Lastly: an addendum to the anecdote in the first graph. Steven had just seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles the night before. He was, he asserted, the Steve Martin to my John Candy.
I didn’t argue. Not only because Steven was probably too weak, but also because I remembered an exchange from the movie, between a car rental agent and Steve Martin’s character, Neal Page.
Car rental agent : “How may I help you?”
Neal Page : “You can start by wiping that fucking dumbass smile off your rosy fucking cheeks! Then you can give me a fucking automobile: a fucking Datsun, a fucking Toyota, a fucking Mustang, a fucking Buick! Four fucking wheels and a seat!”
That’s Steven. We miss him terribly. (Brian McManus)
Steven, for all his opinions, hated division. I think his determined atheism was largely motivated by how religion separates us from each other. I would often argue with Steven that agnosticism is a more rational choice than atheism. And he reacted to me, every time, with joy. Because he loved the conversation—and loved the fact that our different opinions weren’t impeding our friendship. For me, that’s what Steven was about—blowing down the walls, carpet-bombing the planet with words, howling from the crazy center of himself, and drawing us all out to face the deficiencies of our thinking. Not exactly immortality, but a gift that will form an afterlife nonetheless. (Steve Volk)
We were an unlikely trio: the know-it-all black girl and former accountant from North Philly; the chubby chef/musician from Texas with the highway patrolman sunglasses; and the bald-headed, blue-eyed Brit, with the knocked-out tooth, who laced his rants with his fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that . Gregory, McManus, Wells.
Yet we bonded over our love of writing and cheap drinks. During happy hours, therapy sessions and summits, the only word I can find to describe the thoughts, connections and parallels rapid-firing out of Steven Wells’ mouth is “alive.” No subject was off limits with Steven. To his delight, taboo topics were openly explored: racial stereotypes, organized religion, the Second Amendment, gay rights, midgets bowling and knitting clubs. Steven relished grabbing a conventional thought by the ears and holding it up for examination. He thrived on ideas, and his mind travelled far and wide. That made Steven Wells magnetic. And that made his writing beautiful, oftentimes brilliant.
But for all his bluster, and fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that , there were times when Steven Wells melted. There was the unstoppable-ness of a girls soccer team in North Philadelphia that captured his heart. There was gun violence in Philadelphia neighborhoods—places Steven had never seen—that turned his face red with outrage. And there were those happy hours when, as the hours passed, Steven would call his Katharine, his voice a sweet whisper, to let her know where he was and what time he’d be home.
“Damn, Steven,” I’d kid after he hung up, “You even told her what I was drinking?” Then I’d crack an imaginary whip, taking a shot at the caring husband who had emerged from the cursing, spitting, talented maniac who made my work days bearable, and expanded my view of the world.
Steven would put his head down, grin, and just swallow his beer. (Kia Gregory)
Steven never walked into my office. It was always more of an explosion.
“And we wish we were still pea-a-a-sants !” he sang mockingly as he galloped in one day when I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s renditions of immigrant folk songs. We loved sparring over whether folk music was inherently racist: He said yes, I said no, but at least we agreed on the fundamental punk-rockish-ness of Pete Seeger. Even when the argument was ludicrous, the intellectual exercise it required was fun. It would always end in a close examination of the language we and others used—an activity that’s surprisingly rare among people who spend their days working with words.
Steven was a man who loved language. He was always thinking about its sound, its influence, its sociopolitical implications—and loved when words’ use or misuse could get people angry. Especially when they got angry. For Steven, the joy was in the fight. The humor was there too. It’s that indomitable combination I’ll miss the most. (Jeffrey Barg)
Steven, in his very English aggressive-playful way, was a total sweetheart, who cared truly madly deeply about what he did. And though we never saw eye-to-eye on my beloved pansy-mopey art movies, we could always agree on one thing: zombies. (Matt Prigge)
In my first year or two out of college, I was so frustrated with repeatedly running full-speed into the brick wall that is journalism that I was ready to give up. Steven took me out to lunch and told me to stop being such a pussy, because it’s not fair but that means fuck-all. This remains the best career advice I’ve ever gotten. I’d put money on being able to find 20 other people my age who would say the same.
Our friend and colleague Steven Wells died two years ago today of the cancer he had documented so well in two cover stories for Philadelphia Weekly. On June 14, he submitted this column.
Swells could be hurtful in what he wrote, but his contrarian stance was never mere posturing. It was underpinned with an unswerving belief that things could be better—culturally, politically and globally.
Swells was funny and opinionated and smart enough to realize his limitations and work within them. He did it for himself. He was from the fanzine world. He was a tastemaker critic, for sure. People took notice of his opinions, and acted upon them. He challenged people’s opinions, led them, changed them—most of this by default, by sheer force of his personality and peerless ability to entertain. If something was wrong, it was wrong. Didn’t matter what anyone else thought. Of course, Swells might then change his mind the next day.
Seething (Steven) Wells died a day ago. Then tonight, starting to write this, I find out that Michael Jackson has died. One of these two men owned a ranch called Neverland and had three children called Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II. The other one was the King of Pop.
Before he got to us, and before he got to NME , Steven Wells (right) was a ranting punk poet known as Seething Wells. Seething engaged in many light-hearted battles with another poet of his ilk, Attila the Stockbroker
Search PW's archives for "Steven Wells" and you'll turn up nearly 400 articles, videos and other items bearing his name -- a few about him, most by him, for he was stunningly prolific. He taunted rightwingers and indie rockers -- sometimes in the same breath -- with his online column "In Extremis." But he was also a keen reporter and commenter -- often outrageously so -- on the odder corners of Philadelphia's many subcultures. A few selections, then, from his greatest hits.
In 2007, Steven Wells made a series of YouTube videos -- rants, of course -- about America, the War on Terror and politics.
He was a legendary writer, but PW's Steven Wells also jumped into new media with both feet. He bought his own video camera and made a series of typically provocative -- and often hilarious -- videos for Philadelphia Weekly.
Colleagues of Steven Wells share their memories of the man.
Starting in the early 80s a young, ranting punk poet known as Steven “Seething” Wells began writing for Britain’s biggest, most influential music magazine, New Musical Express, under the pseudonym Susan Williams. He did it to inject some estrogen in an arena that had much to little of it. Over 25 years he was NME’s frothing bulldog gnawing viciously at the leg of all the things he perceived lame, and championing music from the fringes of hardcore, punk and pop. Here, courtesy of NME—who, like us, put together their own tribute to Steven—are scanned images of some of his features for the mag.
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor