i'm not going to bother writing much about Michael Jackson since everything there is to say in the entire world has already been said, except: there goes a man so huge that when he died, he broke the internet (for a bit). Needless to say hip-hop, for one, would be massively different without him, both in terms of the amount of people he literally introduced to music and the amount that borrowed a bit of his, as this dizzying – and still incomplete ("where's The Tamperer feat. Maya?" frets Action Andy) – sample map demonstrates. Here's Large Pro juggling "Human Nature" on the closer to Nas' own classic ' Illmatic, and another prematurely deceased talent in the form of J Dilla cutting up The Jacksons' "All I Do is Think of You".
mp3: Nas — "It Ain't Hard to Tell"
mp3: J Dilla — "Time: the Donut of the Heart"
mp3: MJ tribute mix by DJ Premier
Anyway. No. The main point of this post was/is to pour a little liquor out on the digital kerb for Steven Wells, a name known by a lot fewer people than that of Michael Jackson, but in his own way, a pretty influential guy himself. Ubiquitously known as Swells, he was the NME's Last Good Hack, a legendary byline name whose work could consistently be relied on to inspire fury, paroxysms of laughter, or a reaction located precisely between the two, as he spewed his characteristic CAPS-LOCK-AND-LOTS-OF-EXCLAMATION-MARKS-ATTACK-ATTACK!!! vitriol all over students, vegetarians, right-wingers, pompous musicians, shit bands, sell-outs, whiners, homophobes, affluent self-pitiers, wankers, Daily Mail readers, and anyone else that failed to meet his exacting standards. His writing was a frantic and hilarious intravenous caffeine drip of expletives, neologisms and hyperactive sincerity, and he would never settle for sub-par musical pabulum just because it was the only thing around, no matter how often the editorial policy of the publications he wrote for dictated exactly that.
i stopped reading the NME when there was no longer anything in it whose unworthiness didn't make me really cross (around the post-Strokes "every band will play ball-achingly tedious contrived retrogressive garage-rock crap and be called "The Somethings" wilderness), so i didn't know Swells was ill until very recently, and i didn't know he'd died until i saw it on Wikipedia's "Deaths in 2009" page (some pseudonymous fuckbag subsequently tried to get the article deleted as non-notable because they couldn't bothered doing a single iota of basic fucking research, an attempt which was met with the contempt it deserved, though if i'd known about it while the discussion was active i would almost certainly now be banned from Wikipedia).
It was shocking and unfair to me to conceive of such a force of nature being laid low so young by a horrible disease. The same is broadly true of MJ – he was 50, Swells, 49 – but while Mike arguably hadn't really made any good music for the last 15 years, Swells was on top form up until virtually the day he passed. The names attached to tributes in the comment section of his last column in the Philadelphia Weekly — a column which, a day prior to Jackson's own death, ended a career in music writing spectacularly with the line "Me? I blame it on sunshine. I blame it on the moonlight. I blame it on the boogie." — tell their own story. Writers and co-conspirators, both those who had written with him of old and those that say he also inspired them to want to become writers: the likes of David Quantick, Kitty Empire, Everett True, Mary Anne Hobbs, Steve Sutherland, Mark Beaumont, Tommy Udo, Dominik Diamond, Stuart Bailie, Alex Needham, Cath Carroll, James McMahon, Alexis Petridis, Hardeep Phull, Ben Myers, and current NEM editor Conor McNicholas all pay tribute. Musicians, too: Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant probably being the most famous, but also his former flatmate Jon Langford, Peter Hooton from The Farm, Swells favourites Napalm Death, Gold Blade's John Robb, old-time stage-sharer Attila the Stockbroker, Clint Mansell and Daniel Wylie. Gareth from Los Campesinos!, a band Swells loved to rip to shreds in his print, also posted a truly classy tribute on their blog. And Everett True has compiled a pretty much exhaustive list at his own blog.
Swells wrote his absolute arse off, and to a pissed-off, disaffected 14-year-old music obsessive he was often the coolest writer in the world. It was only in reading the samples of his work quoted back in tributes that i realised how much of my own style i've bitten/inherited from him. i'd seriously file him alongside the likes of Brautigan, Bukowski and Lester Bangs in the group of people that instantly made me want to write when i read them.
The only song i can think in which Steven turns up (and i didn't even think of it, to be honest; that was Will from Explainin' the Cosmos, ta Will) is Helen Love's "Long Live the UK Music Scene": "Johnny Cigarettes and Steven Wells – don't get upset, your paper will still sell". i was never quite sure what the band meant by this line, but perhaps that's fitting for a man who embodied "Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong. Always certain".
mp3: Helen Love — "Long Live the UK Music Scene"
Sleep well, mate, and thanks for everything.
Poem i stole from the comments of his last Weekly piece:
“i'd die fo' me country
says a patriotic dickhead
well go ahead
you make me sick
slash your wrists and slash the statistics
'the number unemployed fell today
200,000 bled away
then they were stripped cold naked
shaved their heads
stopped the thrashing of severed nerve endings
by boiling the buggers in sterilised lead
stacked them by bunkers in dumb grey ranks
introducing the human sandbag
a major donation to the nation's salvation
the sandbag that rots
and absorbs radiation'
this depression won't fade away
it'll trickle in streams
down blood clotted drains