Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Swells party piece

I only discovered yesterday that while I was in hospital recently an old friend was in another one, in a far worse state, and had died.
Steven Wells, possibly the most in-yer-face hack ever to work in the music press, finally popped his clogs in a US hospital on 24th June. Knowing Swells, he was probably more annoyed at dying in America than that he was dying at all.
I first met him way back in 1982, when I tried to bring ‘Seething Wells’ over to Belfast for a gig, along with fellow ranting poets Joolz Denby, Attila the Stockbroker and Wild Willi Beckett. It fell through, but I was so intrigued by this unlikely Bradford skinhead poet that I stayed in touch over the years. A couple of years younger than me but sharing all my background experiences and constraints, he was like the mischievous little brother I never had.
Somewhere I have his recipe for roast police horse from Attack on Bzag ( the fanzine he started with James Brown), his article on raizing the Globe Theatre to the ground to build a skateboard park and many other outrageous delights. As others have said, Swells didn't write just to annoy or disturb the comfortable, but to cut through crap and force fierce argument about things he deeply cared about.
A few years ago, he even contributed to the campaign to abolish the Manx equivalent of Section 28.
Way back in 1992 he was doing PR for Manic Street Preachers and sent an open letter to Pope John Paul, Axl Rose and numerous other homophobes suggesting they dress in sackcloth, wear a sign around the neck reading ‘UNCLEAN’ and ring a bell to atone for their sins if appearing in public. The ridiculous image, and attitude, stayed with me and when a Manx politician (currently responsible for transport though unfit to even direct traffic) suggested the ban shouldn’t be repealed because homosexuality ‘causes diseases’ , I asked Swells if I could re-use his challenge.
Typically he said "Go for it" and I did, in the local paper. After the campaign, I never found out if the politican involved, on resigning as Education Minister, really did receive a school bell as a parting gift from his staff. I do know it was suggested.
What I also didn’t know then was that while e-mailing me Swells was fighting lymphatic cancer. He never bothered to mention it.
Swell later wrote about that experience at http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/cover-story/the_english_patient-38416404.html. He not only countered all the irritating touchy-feely hogwash about disease and charities that leech off the terminally ill he hated as much as I do, but set me up for my own hospital encounters this year.
A few months ago the cancer came back, and Swells topped his previous outrages with http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/Cell-Out-42215357.html and
http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/in-extremis/Steven-Wells-Says-Goodbye-49054426.html, the last things he wrote.
Damn you Swells! You couldn’t even die politely.

No comments: