

Think the NME editors move says it all. But Steven went down swinging and I bet he's chuffed to fuck that so many people will no longer be able to think about Mikey Jackson without also thinking of him.

There's a big gap-toothed grin in the sky tonight baby!!