As you may or may not have noticed, a Famous Person Has Died. Which leads, of course, to any number of questions for media-type folks. What priority should we give to the news of the Famous Person’s death? How long should we carry on, before the bulletins become, in effect, Famous Person: Still Dead? At what point might it be OK to mention the, y’know, icky stuff about the Famous Person? At what point do we unleash Uri Geller? Oh yeah, and what do we do about the economy and Iran and all that boring stuff?
Moreover, if a Famous Person Has Died, should that mean that other, slightly less famous people who die around the same time should get the same treatment. I know, you’re thinking of Farrah Fawcett. But I’m thinking of Steven Wells.
Steven Wells, aka Swells, Susan Williams and a few things less pleasant, was probably only truly Famous (that’s Jackson Famous, Farrah Famous) to those of us born between about 1960 and 1975, with a fondness for noisy music in which attitude trumped ability every time. He was a poet, novelist, film-maker, sports writer and political activist, but his Famousness derives from his long association with the New Musical Express, in which he lauded Napalm Death and Kylie Minogue, while pouring scorn on Morrissey, Radiohead and Belle & Sebastian (you know, the kind of acts that NME readers really like). To read his views was like voluntarily submitting oneself for re-education.
But his true genius was expressed not in his reviews or interviews, glorious as they could be, but on those magnificent occasions (once every six weeks or so, I reckon, although my memory could be playing silly buggers) when he was allowed to edit the NME letters page, known since forever was a toddler as ANGST. That was when the caps lock was taped down; that was when the adjectives and expletives and exclamation marks exploded around the page; that was when perfectly sensible letters from people who bought the paper and were entitled to their views were eviscerated in public for liking, I dunno, Aztec Camera or something. It was childish, it was cruel, and for a few thousand of us, it was the funniest thing we’d read until the next time.
But not funny…