Steven Wells: In Memoriam



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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)

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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.”

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

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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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 music...it made up for everything. RIP.

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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.”

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