Novelist, Journalist, Brutalist? Ben Myers is probably best described as a writer, and a damn good one at that. His latest novel ‘Richard’, published by Picador, is a work of fiction that looks at the final days of Richey Edwards. Ben kindly took some time to answer our 13 Questions.
HST:I first read your writing when I was an avid reader of Kerrang Magazine. Back in those days I worshipped the writings of Lester Bangs, and one day I too wanted to become a music journalist. The likes of you, Dom Lawson and Stevie Chick brought the music to life for me, with great gig descriptions and on the road accounts. Jesus, I must have brought dozens of albums purely because they got the five ‘K’s’. Music Journalism is a lot different now, for one thing the word of the Music Journo has a lot less power and influence then it once did, what are your thoughts on the current state of Music Journalism?
Thanks for the kinds words. It might sound odd but I don’t really think about ‘the state of music journalism’ that much. Magazines always seems to come and go, and so do websites – – and bands and journalists, come to think of it – but all that really matters is a) the music and b) the writing. Everything is in flux, all the time. It might not appear that way, but it is. No magazine stays the same for more than three or four years and the mistakes the music or publishing worlds seem make is that there is a tried and tested way of doing things. But to me just means things become stagnant and conservative – whether in music or magazines or websites or literature. Culture should never be static – it’s amorphous and the best bands, writers, film makers, poets, artists or creators of any kind should be able to adapt to that. By extension, journalists should be able to report, comment upon or document whatever is happening. Because a journalist or critic really is only a custodian of cultural history. If they think they’re anything else, then they’re deluded…
HST:‘Richard’ is a fictionalized account of the final days of Richey Edwards. Richey like Sid Vicious had next to no ability as a musician, yet arguably he was the most captivating component of his band. Both provided the danger, the embodiment of rock and roll and an enigmatic, alluring quality that transcended the music of their respective bands. Meg White too, is significantly less talented than Jack White, but made the White Stripes interesting just by being in that band. Is musical talent overrated in an industry that runs on the power of image?
I’m afraid I’d completely disagree with your Sid Vicious comparison – John Lydon was always the captivating one in the Pistols for me. He had brains, ideas and charisma – and a really under-rated, powerful voice – whereas Sid Vicious was some plank along for the ride. First a playful plank, then later a plank on smack. I don’t think Richey Edwards was like of either them really, though obviously his musical ability was limited. I actually think Meg White is a great drummer too. God knows I’ve seen and heard enough macho homo sapiens with 32-piece drum kits wanking their way through drum solos. A good drummer probably only needs a snare and a hi-hat. But, yes, musical proficiency certainly isn’t always needed to become a rock star though I think a little ability probably helps, otherwise everyone would be at it…even journalists…and we couldn’t have that. Christ no.
HST:Going beyond the myth, was Edwards’s in essence just a young man who got himself in a situation that he was unable to cope with, in a sense was Richey Edwards actually a reluctant rock star?
No, I think he very much wanted to be a rock star – look at all his iconoclastic quotes, his symbiotic relationship with the press and the keen attention to detail in cultivating the band’s image. I think he had some problems, which would have been there whether he had been in the band or not. I don’t necessarily think being a musician in a band was his undoing, though it is not a particularly healthy, balanced way of living so it surely took its toll, physically and mentally. That’s my amateur, sofa-psychologist’s assessment, anyway…
HST:Edwards’s car was found abandoned with a tape of ‘In Utero’ inside the tape deck. For me ‘In Utero’ is the release that best showcases Nirvana, it is their masterpiece. When writing ‘Richard’ did you spend much time listening to ‘In Utero’? What are your thoughts on that album?
I did listen to it, yes. I think it was a good album for Nirvana to make at the time: noisy, abrasive and deliberately non-mainstream. It probably turned on a lot of people to a lot of new things. But then I don’t think Nirvana ever made any records intended to be mainstream. That’s possibly why they are so admired. That’s why I liked them at the time anyway; they were a band who slipped through the net and onto the radio. It’s probably a good job they split up when they did though otherwise they might have turned into Pearl Jam. Awful.
HST:Why did you choose to include the Hamlet Quotes in ‘Richard’?
I saw comparisons between the character of Hamlet and the life of Richey Edwards; two men weighed down by the expectation of others, but also their own self-created burdens too. It’s my favourite Shakespeare play and when I re-read it certain quotes jumped out at me, as if they could have been referring to Richey. ‘Richard’ was never a music biography, so it felt OK to veer towards more literary pretentions with it – like quoting Shakespeare, which always come across as pretentious…but that’s no reason not to do something.
HST:Could you draw a parallel between Metallica and the Manic Street Preachers, in that their sound, their whole band ethos was forever changed by the loss of a key member, to the point that outside of their name, they became completely different bands?
No, I don’t think so. Haven’t Metallica just been a bunch of moaning multi-millionaires completely out of touch with reality for about two decades now? I never listen to the Manics these days, but I’ll still read their interviews because they at least have something to say.
HST:I’ve heard whispers about a possible movie adaptation of ‘Richard’, in the right hands could this be a project as successful and artfully directed as Anton Corbijn’s ‘Control’?
There’s certainly been conversation and discussions about turning the book into a film. But such a project would have to be even more carefully handled and considered than the writing of the book was. I have some ideas as to how such an adaptation could be but I’m no film-maker and I know that the writers have very little say so I’m very protective of the whole idea. I foresee it as being a small budget, quiet art-house film – and these are words that no film producers or financiers ever like to hear….
HST:You’re an avid walker, a psychogeographer perhaps. How does the experience urban exploration differ from a rural hike, how does the environment affect your thoughts when you are walking?
I lived in London and loved to walk and now I live in the countryside and love do the same. When you walk you connect with your surroundings in a way that you don’t when you’re behind a wheel or on a train. Your body and mind find a rhythm which can be very liberating, I think. It’s nice to sweat and get out of breath. It’s nice to climb up above everything and look down upon it from a distance. As you walk you take it all in and you can see the remnants of the living history around you, which I find fascinating: abandoned buildings, animal bones, rusting machinery, faded beer cans from the 1980s, old shopping signs, crashed cars, animal runs. You also see dramas being plays out – human dramas and the drama of the natural world – plus you observe changing weather, you hear sirens and birdsong. When I walk I feel alive and part of something big and noisy and dirty and evolving…..
HST:In another interview you mentioned that you found Darby Crash from the Germs a fascinating figure, have you read ‘Lexicon devil’? It’s written as an oral biography. I’ve always felt that this is the best way of recounting tall stories about exaggerated characters. Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ is the perfect example of this. Do you enjoy reading oral biographies?
If they’re good stories and well compiled, yes I do. Lexicon Devil is fascinating because it documents a particular milieu: that of disaffected, disenfranchised Californian kids at the dawn of the Reagan era, set against a backdrop of Los Angeles with all its fake-spiritual, post-hippy, drug-guzzling, sexually deviant punk stylings. It’s a story of dreams, drugs, manipulation, exploitation, nihilism and youth. It’s dark and fucked up, but also quite playful and fun too. The Dirt was just very silly, but silly is good too. Motley Crue in their prime reminded me of US troops marauding through Vietnam, indiscriminately consuming, fucking and/or destroying everything in their paths. They’re not the brightest individuals, the Crue….
HST:As a fisherman, tell me, what is your finest catch? And also, where is your favourite fishing spot?
I’ve only fished once or twice in the past couple of years because I feel a lot of guilt about hurting or killing any fish that I’m not going to eat. It makes me no better than a fox huntsman. It just feels too gratuitous at the moment. But as any fisherman knows, you never share your favourite spots…
HST:I’ve noticed that you’ve posted a few things about Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Are these kids the next Wu Tang Clan or merely a bunch of young hip hop heads making music and having a good time, who have inadvertently got caught up in a whirlwind of hype?
I just think they’re a really exciting new collective of musicians and MCs who are taking hip-hop back to what it should be: raw, controversial, provocative, young, energetic, fun. They’re skate kids who I think have as much in common with a band like Bad Brains as they do Wu Tang Clan – two bands who I also love. So they’re certainly more exciting than…I don’t know…the Arctic Monkeys or The Strokes and all those other bands who look like they would rather be shovelling shit for a living than getting paid a million pounds for 90 minutes work headlining festivals. Odd Future’s whole approach seems pretty punk rock in that their ‘career’ so far has happened completely away from the music business, without anyone’s permission, and without following any tedious conventions. There’s no clichéd bling or gun talk in their music either and Tyler, The Creator – their most recognisable member – seems like a really smart, sussed guy who will do exactly what he wants to do. In a couple of years they’ve given over 200 songs away for free. Their beats are stolen from elsewhere, their lyrics are wilfully non-PC and it seems just don’t seem to give a fuck about what anyone thinks. I think that’s always generally a good thing.
HST:Are many bands nowadays missing out on the harsh musical apprenticeship that came within the frame of the old music industry? Whereby a band would practice for a few years, save up cash and lay down an EP or an album in a proper studio, and then tour for a while, earning their chops the hard way. Now, it seems plausible that a group of mates could in a 48 hour period record a few tracks on their laptop, upload them somewhere and before you know they might become the flavour of the week. Is our hunger for new music, diluting quality, meaning the cream is no longer rising to the top, but struggling to survive in the overpopulated shark tank?
Music is probably at a better place than ever; good stuff generally gets heard. In fact, it’s far easier for talent to be heard worldwide now than ever before. Lo-fi and DIY culture is bigger than ever. I think the whole idea of ‘paying your dues’ is archaic: the kid who has spent five years in clubs and at home learning programming in order to create, say, new dubstep sounds has paid his dues. The only real major change has been the loss of power within the major record labels, which are floundering somewhat or only singing artists with talent who they can develop the hell out of for a few years, then make millions from. Adele would be a good example of this. None of the bigger labels want to hedge their bets on the new Razorlight – and why would they? I mean, how many guitar bands have sold a lot in the past two or three years? Hardly any. Because all the good bands have modest sales and are already signed to the cool little labels.
I’ve sat in meetings at major record labels and once got a band that I managed signed to Sony and the whole experience was utterly depressing. All they ever wanted to do was drink expensive fizzy water and have meeting after meeting. Each meeting I had cost me the best part of a day in which everyone involved could have been doing something productive. 100 page contracts? Expensive videos? Being seen in the right places? Fuck off. It’s not 1995 anymore. (Footnote: the band were dropped before their album was even released) So I think guitar bands have to do their own thing if they want to ‘make it’ – be exciting, be new, don’t be a bunch of predictable cunts, because a predictable indie band who think they’re doing something original is much more worthless than the boy band or packed pop star. At least with boy bands, what you see is what you get. There’s a sort of vacuous honesty there. I hope I don’t sound cranky or bitter – I’m not at all: I’m as excited as music as ever, but my tolerance for bullshit is low because I feel like ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ is a played-out notion. When I think of ‘rock n’ roll’ I think about Top Man mannequins in skinny jeans and straw trilby’s.
HST:I was in a café the other day sipping some OJ and eating a Tuna Salad Sandwich. Next door to me sat a pretty dolly bird in a floral dress. She looked a bit like Zooey Deschanel. She was reading something on a kindle, yet the glare of the bright April sun that was coming through the window affected her ability to read the screen. I kept thinking that it would’ve been easier to read a paperback book rather than carry that stupid gadget around. What are your thoughts on eReaders?
I think a pair of sunglasses would solve this problem. Wayfarers maybe. Or imitation Ray Bans.