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Swells RIP

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“To think of Martin Amis or Ian McEwan as dangerous or subversive is like saying that Phil Collins and Pink Floyd are the bad boys of rock.”

By Richard Marshall.

Steven Wells (1960-2009) was a serious man. Everything he thought and wrote and did was directed by a passionate ethical desire to point up the hypocrisies and stupidities of the world around him. He was a very warm, friendly and clever guy who was never short of an encouraging word to his friends and a devastating blast against those who would try and bugger up everything through greed, viciousness, selfishness and sheer deliberate stupidity. His satirical writing was wonderful, his targets always well chosen and his sheer energy and indefatigable strength an inspiration to all who knew him.

He encouraged me to write books which never in the end got published but boy did we have a good time putting them together. This was at the time he was getting his fantastic Attack! Books out, a publishing venture that is still for me one of the most daring and truly radical of its kind. Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty was his book in the series and the title alone has to count as one of the funniest in-your-face titles of all time.

He pissed a lot of people off but if he did then they deserved it. He was our times’s great blugeoner, a political fighter as sprightly and fast on the draw as any satirist working today. His wild imagination and deft muscular language worked like a great brain splattering club. Again and again he relentlessly went at it, straight and hard. He never sailed with the stream but developed a pugnacious disposition of battering-ram humour that often meant that even his friends might at times think him too much, too far. But he was to me one of the great resistors, resisting all fashions and easy opinions that carelessly dropped social justice from their concerns, a writer who continually pressed against received wisdoms, herd mentality and bullying populism. His field was popular culture – music and football in particular – and he pursued his egalitarian and democratic instincts into these arenas where such political values are more often than not drowned in the self-regarding idiocy of ego and unrestrained greed. He was so effective because he loved that culture, which meant that his satire was fused with a genuine sense of this love. His writings are some of the funniest and most brilliantly styled pieces of contemporary satire around and his exuberance and phlegmatic constitution is something we desperately need and which will be sorely missed.

On a personal note I remember him being very kind and supportive to me and being tremendous company. The last email I got from him only a few weeks ago was about the anthology Andrew Stevens had commissioned [Love Hotel City]. ‘I loved it’ he wrote. That kind of sums him up for me, a man with a devastating sense of humour and a trustworthy moral compass who was also incredibly supportive of those he liked. It’s like a force of nature just got removed. And I’m going to miss him badly.

Stewart Home adds:

This morning I received several emails about the death from cancer of Steven Wells. Swells was best known as a music hack and was the dominant figure at the New Musical Express for much of the eighties and nineties. While he was at the NME, Swells was always prepared to go out on a limb with an opinion to support off-beat bands and writers. It was Swells who penned the infamous quote about Will Self and me that both AK and Do-Not Press used as a blurb on my books:

Stewart Home’s sperm’n’blood-sodden scribblings make Will Self’s writings read like the self-indulgent dribblings of a sad Oxford junkie trying to sound hard.

This quote created an enormous amount of bad blood between Will Self and me. Swells knew exactly what he was doing; he wanted to help me find a larger audience and this soundbite created a big stir. And I wasn’t the only person Swells pushed in this way, he did it for a legion of people. He was very loyal and if he though what you did was worthwhile, extremely vocal in his attempts to create space for you in an overcrowded cultural arena. Swells wanted to make things happen, he wasn’t interested in passively reporting cultural and other news.

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. That didn’t stop us working together and being friends. Swells brought me in as an extra on some of his Pig Productions pop videos, and also put out ‘my’ novel Whips & Furs: My life as a bon-vivant, gambler and love rat ‘by’ Jesus H. Christ on his short lived Attack! Books (co-run with Tommy Udo).

Although Swells initially made his name as a poet, his real strength was as a stream-of-consciousness prose writer. His book Tits-Out Teenage Terror Totty is a sustained assault on the idea of what the novel should be, and it is stuffed with his crazy word play – brilliant turns of phrase like ‘a pol potpurri’. After his move from London to the USA, Swells was writing for the Philadelphia Weekly, and you can find his final piece of writing for them and links to other pieces by him HERE.

I’ll miss Swells, although recently my contact with him was mainly via the links he’d email me to his articles as they appeared. My thoughts are, of course, with his wife and family.

‘Morrissey Attack’ – by Steven Wells (from Love Hotel City)
‘Popular Culture at its Most Mental’ – the Attack! Books story
‘We’re brutal but brilliant’, Elizabeth Young

First posted: Thursday, June 25th, 2009.

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