SWELLS! ATTACK!: Steven Wells's First and Last Column for Sound of the City

Categories: Featured, Goodbyes

About a year and a half ago, a pitch fell into my lap from Steven Wells, the infamous NME writer who'd been highly praised and enthusiastically recommended by a determined string of collegial forwards. ("Crazy, brilliant Brit," went one such thumbs-up.) Wells wanted to write a column for this blog jumping off from the recent news that NASA had just broadcasted the Beatles' "Across the Universe" in space and proposing instead that we transmit the video of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11" because it'd be better for our long-term extraterrestrial relations. I said yes anyway.

Steven Wells--NME writer, Philadelphia Weekly columnist, author of Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty--passed away yesterday from lymphatic cancer. The piece he wrote for us, posted February 20, 2008, is below in full.

steven.wells-phillyweekly.jpg
Steven Wells, courtesy of the Philadelphia Weekly

It's not bad enough that the first human beings any visiting aliens are likely to meet will be the 200,000-earth-dollars-a-pop passengers on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space charabanc. But now NASA has broadcasted the Beatles' "Across the Universe" into space.

"Amazing! Well done, NASA!" chortled Sir Paul McCartney. "Send my love to the aliens. All the best, Paul."

Others have quite properly pointed out that sending Sir Paul's love out into a universe possibly seething with resource-hungry galactic fascists is like sending Gandhi to negotiate with Genghis Khan.

If there is malevolent alien life, it will almost certainly use the broadcast to home in on our planet, having pegged us as pushover pacifists. Which is why we should send the video of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11" instead.

Hair, 'tude, facial fishnets, platform boots, kneepads, machine guns, missiles, exploding missiles, lady roadies with hair and platforms and machine guns. This video says, Our culture has distilled sex and death into the perfect commodity-rock-and-roll. (See also Halo, Sin City, 300 and our awesome shark-toothed jet-plane graveyards). Now Aliens, if this is what we do for fun, imagine what horrors we could inflict on your talking-squid asses should we choose to get serious.

Plus it's a better song--the perfect distillation of the young, dumb and full-of-cum let's-blow-shit-up, more-is-moreishness personified by the U.S. army dudes in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 who attacked Iraq with cranked up death-metal screeching out of the ear-buds secreted under their new German-style helmets.

Unfortunately, back in the '80s, the S.S.S. we-bring-rock-from-the-future shtick went down like a cup of cold sick with a generation of British pop kids dressed up in thrift-store dead-man suits and skanking to the fossilized ska pop of 2 Tone. An entire generation turned their back on Sputnik's future rock and embraced instead the defeatist, introspective, monocultural meanderings of passive-aggressive ponces the Smiths.

(Imagine how great modern alt-pop would be if the modernists had won out over the miserablists. And then weep.)

But I don't want to talk about that. I want to answer the question on every aging pop-kids' perma-sneering lip: Are Carbon/Silicon punk's Tin Machine? Or this millennium's Traveling Wilburys?

Oh God. I just watched the first five seconds of that last link and I'm still shuddering. Tony James, what happened to you, man? You were a punk visionary. Not only did you give us the blistering all-over-body herpes attack that was the exploding Day-Glo candyfloss-punk perfection of Generation X, but you then followed it up with Sputnik who were an amazing 300 years ahead of their time. (See also Betty Boo and Jesus Jones.) Which is why one of the comments on the YouTube page of Sputnik's "21st Century Boy" reads "dude i am an 21st century kid AND THIS SUCKS!!!!"

In effect the gonk-haired, face-netted, sten-gun-slinging Tony James of 1984--still seething with blind futuristic arrogance and reeking of hair-spray--has traveled 34 years into the cyber-future only to discover that the kids still aren't ready for him.

Even worse, the snarling future-space buccaneer Tony James has come face-to-face with stooped, graying, balding, amusing-anecdote-dribbling looks-like-a-geography-teacher 2008 Tony James. The 2008 Tony James who--far from trying to ram a dystopian hairdresser's version of the future down the throats of an amphetamine addicted post-punk record buying public--has formed a jolly cockernee NPR-friendly knees-up pub-rock combo with his old chum Mick Jones.

And thus, effectively, gone back in time to 1975. Where he'll no doubt bump into the Tony James of 1975, playing bass in the proto-punk band London SS.

This blog entry has no last paragraph. Scroll to the top and repeat.

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