Steven Wells: In Memoriam

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Jun. 30, 2009

Share this Story:

“Seething” Wells

The last time I saw a still-conscious Steven Wells, he told me I looked like John Candy and flipped me the bird. This was pretty normal behavior for Steven—good-natured, Rickles-style ballbusting—but these were certainly anything but normal times for him.

He’d been fighting enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma (EATL), a virulent strain of cancer in his small intestine, for months, and doctors had thrown everything at it. Time was running out.

And then it did. Steven was transferred from hospital to hospice, and died a day after he arrived, on Wed., June 24, around 7 p.m. 

While the curtain was going down on Steven’s life here, news of his passing was greeting his 
native Britain with the rising sun.

He was England’s biggest-deal music writer at its biggest, most influential music mag—the New Musical Express ( NME )—at the height of its powers. Lest you think this hyperbole, check the thousands of comments on the countless tributes and Tweets honoring him across the web. (Or the NME ’s own tribute issue to Steven, also out this week.)

Or better yet, read it in the essay English musician Billy Bragg wrote for this issue. Or in the words of Everett True, Steven’s colleague and rival, who wrote about what Steven’s passing means to the state of the tastemaking critic. 

And read about the Steven Wells his dear friends and colleagues knew. He was a mentor, a storyteller, a fire-breather. He was more passionate than anyone we’ll likely come across again. 

Of course, you know this already. Because if you read his stuff, you know the man. Everything in his writing is everything he was in real flesh-and-blood life. He was witty, acerbic, fiery, astute, twisted, unforgiving, brutal, acid-tongued, blustery, energetic, funny, fearless, juvenile and never wrong. He could take two unrelated ideas and weave them together seamlessly to make a point about something else unrelated. 

But there was more. He was a man with much heart. He was gracious. He was kind. He was as good a listener as he was a talker. (Well, almost.) He was passionate about his likes and dislikes. He was a beer snob who, eventually, because of his EATL/celiac, couldn’t drink beer. 

In short, he was a giant of a man. Philadelphia was lucky to have him. It was a privilege for us to be a five-year chunk in his storied career.

And oh, what a career it was. 

After taking the piss out of U2, Bono famously sent Steven an ax asking if the two could “bury the hatchet.” 

Steven petitioned the famously rock-heavy Reading Festival to get the too-sugary-sweet-fueled pop of Daphne and Celeste onto its bill. When they were summarily booed offstage, running for their lives from flying bottles of piss, Steven used it as an opportunity to examine sexism in rock ’n’ roll for an NME story. Now though, there’s talk of a Daphne and Celeste reunion in his honor. 

Steven famously destroyed the career of the Happy Mondays, who, while backstage, foolishly used racial slurs in front of him. Steven wrote about the incident with such conviction and righteousness, to remain a fan of the group was to endorse their beliefs. People jumped ship in droves.

Steven warred with many different bands and odd hobbyists over the years. Most recently he offered Los Campesinos! money to stay out of Philadelphia on their last tour, milking the feud that erupted in both our pages and across the pond for the Guardian and One of the more touching tributes to Steven upon his untimely passing was from Los Campesinos’ singer/chief songwriter Gareth, who wrote that Steven’s criticisms of them were spot on. 

“I did have shit hair and, in hindsight, my embracing of ‘twee’ was embarrassing, and something I dislike in others now,” he wrote. “He hated our band, and I respected him all the more for it. As a middling touring indie band, we do a lot of interviews. And though I am always very grateful that people care to speak to us, most of them are mind-numbingly boring and repetitive ... Whenever we’ve passed through Philadelphia, I’ve hoped he’d be in attendance. I’ve glanced around the venues looking for some snarling bald man in a corner.”

Knitters got into it with Steven, after he attacked the way it was being marketed as a punk rock pastime. 

He once wrote Budweiser and Starbucks “taste like weasel piss” in one of his columns, and the former pulled a giant amount of advertising dollars from our pages. When it was mentioned in a staff meeting by our then-bosses in a feeble attempt to help temper his vitriol, Steven was incensed. “Why the fuck am I even being told this? Not my problem. Go find a beer advertiser that’s NOT SHIT!”

And then there were the stories Steven wrote for us about his illness. Touching stories, all. Gut-wrenching stories, unflinchingly honest. It’s only now, after his death, that we’ve seen what they’ve meant to the cancer community, who in tributes to Steven around the globe have written about them being refreshing accounts of the disease for what it is: a motherfucking asshole that robs you of your life without regard to anything, especially the people who love you so. 

Page: 1 2 3 |Next
Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 10 of 10
Report Violation

1. Buck said... on Jul 1, 2009 at 03:55AM

“I never knew or met Steven Wells. After reading Gregory's story, I wish I had. What a spirit! Thank you for letting me get to know him, albeit posthumously.”

Report Violation

2. Tom Fynes said... on Jul 1, 2009 at 06:55AM

“RIP Steven Wells........Thank You Sir”

Report Violation

3. Matthew Green said... on Jul 1, 2009 at 03:01PM

“I'm terribly saddened that we have lost such a gifted and fearless writer, someone who held nothing back and who pulled no punches. I discovered Steven's writing a few years ago in PW and was immediately hooked. His column, In Extremis had become the one thing I most looked forward to reading, more than any other writer on the web. He may be gone from this Earth, but his words and his thoughts and his spirit will live forever.”

Report Violation

4. R. Martinez said... on Jul 1, 2009 at 09:14PM

“1st read one of Steven's pieces for the PW in 2005. It was one of his inaugural essays about soccer and how it should be called football and how Americans always got it wrong, etc, etc, etc. It was right on and it was hilarious. I couldn't believe a writer in Philadelphia was telling it the way it is, no hairs on his tongue, no punches pulled. He was a trully gifted man: he had the courage to talk the talk and walk the walk; something we have sorely missed in this country for many years. I never met the man but thought that I would have the chance, someday. Little did I know his stay with us was going to be so short-lived. I learned today he passed away and never knew he was sick. My deepest condolences to the family, PW and Philadelphia. A man who taught us life's hardest lessons with humour and definitely, one very funny twat himself. Cheers to you Steven! You can have all the beer you want now and save one for us.”

Report Violation

5. Johnny Ostentatious said... on Jul 2, 2009 at 07:55AM

“Only met him once -- a really nice guy. I remember his British roots showing by him saying "mate" a lot. And he's one of the few atheists I've ever met who seemed genuinely happy.”

Report Violation

6. tara said... on Jul 2, 2009 at 11:11AM

“Nothing against any of the other gifted writers at PW, but Steven Well's pieces were the first ones I read that made me stand up and pay attention (while laughing outloud) and rush to the bottom to see who, yes, who would have the balls to write such stuff! It's rare when a writer can put their own true and unique stamp on their material and really draw you in. I got that from him. It is a great loss.”

Report Violation

7. A. Lowell said... on Jul 2, 2009 at 12:01PM

“I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Steven Wells. He interviewed me over the phone several years ago for an article about Thomas Paine (it was the best article yet) and we were scheduled to meet again in Philadelphia but he had injured his leg and couldn't do the interview. I planned to call him when I was in Philly this year but got too busy. I wish I had. What a loss.”

Report Violation

8. Brian Barrish said... on Jul 2, 2009 at 10:39PM

“I had the pleasure of meeting Steven when he came to our atheist Meetup group to do a cover story about us (for the Christmas issue, nonetheless!). I was already a huge fan of his work, and I had corresponded with him via email a few times. He was a friendly, smart, and entertaining fellow. We were certainly lucky to have him in our happy little city, and he will be sorely missed. I would like his family to know that he meant a great deal to many of us, and our thoughts are with them.”

Report Violation

9. Young Werewolves said... on Jul 3, 2009 at 09:27AM

“As an up-and-coming philly trio on the scratch, scoring an interview w/ Steven Wells for a cover feature in PW on Zombies was a huge notch. Steven's NME cred felt good too. But then he didn't use any of it for the story. But he wrote good. And then he did that story about how the Beatles destroyed rock made up for everything. RIP.

Report Violation

10. Darren Finizio said... on Jul 8, 2009 at 01:03PM

“I hung out with Steve Wells once. I was playing a gig in West Philly for a bunch of anarcho hopster types and Johnophan Valania was taking notes, so he brought Steve along with him. So odd, I thought, that this soft-spoken man with a suit on would want to be at a music show. I could remember that many of the kids were threatened by him because he was writing these articles on drug trafficing at the time. Anyway, this article came as a shock to me because a) I had no idea he was English since I absolutely don't rememeber an accent b) had no idea he was a major music criticr and c) didn't know he was 'seething'. He just seemed like an extraordinarely happy fellow and I remember liking him alot. If I had known more about his background perhps I would've gotten to know him a little better. I guess that chance won't come again. R>I>P and my condolences to family/friends. He was a cool guy.”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)

Related Content

Steven Wells Remembered
By Steven Wells

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.

RELATED: Cell Out The English Patient Save the Straights Newspapers Are Not Toilet Roll Manufacturers Scene But Not Nerd Survival of the Fittest Tributes to Steven Wells More Tributes to Steven Wells Goodbye, Anti-Sacred and Profane Writing Machine Steven Wells’ contrarianism wasn’t just an act Even More Tributes to Steven Wells Memorials for Steven Wells Steven Wells: "Arguably, The Last Great British Rock Writer" The Quietus Tribute to Steven Wells

Related Content

Billy Bragg Remembers Steven Wells
By Billy Bragg 

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.

Related Content

“You write to make an impact.”

By Everett True

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. 

Related Content

Chumbawamba Guitarist Boff Whalley Remembers “Seething” Wells

By Boff Whalley

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.

Related Content

Audio: A Snarling Poet
By Brian McManus 

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

Related Content

Steven Wells' Greatest Hits
By PW Staff

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.

RELATED: Remembering Steven Wells

Related Content

Steven Wells' America
By PW Staff

In 2007, Steven Wells made a series of YouTube videos -- rants, of course -- about America, the War on Terror and politics.

RELATED: R.I.P. Steven Wells

Related Content

Steven Wells on Video
By Steven Wells

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.

Related Content

A Few More Tributes to Steven Wells
By PW Staff

Colleagues of Steven Wells share their memories of the man.

Related Content

Steven Wells in NME
By Brian McManus

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.