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 really rattled and angered Self. 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. 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. Such differences never stopped us working together. Swells brought me in as an extra on some of his GobTV/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.
Steven Wells born Swindon (England) 1960, spent much of his childhood in Bradford (England) and moved to London (England) as an adult, died from cancer Philadelphia (USA) 23 June 2009.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!