Ben Myers - Richard Book Review
Every day people go missing. Some are found dead or alive weeks, months - sometimes not for years - later. Others never are: they have seemingly vanished into a void. One such was a young 27-year-old man who, on a winter's morning in February 1995, walked out of the hotel where he had been staying, drove back to his native Wales and was never seen again. Richard James Edwards, better known as Richey, and to his many fans as the guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, was legally declared dead on 23 November 2008.
Everything is predictable. I know how the story ends and it doesn't end happy. It just ends like a big black punctuation mark.
It is in Room 516 of London's Embassy Hotel that Ben Myers opens "Richard", a fictionalised account of the troubled short life of Richey Edwards. Alternating in style between first-person narrative and a 'devil-on-the-shoulder' second person voyeur casting an often mocking eye back over his past from early days to the present that have created the person who has now reached a point of decision, of no return, in this hotel room. Through both mediums we are taken on flashbacks to glimpses of Edwards' childhood, schooldays, friendships with Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and the forming of what was to become the Manic Street Preachers; then the inevitable touring, promotion, recording and interview demands. We are also drawn into the imagined, jumbled thoughts running through Edwards' mind in those last hours before he left the hotel that morning of February 1st before he was due to leave with the Manics for the US before he disappeared forever.
Just can't do it any more. None of it. Sorry.
Journalist and author Myers who never met Edwards, but admits to being a fan of the band has crafted together researched facts with a fictional construction, woven into a work that is both compelling and involving. The aim of writing the book Myers states was to "challenge the myth that history and hindsight have shaped" of a "doomed depressive" junkie with an eating disorder and a wont to self-harm; to show the many sides of Richey Edwards, "the light, the shade, the playfulness, the academic, the brother, the friend". Obviously, "Richard"; is not an autobiography, or indeed, a biography, but a work of fiction - with its roots in fact. We don't know, for example, what exactly was going on in Edwards' mind, but we do know that the real life character was one who in the preceding year before he disappeared, had been hospitalised on several occasions, and had slashed his chest with a set of knives during a tour in Thailand (as well as carving his forearm with the words '4Real' during what has now become the legendary NME interview of 1991) in one of his many acts of self-abuse. Edwards was indeed a troubled figure, as is laid out in '"Richard" all too starkly. Despite being in a band who were becoming more and more successful by the day, his self-condemnation was to lead to an escape into drugs, drink, casual sex and self-mutilation.
You are the withdrawn rock star. The tortured guy. That 'Richey Manic'. That dickhead.
"Richard" stands up well in its own right, without need of the reader being a fan of the subject, or knowing anything of the band themselves. Though fans will undoubtedly recognise the chapter headings such as "Bomb The Past", "Bored Out Of My Mind", "There Is No Choice", as being taken from the slogans that appeared on t-shirts worn by Edwards. That Myers has also produced poetry works is reflected in the tone and descriptive eloquence of the text that enhance the story with vivid depth as we travel with the voice of the man headed for a destination known only to himself.
So it has come to this? Yes. It has come to this.
What did happen to Richey Edwards? "Richard" offers no final conclusion. How could it? But one can't help but hold out a hope that somewhere in the world there is a man, approaching his 44th birthday, with now barely a trace of his Welsh background in his accent, living contentedly free of the pressure and self-loathing that beset his twenties. Maybe he might even get to hear about this book, even read it, and have a laugh and shed a tear or two for this forlorn "Richey Manic" character he once shared a life with. Who knows. Will we ever have an answer?
I take a deep breath, hold it, then exhale. My breath makes a sound. It sounds like music. The music sings. It says my name. It says, Richard.