We are, of course, digesting the death of our friend Steven Wells. And we've been touched to see tributes pouring into the comments section of his final column. Before he was an abrasive and controversial PW writer, Steven was an abrasive and controversial music writer for a variety of English press, perhaps most famously for NME in the 1980s. His UK and music colleagues this morning are offering up their tributes.
From The Quietus:
Our good friend and Quietus writer Swells died on Tuesday after finally losing his fight against cancer. (To extend the metaphor — it was 30 rounds of bloody boxing and the Grim Reaper just edged it on points. We think a bung from a betting syndicate was involved.)
I won't be the first or last to say this, but Steven Wells was one of my main inspirations to become a journalist. And it was a pleasure to work with him when I finally became one.
I guess because he was still writing for us even a few weeks ago, I hoped his sheer force of personality would somehow carry him through. We'll miss you Swells.
From Metal Hammer:
Wells was the ultimate punk-rock journalist. A man who perfected the art of intelligently swearing like no one else, Swells also had a penchant for writing some of the most brutally frank features around. Asking System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian if he actually knew the medical repercussions of pulling a tape worm out of one’s ass, attempting to bait Deicide into cursing him and eating prawns in front of fiercely vegetarian activists Consolidated were just three of the many bands Swells took to the cleaners in his own inimitable style.
Beyond the full-on, hard man exterior, he was also a damn fine guy who would always take the time to stand and have a chat, while also throwing in some good-natured abuse for good measure. He was definitely one of the good guys.
He will be sorely missed.
From Everett True:
He gave my band our first major review in the NME.
Didn’t understand a word of it (I always suspected he hadn’t actually seen us), but fuck I was excited. Collaborated on several articles – mostly on comics and fanzines – with me for the same paper during the 80s, at a time when most his peers were making un-subtle digs at how crap I was. Had a knack for being simultaneously infuriating and hilarious: recall one genuis punch-up that occured in the offices after he’d been flicking paper clips at everyone all day, and one hit Neil Taylor in the eye.
Fuck it. He was so one of the good guys I knew I didn’t even need to be in contact with him: it made me happy that he was still somewhere out there, pricking away at the pompous, belligerent, challenging, argumentative, passionate and above all funny as all hell. And now he’s not.
Saddened to hear of the death of music press legend Steven Wells. My earnest teenage self was infuriated by his demolitions of whiney indie bands, but I eventually saw the funny side and realised that he was often right. As he says in his final column, why do society's most privileged feel their story is one worth telling? This rant for the Quietus may pick on an easy target (the egregious Los Campesinos) but the wider point about twee's political and cultural conservatism is bang on the money.
While Britpop/Cool Britiannia was in its ghastly back-slapping, self-deluding pomp, he was one of the few NME writers calling bullshit on the whole enterprise. He understood the importance of politics to culture, and his punk rock socialism and impassioned championing of multi-culturalism has had a big impact on me. Only last year, he wrote this funny, but angry, defence of immigration. In the light on BNP election gains, his piece is sadly all the more relevant and necessary.
While it's probably true he ran out of new things to say about music, it was still entertaining when one of his rants would wind up morons on the Guardian blog. I recall an amusing anti-guitar piece he wrote recently that suggested that the world's greatest guitarist was Richey Manic, 'cos his guitar wasn't plugged in. Cue "that doesn't even make sense" comments from humour-bypass idiots.
His accounts of his cancer treatment stand as his finest achievement: brutally honest, funny and touching. RIP Swells. Hope you're enjoying a ginger ale in heaven with Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer.
From Stewart Home:
Swells was a laugh to be around and you could always count on him for a good argument too! His essentially Trotskyist stance rubbed up against my left-communist positions with at times explosive results. Nonetheless, the biggest blow-up we ever had occurred when I said I didn’t like the film Apocalypse Now, and Swells insisted it was impossible for me not to like Apocalypse Now. What followed was a good humoured and thoroughly enjoyable ding-dong; we were sitting in a cafe on Beak Street and some of the other customers seemed worried our disagreement would end in fisticuffs, they didn’t understand we were friends with passionate but opposed opinions.
From Ben Myers:
If he exists, God has his work cut out dealing with this mad fucker.
From Sex, Lies and Audio Tape:
Swells was one of those journalists who divided people. Either you fully appreciated and liked his raw black sense of humour, and his love of ripping the piss out of anyone who openly wore their hearts and flowers on their sleeve, or you loathed him and everything he stood for. Me? Well, I was always in the former camp. But then again, I always have been a misanthropic curmudgeon. He was one of those writers who I looked up to, and indeed made me want to get into music journalism so I too could get good money for ramming my opinions on the music I loved down people's throats.
More to come, we're sure.
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.
Commentary from the Sons of Ben, Los Campesinos the Guardian, Phawker and more.
In 2007, Steven Wells made a series of YouTube videos -- rants, of course -- about America, the War on Terror and politics.
Billy Bragg Remembers Steven Wells
“You write to make an impact.”
Steven Wells in NME
Audio: A Snarling Poet
A Few More Tributes to Steven Wells
Steven Wells' Greatest Hits
Steven Wells on Video