Steven was like Miracle-Gro for the crop of interns who came through the PW offices while he was an editor. He wasn’t okay with just letting us go about our anonymous business of fact-checking, hoping to get hired and slowly dying inside. He yelled at us, he read our college clips and told us, for the love of god, never to show them to anyone ever again. He threw writing assignments our way when few others would even look at our pitches. He kicked our asses out of the nest to see whether we’d hit the ground.
Anyway, thanks, Steven. I know you didn’t really believe in an afterlife, but I hope all the young people you talked out of giving up can serve something of the same purpose.
P.S. I quit smoking. (Emily Guendelsberger)
Steven Wells responded more enthusiastically to the Internet than any other person on the planet. He’d squeal with delight while watching an all-bear Dutch synth-disco old-man- boy-band’s music video. (Without headphones. The entire office hummed Bearforce1 for a month.) He’d sing along to Avril Lavigne’s website. When he discovered a stepping competition on YouTube, he demanded to know why none of his American colleagues had told him about “this fucking awesome cheerleading shit.” For an uptight, former Catholic schoolgirl with serious concerns about how to fit in at an alternative paper, Steven made me realize that it’s okay to like what you like. Even if that happens to be “Sk8ter Boi.” (Erica Palan)
I emailed Steven, PW ’s A&E editor, in 2007. I suggested that my culinary experience might lend credibility to the food section, and attached an article I thought might impress him. I was pleased by his prompt response, but less pleased to find him comparing my writing style to “an old woman writing a travel log”; he also kindly suggested that I “remove the stick from [my] ass the next time [I] sat down to write something.” I was angered and amused all at once—typical for one of Steven’s readers. To his credit he then coached me on fixing the article and crafting a writing style that was less, shall we say, rigid. Sadly, I now find myself using his advice to write his tribute. I hope I did him justice. (Tim McGinnis)
Steven Wells killed my fucking sea monkeys. Their briny water got all over my BearForce1 poster and my keyboard when he threw (an American) football at me and hit their plastic tank instead. I was pretty bummed, but he was sadder. He let me sit and read all of his Tank Girl comics to make up for it. You know why? Because Steven Wells was a good human being. Maybe one of the best. (Alli Katz)
Most public battles with cancer are cast as heroic. Wells would have none of that bollocks. He was scared shitless, and said as much because it’s the only reasonable human response. He was mad as hell at the unfairness of it all, because, again, it is the only reasonable response. And by the end he was sick of it all—the pain, the indignity, and the boredom of dying. What made Steven heroic was his willingness to say as much for publication, in lieu of some phony brave face. If nothing else, he innovated the lost art of dying honestly. If there is anything to be learned from Wells’ cruelly premature passing it’s this: Life is not fair, and it’s later than you think. So enjoy yourself and plan accordingly. (Jonathan Valania)
As a writer, the first email I got from Steven thundered “Has the zombie plague finally happened?!” but I started working for him anyway, earning his favor by staying invisible and hitting deadline. In exchange, he blew glittery purple smoke up my skirt in the form of treasured shards of encouragement (which worked—I valued every bit of praise from him to the end.) But still, I read his column ... what an egotistical jerk, right? Then we finally met. Steven was leaving the full-time arts and entertainment editor position at PW to freelance and I was starting the following week. He could have easily been a dick. Instead he tossed me the blueprints: Don’t piss off Regina, Ginger or Arnetta, but it’s okay (encouraged, even) to piss off anybody else. He listed which stringers were annoying and which were cool. He bought me lunch, wished me luck and staggered out of the pub muttering obscenities under his breath.
“Steven Wells is as punk rock as a puppy’s pink belly,” I reported back to friends and other freelancers. Beneath the well-crafted seemingly misanthropic missives lurked such a cute and charming English bulldog! (I was stupid back then. This was before I got in on the joke, saw the twinkle in the jaundiced eye, the one that’d bring a man to close his farewell love letter to this world with a Jackson Five lyric.) Soon, we became friends and did the bitch-and-moan together at Oscar’s next door, Steven unabashedly ordering frilly pink drinks when he was celiac and couldn’t sip beer anymore. Once, while he was carrying on noisily about something or other, I told him about the pink puppy belly. He acted like he was disgusted and horrified, but I know he was secretly pleased because I saw him whip his face around to bury his smirk beneath the orchestral cacophony sputtering out, which I still hear every time I picture his face. (Tara Murtha) ■
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.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom