The Dark Stuff: Why Do We Love It So Much?

On February 1, 1995, Richey Edwards checked out of the London hotel he was staying at with James Dean Bradfield and effectively disappeared. Two weeks later, Edwards’ Vauxhall Cavalier was found abandoned at the Severn View service station, but his body has never been discovered. It’s a story that’s taken on mythological status, not only among Manics fans, but among music fans in general. Is it because he just vanished? Or because of his self-conscious genius and brilliant creation of the Manics’ ethos? Or because he’s yet another tale of tragic self-destruction? I think it’s a potent combination of all three that elevates him into such a rock star status. Apparently, rock ‘n roll is, at its core, a risky lifestyle of testing limits both physically and mentally while pushing creative boundaries at the same time. At least that’s the conclusion I come to after reading The Dark Stuff, a book that collects several of Nick Kent’s pieces on specific musicians, who are generally considered self-destructive geniuses.

Kent’s subjects include Brian Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Syd Barrett, Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Iggy Pop, Roy Orbison, Prince, and many others. In fact, not all are geniuses, but more in the iconic camp (ie: Sid Vicious). (However, all are male, which may speak to the historical male-domination of rock music or to Kent’s own biases – I’m not sure.) Of course Kent’s style is a mixture of elevated, verbose descriptions, which evoke both the magical and real, and the down-to-earth criticism you would be capable of if you had lived with these “rock stars” for their daily lives. In his introduction, Kent states that this book should serve as a “warts-and-all celebration of the driving essence that is rock ‘n roll,” and that it explores the “triumvirate of ego, drug abuse, and self-absorption that preys so relentlessly on the creative mind.” And he’s right about these three factors and geniuses of any type. What made me start thinking was how interested music fans are in people like this. I know I’m interested because I set aside all other books while reading this one cover to cover in a few nights.

I once read that the reason Sylvia Plath’s work was so signifcant, and why the works of other manic-depressives were also significant, was the fact she was able to experience the absolute extremes of human emotion and then describe them aptly. The average person has a much smaller range of human experience – sometimes they’re sad and sometimes they’re happy, but neither of these poles take hold of them and alter their mental state so totally. Perhaps the reason I (and others) am fascinated with music idols like Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett and even Brian Jones is because I feel like they all might have been mad in one way or another, and madness is one of those anomalies in society that can be taken as either threatening and undesirable or as special and superhuman. The ideas of what madness means has changed over time from rather non-threatening to an abominable deviation to problems with brain chemistry, thus the ways of dealing with madness have shifted from allowing mad people to roam free to incarceration to now some more politically correct incarceration. I’m of the belief that, like Nietzsche’s madman, crazy people sometimes have the ability to see beyond what everyone else sees, and that makes them valuable to society. It’s no secret that many of the best musicians or songwriters are a little nuts, but at the same time, there are several who are iconic without being particularly talented.

Sid Vicious and Brian Jones come to mind when I think of music icons with no hugely discernible musical talent. In fact, their deaths had no effect whatsoever on their respective bands and came as no surprise to their bandmates or the world. It’s like they were the epitome of living fast and dying young, and their personalities and images were so oversized that they became rock martyrs, and subsequently, the subjects of many books and films. This mythology, as Kent notes, can often be linked to the Narcissus myth – these beautiful and charming rock stars know that others admire them, and eventually they can’t stop believing in their own singularity and myth nor can they stop destroying their own beauty by their tunnel vision. Being singled out as superhuman or otherworldy can play havoc with self-esteem, whether you deserve the accolades or not. Probably even more so if you don’t deserve them.

What I’ve come to understand through Kent’s book and my own observations is that artistic genius seems to go hand-in-hand with some conflicted self-image issues, meaning vanity and ego mixed with insecurity and self-doubt. This superiority/inferiority complex creates a neverending cycle of self-love and self-hate that ultimately causes a seemingly incomprehensible self-destruction: “normal” people can’t understand why people who have it all – beauty, talent, success – would want to keep harming themselves and testing their limitations, often perishing in the process. Yet we all watch it like a trainwreck and pore over their life stories like scholars of the doomed. We want to put all of our hopes and insecurities onto one magical person that acts like some totem for the extremities of the human condition – someone who is more than we could ever be, someone who has the ability to tap into something beyond us. We, as humans, love myths and can’t stop creating them, and so we continue to do so in the 20th and 21st centuries – these rock stars become our Greek gods and goddesses, Robin Hoods, and Gilgameshes. Their stories become both legend and parable.

Unlike the subjects of Nick Kent’s book, no one knows what happened to Richey Edwards – he didn’t overdose and die, he didn’t blow his face off with a shotgun, he didn’t take too much acid and end up languishing in his mother’s house, he didn’t live through trial after trial to a ripe old age of self-reflection and redemption, nor did he continue on making art, mediocre and sometimes brilliant, until a natural death. He just went missing. In many ways, he trumps them all because his genius even manifests itself in his exit. Without a body, Richey Edwards becomes both immortal and incorruptible. And like King Arthur and so many other messianic figures, he always has that potential of returning when his followers need him most.

Self-disgust is self-obsession, honey, and I do as I please. – Faster, Manic Street Preachers

Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse. – 4st 7lb, Manic Street Preachers

Paint It Black – The Rolling Stones

Archives of Pain – Manic Street Preachers


4 Responses to “The Dark Stuff: Why Do We Love It So Much?”

  1. 1 dickvandyke
    October 16, 2008 at 6:51 pm


    Smashing writing. As someone who takes the ‘Black Dog’ for a walk occasionally, I can empathise with all this.

  2. 2 Urban Gypsy
    October 17, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Beautiful and brilliant! What a pleasure to read your writing! Thanks for the tip about the book, I ordered it immediately and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it :)

  3. 3 JC
    October 18, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Its a book I also enjoyed….and as DVD says, what you’ve said is a tremendous bit of writing (but hey, after many months visiting here, that’s no surprise).

    “This superiority/inferiority complex creates a neverending cycle of self-love and self-hate that ultimately causes a seemingly incomphrensible self-destruction”

    I’m not arguing that happens some of the time. There’s also others not mentioned by Nick Kent, and in particular I’m thinking of Billy Mackenzie.

    But thankfully, there’s plenty of geniuses who border on mad but dont resort to self-harm – Prince, Morrissey. Mark E Smith and Bill Drummond all spring to mind as being a bit barmy but no danger to themselves.

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


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Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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