Three months ago something happened to Richey Manic that resulted in him being admitted to hospital and joining AA. Stuart Bailie met the group at their rehearsal studio in Pembrokeshire to investigate the rumours of attempted suicide, self-mutilation and anorexia, and finds that Richey Edwards is, indeed, unwell.
The cheeks are sunken, the gaze is maybe more abstracted than you remember, but Richey, freshly released from hospital, looks alright.
He's not so keen to talk on his own though, and is especially wary of posing for solo photographs. It will look contrived, he feels, like he's using his illness to sell records - an accusation that cynics have already levelled at him.
At the same time, you want to clear the air; to try and demystify the Richey situation. You know that something went off in late June/early July, throwing a seemingly bulletproof band into severe trauma. The aftermath was sad. You watched, dismayed, when the Manics played as a three piece at Reading - fans and colleagues around you weeping at the tragic significance of it all. And, of course, you heard many terrible rumours.
Stories claimed that Richey had tried to kill himself: once during a two day mutilation spree at his place in Cardiff, and a second time after he'd been hospitalised. The latter, you hear is probably inaccurate, but yes, there is some truth in the first report.
Other awful accounts say that the hospital Richey stayed at in Cardiff was a dismal, Cuckoo's Nest institution, that he shared a dorm with 12 very sick men, all of them doped up, with a doctor only seeing him once in the eight days that he was there. Then it seems they took him off to a place called The Priory in Roehampton to get proper care, and where he'd become an AA member...
The Manics are rehearsing at Blue Stone, a converted farm in Pembrokeshire. It was vacated two weeks ago by Take That, and it looks lovely and wild. The group's backline is installed in the main hall, and you're pleased to see that Richey's Telecaster guitar is racked up on the left, just like it used to be. Below it is a set list for the upcoming French tour they're playing with Therapy? Two cover versions on this list; Nirvana's 'Penny Royal Tea' and PiL's 'Public Image'.
First, Richey drives us all to a nearby beach where the band will pose for pictures - clowning in the waves, shivering a bit as the wind lashes past, patting stray dogs and hugging and touching each other like they used to do; a gibbering self-support group in army surplus, henna-ed hair and sports trainers.
Back at the farm, Richey is eventually persuaded to pose alone. On the knee of his tigerstripe fatigues, you see that someone has scrawled the message, "Even rats know where their tails are". But when he takes off his parka, you'll see something more lurid. His upper left arm is slashed and hacked and cross-hatched with cuts, some of them scarlet and new. His forearm is mottled with cigarette burns and other scars.
Nicky walks past and notices that his mate has agreed to NME's request for solo pictures.
"MSP - the band that likes to say yes," he quips, echoing a recent song.
We decide to talk in Richey's room, with James sitting in as well, for support as much as anything. On one bed, all of Richey's books are ranged - Wilfred Owen, Irving Welsh's Trainspotting, vintage movie mags, some Buddhist text. We sit around the other bed and start talking.
Sometimes, there'll be painful gaps in the conversation, as Richey falters or remembers some grim detail from the past two months. Mostly though, he's amazingly articulate. A transcript doesn't really do justice to his passion, tone and his pace. Nor does it convey the weird matter-of-factness he uses to outlay his sometimes unorthodox ideas.
* * * * * * * * * *
We start by remembering Richey's last gig with the band; Friday night on the NME Stage at Glastonbury. Swooning, immaculate, a near heroic scene...
"Yes. I really enjoyed Glastonbury," Richey says. "I did actually enjoy the gig. More than everybody else in the band, really. I don't really enjoy many concerts. And then it was back to Wales..."
Can you explain what happened afterwards?
"I wasn't coping very well, and I thought my body was probably stronger that it actually was. My mind was quite strong. I pushed my body further than it was meant to go. And then I went to hospital in Cardiff. That wasn't much good. The band came down to see me and it was pretty obvious that there wasn't much point in me staying there.
"I was there for about eight days and then Martin (Hall, the band's manager) found a place for me in London, and I got taken there. That seemed to work out - I came out last week and I feel quite good. I want to do these French dates with Therapy? I think it will be quite good for me, because there will be less pressure and stuff. There won't be so much for me to worry about - we'll just be doing about a half hour set. That'll be good."
So you're keen to play again?
"If I do the gigs over there and I'm not doing very well, then it doesn't really matter. I don't really want to come back and do the British tour right away.
At first I wanted to do Reading. I was never under any pressure from the band to do it, they just said, whenever you feel better, you can do it. But I wanted to do it because it was Philip's (Philip Hall, the band's co-manager died of cancer late last year) birthday, and we did it two years ago and I really remember enjoying Reading. But it wasn't worth it, I couldn't have done it.
"But I've learnt all the new songs for these French dates. I've been here for a week. I went back up to the hospital on Wednesday and that was all good. I'm quite looking forward to it. I think it will be good."
You've always seemed ambivalent about playing live in the past.
"When Nick and James were coming down to the hospital in Cardiff, I was thinking about it a lot, and I suggested that I wouldn't play on stage any more, but I would carry on writing words and doing the artwork and stuff. I convinced myself that that's what I wanted.
"I'd seen them down to the front door and when they'd gone, I was really upset. I couldn't think what I was going to do. 'Cause it's not enough for me just to do the words. I kind of think I'd be cheating on them, 'cause the touring part is the worst bit-the bit that no band really enjoys. It's the thing that makes it feel like a job, because you know what you'll be doing in three months' time at two o'clock in the afternoon. I felt bad thinking, well, I'll just stay on my own in the flat and just write words. That's not enough.
"So I phoned them up, and I was in a bad way. I said, 'I'm really gonna try. I'm gonna practice more on guitar', and that's what I've been doing. I'm worried about it; I'm worried about next week. But it's not fair for me to just stay here."
But if you haven't been well, you have every excuse not to have to do it.
"Yes. But I've had enough time off. I've missed lots of important concerts with the band, and f---ed lots of things up, and I want to come back and get ready for the British tour, really. It will be the first time I've played the new songs, apart from 'Faster' and 'PCP'.
What do you think of the songs for 'The Holy Bible' when you hear them now?
"We started writing it last summer and some of the early songs were written quite a while ago. I think it was a difficult time for everybody really. Especially the way we did it; going to Cardiff every day, I picked everybody up in the morning and we went down and then we went back home. We just kept concentrating on the words, trying to get them like we wanted. Trying to make them better. I don't think it's being a perfectionist, I just think it's trying to hone it down, do it properly.
"There was lots of things happening outside the band, personally. But I think it's our most complete album, by a long way."
The words are mainly yours, aren't they?
"Nick had lots going on in his personal life at the time as well. I'm on my own, I'm very selfish. 'Self disgust is self-obsession' - that's the truest line on there, probably."
Some old Manics songs have the possibility of deliverance in them, as in the line, "rock'n'roll is our epiphany". But the most cheerful bit on the new LP is in the anorexic's ghoulish euphoria on '4st 7lb'. Hardly cheery stuff.
"I don't think we've ever made happy records. Maybe we've had uplifting moments, but I don't think lyrically we've ever been particularly joyous, right from the start. I know what people think about me. But if you look at our lyrics, they've developed and got better, but thematically they're pretty much the same; what's going on in mine and Nick's head.
"I would like to be able to write, "I'm feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic" but I just can't do it. I think that it's a brilliant lyric, but whatever ability that is, I haven't got the ability to write that line. I don't feel that way, you know. The last time I felt supersonic was when I was about ten years old, I expect.
"At the same time, there's lots of bands with angst-ridden lyrics, and I just really can't believe most of them because they seem so happy when they're singing them on stage. It's like, this is what you're supposed to do.
"Whatever you think about our lyrics, at least they're true."
You say you know what people think about you. What do they think?
"I know what people think about me."
What do you mean?
"Nah, I know. I won't answer that question, but I do know what they think about me."
* * * * * * * * * *
We talk briefly about the nature of the letters NME has received in the past two months. Lots of stuff about the Manics; nearly all positive. They either empathise with Richey or just write in to support him. Either way, they're mainly on his side.
James, however, believes the letters are also prompted by an unacknowledged need to defend Richey, too.
"The fact that 95 per cent of your readers say they feel an affinity with Richey or feel the need to support him, that pre-empts the fact that the last five per cent think he's a c--- for it. Because they actually think he's playing up to the people who feel an affinity for him, for what he went through. They feel that it's just another little angle, that's all."
Richey: "And nobody even knows what happened."
So what did happen?
Richey: "It went wrong."
James: "It just went off big time, and we all knew about it. We could sense it. Basically, when we're not working, we phone each other up at least once a day. We're just big yappers, basically. So we hadn't got in touch with him for a day, we just knew something was wrong. So it just went off, very unexpectedly. We felt like a bunch of drama queens..."
Richey: "Because I am a melodramatic drama queen, I can't help that. Everything I've ever liked in literature, especially, has been along those lines. I guess I identify with victims, but that's just the way I am. Everything I've ever studied in my life; at university I specialised in the Holocaust and Nazi/Soviet foreign policy. That's what I did.
"I find it... 'interesting' isn't the right word... I find it compulsive that in such a short space of time that the Holocaust is rendered almost obsolete. I find it really frightening. We've actually been to places like Dachau. I spent all my life in education studying it, and when you actually go there it means nothing. It's only when you come back and you realise that there are books by people like Arthur Buntz', Hoax Of The 20th Century that suggest it's all a lie; it's somehow a Jewish-Christian conspiracy.
"This is being seriously debated by intelligent people. They suggest that some of the death camps were built after the war by the Americans to basically put the blame on Germany, to make them feel bad, when nothing actually happened. That's being debated in universities now, and I find that really, really frightening. Six million lives are worth nothing. If they're that cheap, then what do you matter? That's a more serious issue than Derek Beackon getting in. It worries me more, because historically it is more dangerous."
Let's follow a crass line of questioning. With 'In Utero', people look back and realise that the record was Kurt Cobain's epitaph, he was saying goodbye. People can read, if they choose, the same feeling into 'The Holy Bible'. On songs like 'Die In The Summertime', you can suppose that's Richey signing off...
"'Die In The Summertime' was written before anything had happened to me, that was basically an old man looking back over his life, over his favourite 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."
So there's not a molecule of truth in the idea that you were thinking, if I go soon, people will hear these songs and shiver and feel disturbed?
"No, not at all. In terms of the 'S' word; that does not enter my mind. And it never has done. In terms of An Attempt. Because I am stronger than that. I might be a weak person, but I can take pain. When we were watching that football violence video in the other room (the other band members are watching Trouble On The Terraces while we speak), I just don't even understand it, I couldn't even squash a fly. I've never even hit anybody in my entire life.
"But to me, the way the world works, it seems that you get respect for being like that. If you punch somebody, you're like a good person. If you do something to yourself, you are seeking attention. To me that argument doesn't make any sense at all. You smash a bottle in somebody's face, that makes you good. It's nonsense.
"Even going back to the thing with Steve Lamacq (Richey slashing '4 Real' into his arm to stress the seriousness of his intentions), I was really f---ed off. I didn't know what I could possibly say to him to make him understand. How easy and cheap is it for me to just hit him? I would never want to do that, I would rather cut myself, because I feel I can justify that, whereas I can't justify hitting him. Other bands hit journalists and it's very macho. They think it's good. They provoke a reaction and it's all just bollocks.
"Where is this rule that the body is that sacred - thou cannot mark thine own skin? I'm not into piercing, but the whole Spanner Trial interested me - when those men were taken to trial for piercing parts of their body. Justice Templeman said he was sending them to prison because 'cruelty was uncivilised'. What right has he got to say that - in terms of an individual's democratic right to choice? I've never hit anybody in my life. I might have done things to my own body, but that is my right."
The other band members tolerated you slicing '4 Real' in your arm, but recently, they admitted that you really needed treatment. The mind flips; what scarey act has Richey done to change their opinion like that?
"Basically, I wasn't in a very good frame of mind. My mind wasn't functioning very well, and my mind was stronger than my body. My mind subjected my body to things that it couldn't cope with. Which meant I was ill. For the first time, I was a bit scared, because I always thought I could handle it. I've read lots of books about tolerance of pain, and pain thresholds. The euphoric agony, basically, is a sensation which your mind blocks off. You control yourself. It's all about control. About proving a point to yourself, which I did very easily, but then I realised that I couldn't do anything. So I went to hospital.
"The Cardiff hospital was no good for me. After eight days in there I didn't know what the f--- was going on. James will tell you, I couldn't even talk, I was just stuttering. I was taking medication - librium and stuff. Though it calmed me down, because I could get to sleep at night.
"Sleep is constantly throughout every lyric I've written from the start. It's a big thing for me because I'm scared to go to sleep. 'Cos the things I get in my head, I don't like. That's the reason I ever started drinking - to knock me out. I've tried sleeping tablets, but I don't really like them. I like the effect of drinking. I can get a blank sleep - be out for five or six hours and wake up and then do my job.
"In terms of the work we do, I've never been late for anything, I've never missed a flight, I'm not indisciplined. I'm not a member of Happy Mondays or Primal Scream or whatever. I'm always on time. I haven't got many things to cling to, but I cling to that. That's what pissed me off about missing Reading and the German gigs, I had nobody else to blame. It was my fault, and I accept it was my fault."
The hospital you went to in Roehampton, was it a 12-step recovery programme?
"Yes. Step three is hard; when you have to reconcile yourself to a god of your understanding. Step one is fairly easy; to admit you are powerless over your addiction and your life has become unmanageable. Well, it's easy to admit, it's hard to accept in your own mind. Because I do feel my mind's quite strong. Obviously not as strong as it could be...
"But step three was hard. It's gonna take a long time for me to figure out."
Shaun Ryder used an image of his grandmother to represent God when he was undergoing rehab.
"Lots of people have said things like that, but I could never pick things like that because they would die. How can you reconcile yourself to a living god like that? Some people take their cats or their dogs as their god, but I think that's nonsensical, because your god is not gonna die on you. The closest I can get to it is nature probably, but then nature is very cruel.
"It's a question of working it all out, which is why I did history, to try and work out the central point."
People who don't agree with 12-point programmes say that morally it's Victorian.
"Revivalist is a good word to use. It depends on how you interpret it. A god of your own understanding... mine's not gonna be my dead grandmother or my pet cat, and it's not gonna be the Big Man upstairs. And I've got to understand what nature means. It's just a question of working it all out, and I've got a lot of time on my hands, so I can think about it."
What about rock'n'roll as your saving grace?
It used to be your epiphany.
"It was at one point, yeah. Since I've come out, I've seen two reviews, and one of them suggested that everything I do is for the sake of music, like I've got some sort of duty towards it. Which is absolute bullshit. When I did the NME Student Guide last year, I said that education is really important, and Ted Kessler goes, 'Yawn, that's not very rock'n'roll'. But I'm not embarrassed by things like that; I think it's important that people read, take the time to learn. It might not be rock'n'roll, but it's important."
What manner of mail do you receive personally?
"I get lots of personal letters. Not all of them are ecstatic - a lot of them are very critical, because we set ourselves ridiculous standards. We're on our third album now - we're only supposed to have made one that sold 20 million - the biggest debut the world has ever seen. Stupid, naïve, impossible targets. But again, it's all into failure. Everything I've liked has always failed in some way. That semi-logo we've got, the Soviet veteran of war medal, CCCP. The reason I liked that was just because it did fail, that it was a beautiful dream. But it's completely disproved; not the ideology of it, but the way people put it into practice.
"When people talk about us, they've still got this idea that the music can actually like, Change The World, or Smash The System. That's nonsense; I've never thought a band could ever do anything that important. It can change individuals, it can create a common ground for important issues, but in terms of actually doing something, changing the economic infrastructure, it's not gonna do that, it never has done. That's what needs to be changed if anything's to happen."
In '4st 7lbs' you mention some names, including Kate. Is that Kate Moss?
"It's Kate as in Kate Moss, Emma as in Emma Balfour, Kristin as in Kristin McMenemy, and Karen as in the Sky agony aunt."
Is it true that you were vaguely anorexic yourself?
Vaguely. You could say that I had an eating problem. Because if I ate too much, and I was drinking, I got all puffed up and blotchy. And I'm too vain to be like that. I am a vain person. I couldn't handle looking like that, I couldn't look in the mirror. All is vanity."
When you were at Glastonbury you were in good shape, like you'd been working out.
"In the last year, I've been doing loads of exercise. I do about 1,500 sit-ups every day. I do some weights as well, I take them on tour with me. It's about trying to control my body, to eat less and get fit. I want a flat stomach, I wanna six-pack, I wanna stomach like Brad Pitt. I'm incredibly vain. But when I get puffed up, all the marks on my body get swollen up. They all grow and turn a funny colour, and I don't like looking like that. When I go to bed and I see those wounds, they look so nasty. It's better when they're a bit faded."
And then you wound yourself some more.
"But then I found a way where the wounds wouldn't come up, they would just be there and then that wouldn't bother me."
In the past, you wore a T-shirt that read 'Kill Yourself'. You told Smash Hits readers to die before they reached the age of 13...
"That was a very, very long time ago - the first press we did properly. A lot of literature I like involves death of some kind but I think that's pretty typical of my generation, it's just a question of what you were thinking about at the time."
You've always said that childhood is an ideal, and that life gets more crummy the farther you go down the line. Can't you accept that life can get better as well as worse?
"A lot of people had terrible childhoods but personally, up to the age of 13, I was ecstatically happy. People treated me very well, my dog was beautiful, I lived with my nan and she was beautiful. School's nothing, you go there, come back and just play football in the fields. Then I moved from my nan's and started a comprehensive school and everything started going wrong. In my 20s, there's nothing that's been that spectacular since."
* * * * * * * * * *
We mention the rest of the band and their role in continuing with the job: speaking about Richey's absence to the press in compassionate terms, never publically criticising their friend during this stressful period. You wonder how they feel privately, and you talk to James about the relationship, about how other bands have dealt with such pressure. With Shane MacGowan and The Pogues, for instance, concern gave way to weariness and then finally resentment. Has there been any such friction with The Manics?
"The only thing that perhaps pissed me off in terms of what's happened to him," says James, "is in relation to the terms that people are gonna view Richey. They'll think that he's a walking capital letter 'I' - all ego. And yet on the new album for me, his two best songs - 'IfWhiteAmerica...' and 'Intense Humming of Evil' - are written from his point of view, but through other people, not himself.
"I think he's maybe deflected attention away from the way he can write about other people and turned it all on himself. It's the only thing I'm angry about, because that makes him look very vain."
Richey: "Even a lyric like '4st 7lbs', I've never been 4st 7lbs, never been close to it. But I can identify with certain feelings. The lowest I've got down to is just under six stones. That was my third year at university, that was the skinniest I ever got, during my finals. But again, that was all about control.
"I started drinking in my first term at university. It was something that I'd never allowed myself to do, but it was just a question of getting myself to sleep. It was so noisy, and I needed to get to sleep at a certain time and wake at a certain time, and drinking gave me that opportunity.
"When it came for me to do my finals, I suddenly realised that I can't go in to do my finals pissed. So the way for me to gain control was cutting myself a little bit. Only with a compass - you know, vague little cuts - and not eating very much.
"Then I found I was really good during the the day. I slept, felt good about myself, I could do all my exams. I got a 2:1 so I wasn't a 100 per cent success, but I got through it, I did it. I remember James came down to see me in the Easter holidays before I did my finals. I wasn't very healthy then. But I did alright in my exams."
James: "I think it would make me angry if Richey's songwriting just became therapy. I always thought that we wrote about other people apart from ourselves in a much better manner."
Richey: "I wouldn't allow that to happen, I would leave if that was the case."
Happy Monday's "Stinkin' Thinkin" is a great therapy song, though.
"It's the best therapy song. It's a brilliant lyric, but in terms of people like Peter Gabriel singing 'kiss that frog', I don't want to get into that. I always thought I could do things on my own, work it out for myself, but it got to the point where I couldn't. Everybody realised I couldn't, which was a disappointment to me.
"I couldn't understand Prisoner: Cell Block H. It was doing my head in. And then I realised that I'm not stupid. I had to convince myself that I wasn't stupid. It was just a silly little thing. The little things, you see, are the worry; that put me in a mood that I can't really control.
Nothing else happens in my mind, I just get swamped by one idea. I can just see one little thing on TV and that'll be it.
"It can be anything, and then I'll just stop functioning. I think, what does it mean? I'm intelligent, why can't I understand that? Just a line in a film or a book, and I've lost it. The last one that happened, when I was hospitalised, was just a tiny little thing on The Big Breakfast from Lee Marvin singing that stupid song, 'I Was Born Under A Wandering Star'. There's a line in that, 'Hell is in hello', and for two days, I couldn't do f---ing anything. What's it mean, 'Hell is in hello'? What are they trying to say? What is the point in that? Just little things. And then I realised that something was not quite right.
"It sounds really petty and trite when I talk to people about it, because it seems so unimportant. I've got to understand more clearly and precisely."
When it's just a silly line in a song.
"That's all there is. But when you've got to spend a whole day convincing yourself that's all there is, that there's no deeper meaning, then I'm not working very well. It's not as if I don't understand that; all the way through I'm saying, I know this, I know this, but I can't seem to take my mind off it. And everything else is so unimportant to me; all the bad news that's going on, it doesn't matter; I need to understand that line."
The story is that you locked yourself in a room for two days and cut yourself badly.
"Well, I've always cut myself and that did happen, yeah. I was cutting myself."
And are you calling yourself Richard now?
"I do call myself Richard. That's my name. It's always been my name, ever since the day I was born."
But it's not symbolic of some determined personality change?
"No, nothing like that. The band have never called me Richey anyway. They've always called me Android, or something like that."
* * * * * * * * * *
Downstairs, they're all at the dinner table. Noreen, the posh Irish landlady, is serving homemade food, and chiding those that don't eat everything up. She calls them 'little piggies' when she learns that some of them have been eating chocolate bars between meals. The generation terrorists accept their chiding gracefully.
Richey clears his plate and then stuffs out on thickly buttered bread with jam on top. He smiles when Noreen ribs him about fox-hunting, a pursuit she's interested in, and which Richey doesn't approve of. What they do agree on is a fondness for the farmhouse cat.
So Richey takes his leave of the table and lies down on the floor, playing with Claws, the obliging moggie, both of them relaxed. The last of the summer sun is coming through the window, and they cut a homely sight. Richey looks like a little boy. He looks kind of happy.
[Originally published: New Musical Express, 1 October 1994]