Anatomies of Influence

‘By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘[A]ny text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another.’ – Julia Kristeva

‘I don’t think people believe I read books.’ – Richey Edwards

During his final tour with Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards would typically decorate the setlist for each concert, adding hand drawn circles and a quote, in keeping with the band’s tendency from the beginning to adorn all their single and album artwork with excerpts from their reading – sparks of inspiration, connecting the dots between the ideas and themes that engaged them, and those that preoccupied other writers, living and dead.

Detail from concert setlist, Newcastle University, 6/10/1994. Original photograph by Mitch Ikeda.

The sheet Edwards prepared for a concert in Newcastle in October 1994, which was photographed by the band’s longtime collaborator Mitch Ikeda and which is reproduced in the book Forever Delayed, features a quote attributed to the US poet Marianne Moore:

‘Real toads invade the imaginary gardens.’

Only, Moore did not write this, exactly. It is, rather, an allusion to one of Moore’s most famous lines, from a version of her poem titled simply ‘Poetry’, in which she suggests ‘for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them.’

Edwards was evidently reading RD Laing’s The Divided Self (1960) at the time. It is Laing’s reference to Moore’s poem – which appears in passing during a discussion of the schizoid individual’s retreat into ‘phantasy’ – that Edwards is quoting word for word. [1] Edwards might never have gotten around to reading Moore’s work prior to his disappearance in 1995. But a closer study of the ways in which she constructed her poems, and her use of quotation in particular, reveals a similarity between her approach and that of Edwards, especially on The Holy Bible. It is helpful in extending the critical analysis of the record beyond what are limited, even if useful, literary reference points.

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The most obvious text for comparison with The Holy Bible is the Christian holy book. Withholding from quoting verses from the Bible itself on the record (though these, too, would appear on certain setlists during the autumn 1994 tour), Edwards specifically referred to the idea of the holy book in any religion as supposedly expressing “the truth… about the way the world is” as part of the reasoning for the choice of title. [2] The lyrics are full of biblical words and there is one mention of ‘Leviticus’ but the original idea of the album as a response to the Ten Commandments for the modern age seems barely to have been articulated beyond the first song (‘Solitude, solitude the eleventh commandment’). [3] The lyrics co-written by Edwards and Nicky Wire, and the selection of accompanying images to illustrate the album booklet, have been compared to the illustrated manuscripts of the medieval era by academic Daniel Lukes, who likewise studies the album as a collection of texts, like the Bible, or rather more provocatively as an ‘anti- or para-bible’… [a] desacralized book of songs; book of books.’ [4] Lukes is referring specifically to the multiplicity of literary sources that can be identified across the album, not only in the words but in the samples and the sleeve design.

But Lukes’ description of the album as a ‘collage of jarring and disjointed fragments’ is equally pertinent and guides the listener-reader towards a fuller recognition of the style of The Holy Bible, and indeed Manic Street Preachers’ entire artistic output. This collage, or cut-up, aesthetic can be understood to derive most directly from the punk, Situationist and Beat influences on the band, but also indirectly from modernist literature beforehand and the emergence of combinatory, disruptive techniques in visual art from the early twentieth century. Key to this collage style is the use of quotation, perhaps most famously expressed in the band’s first single following The Holy Bible: ‘Libraries gave us power.’ But the canonical, the literature of the past, of the archives, are not the only materials that shape the record’s language.

Lukes follows the second most tempting lead in discussing the album’s literary precursors, that most iconic of modernist poems, The Waste Land by TS Eliot – which suggests itself as a point of comparison for its multiplicity of voices, its non-English phrases, its heteroglossia; its themes of despair and aridity; its religious images, and also the use it makes of Eastern philosophy; its inclusion of demotic speech; of high and low culture alike. Lukes’ chapter in the co-authored Triptych is titled, ‘Fragments Against Ruin: The Books of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible’. Eliot’s poem is listed among ‘Richey’s Favourite Books’, which has circulated on the internet for many years. [5] One line in ‘Of Walking Abortion’ even seems to contain an allusion to Eliot’s language (‘Fragments of uniforms, open black ruins…). [6]

Eliot drew on Dante, Shakespeare, The Bible, Ovid and St Augustine in composing the poem but crucially included non-canonical writers, as his notes to The Waste Land explain (and mislead). Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible offers its own mix of the canonical and non-canonical as far as literature is concerned: JG Ballard, Hubert Selby Jr, George Orwell, Octave Mirbeau, a Buddhist text. But it is narrowing to consider The Holy Bible as mainly a product of high, or even acceptably subversive, literature. Its source references range much wider.

If we follow the idea of ‘Faster’ in particular as a song about ‘the regurgitation of 20th Century culture, and the way that everything’s speeded up’, we can also consider The Holy Bible as a whole as a proto-hypertext; ‘it anticipates,’ as Lukes says ‘the Internet’s encyclopaedic tendencies’. Richey Edwards in particular had a remarkable, voracious appetite for knowledge and information about history, politics and literature that he worked into the lyrics on the album – something it is easy to downplay in a contemporary digital culture that operates reflexively on interlinking, interruption, the juxtaposition of vastly different materials and viewpoints. But in writing positively of Edwards’ openness when it comes to referencing, in comparison to Eliot’s more elitist tendencies, Lukes is not entirely correct in asserting that The Holy Bible ‘shares its sources’.

Beyond the literary references within The Holy Bible’s lyrics and artwork there are audible fragments too, which also range widely in their origin, beyond author interviews, to documentaries, feature films (albeit connected with literature) and news excerpts taped from the television. This is not to forget the careful selection and placement of images in the art design for The Holy Bible. Reading many articles about the album, one can only presume that the writers have not bothered to look at the booklet and consider why Richey Edwards chose certain pictures to accompany the printed lyrics. And by James Dean Bradfield’s own admission, each song seems to have its own, sometimes multiple, musical reference points. Collage is key to the identity and texture of the record. But even restricting the focus to the variety of language, and textual sources will show the heterogeneous materials interwoven in the lyrics.

Another academic, Elizabeth Gregory, unwittingly offers a useful way of looking at The Holy Bible in relation to those two obvious literary predecessors. Not only does Gregory link all quotation in modernist poetry to its origin in scriptural quotation but also compares Eliot’s extensive use of quotation in The Waste Land with that of his contemporaries William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore. Gregory describes what she sees as varying ‘anatomies of influence’ at work in these poets’ work and also describes the stylistic device of quotation in terms of ‘ingestion’, that most fitting of metaphors for writing on and about The Holy Bible. (The more recent idea of the ‘media feed’, in connection with identity, vanity, depression and politics being another.) [7] The connections between Marianne Moore’s approach to quotation and Richey Edwards’ are as illuminating as those drawn between Edwards and Eliot.

Marianne Moore 25c commemorative stamp, issued 18 April 1990 (USA)

Eliot admired Moore’s work and published her Selected Poems under the Faber & Faber imprint in 1935. Her poetry is notable not only for the sheer volume of quotations it contains but for the unusual sources which it encompasses, which Gregory summarises as:

‘popular magazine and newspaper articles, advertisements, lectures, conversation, critical texts, TV shows, mottos, natural history books, and so forth. The mixture of “authorities” on which the poems build suggests that ephemera and standardly unauthoritative texts may claim a new importance as acknowledged sources of poetic inspiration and authority.’

Richey Edwards was struck not only by lines he came across in the twentieth-century fiction he read. Like Moore before him, he weaves into the lyrics of The Holy Bible phrases taken verbatim from newspaper reports, political articles, conversation and that long-dismissed area of literature: comic books. The latter is most famously manifested in the quote ‘Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave’, catchphrase of the character of Torquemada, from Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s 2000AD series Nemesis the Warlock which appears in ‘PCP’ – and used again in 2019 as the title of the concert film documenting the 20th anniversary Holy Bible tour. The band had previously adapted the line ‘I must see my reflection to prove I still exist’ from Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth on the track ‘Drug Drug Druggy’ (Gold Against the Soul) and it is possible that Neil Gaiman had some influence on the opening lines of ‘Yes’. [8] Edwards would continue in this multimedia style with his final lyrics, which appear on Journal for Plague Lovers – ‘Marlon JD’, for example, almost entirely comprising descriptions of scenes, and dialogue, from John Huston’s 1967 film adaptation of the Carson McCullers novel Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Detail from Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (DC Comics)

Marianne Moore would build her rigorous, syllabic lines – what she described as a ‘hybrid method of composition’ – with the aid of a vast array of source materials. [9] Another of her most significant poems, ‘An Octopus’, for example, lifts materials from the pamphlet of the park reserve at Mount Rainier – the landmark that forms the subject of the poem. Such traditionally ‘secondary’ materials as Moore refers readers to Eliot also works into The Waste Land (nursery rhyme, everyday speech) but only as a means to re-establish a sense of authority for ‘high’ literature, according to Gregory, who also links this turning away from the secondary with a turning away from that which is ‘feminine’. [10]

‘If you must write prose/poems

The words you use should be your own

Don’t plagiarise or take “on loan”

‘Cause there’s always someone, somewhere

With a big nose, who knows…’ (The Smiths, ‘Cemetery Gates’)

Eliot and Moore acknowledged their sources – though scrutiny of their respective notes does reveal obfuscations, possible deceptions, and conscious omissions. In addition to endnotes, Moore would place the relevant lines in speech marks. This citational impulse is not as readily present on The Holy Bible despite the literary acknowledgments that do appear. And yet the growing evidence of such borrowing does nothing to diminish the originality of Edwards’ writing. It connects him with yet another precursor, Alfred Lord Tennyson, many of whose extensive allusions went unacknowledged, left to generations of scholars to piece together. The collaging style was something of which Edwards was conscious from the early days of the band and which he also linked to the influence of newspapers and television:

‘We took the abortion language of the Sun and turned it to our own means. Anyone of our generation isn’t conditioned to think about one thing. You’re always flicking TV channels, always switching radio stations. For us to sit down and write a song about something would be so forced.’ [11]

The recurrent cut-ups, the quoting, extends beyond the sleeve and lyric lines, to song titles, taken from previously referenced texts (Valerie Solanas re: ‘Of Walking Abortion’) and even from chapter headers in books about writers (‘Archives of Pain’, taken from David Macey’s biography The Lives of Michel Foucault). It underlines the preference for the collage, or bricolage, aesthetic that the Manics have embraced since their Situationist-inspired first missives and manifestos, although many of the sources have been traced by fans, not offered by the band as signposts to follow.

Detail from Nemesis the Warlock Volume 2 (Rebellion)

And as conscientious as Edwards was in writing up and editing his lyrics there remains the possibility that some of the album’s allusions are the result of what Julia Kristeva – the literary theorist who introduced the term ‘intertextuality’ into the English language – calls ‘mnemic traces’, or memories. [12] Of interest, Lukes and another recent commentator of the album, David Evans, offer different possible sources for one of ‘4st 7lb’s most memorable lines, which is often judged as encapsulating Edwards’ power as a writer: ‘I wanna walk in the snow and not leave a footprint’. [13] Both suggestions refer us to authors Edwards read and admired: Hubert Selby Jr and Tennessee Williams. And both suggestions direct the listener to lesser known texts. Evans’ would seem to be the more convincing citation; more so, if we remember that Edwards wrote, in a feature article for Select magazine in February 1992, ‘Tennessee Williams as Bible’. [14]

Edwards was a keen visual artist too and it was through the medium of collage that he decorated the walls of his home (also photographed by Ikeda) and even his room at the recording studio during the production of Generation Terrorists. In describing the process of taking the images he had amassed down at the end of the sessions, Edwards remarked, in his seven-day diary for Select:

‘Rip down my bedroom wall. I don’t want to leave Keith, Johnny, Stalin, Flavor Flav, Axl, Liz Taylor to be as maggots. People are like maggots. Small, blind, worthless.’

So Edwards would quote himself,  it seems. But as Rhian E Jones has identified, Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law (and one-time friend of Ian Brady), David Smith, is the originator of the lines, which appear in a book on serial killers authored by Colin Wilson: ‘God is a superstition, a cancer that eats the brain / People are like maggots, small, blind and worthless.’ [15] An articulation of the type of dismissive, murderous judgement that, along with the image of Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo that illustrates the lyric to ‘Faster’ in the album booklet, would seem like dispersed counterpoints to the voice of ‘Archives of Pain’, and an indication of the record as a whole as an intertext that turns on itself. Real maggots invade the imaginary gardens.  

The source of Moore’s famous quote about gardens, toads and the imagination, indicated as having been borrowed by her characteristic use of speech marks, still has not been identified among the hundreds of citations provided by her, and others unearthed by avid archivists. Edwards’ writing, too, features the words of others, some of which have only recently been identified (see my essay on ‘Yes’ and forthcoming texts of A Manic Body Politic). There may be more to recognise.

The Holy Bible is characterised by its insistence on memory, and literary memory in particular – its last line, a sample from The Dresser, commanding the listener to remember the first words of King Lear – even as it forgets to note its own appropriations, and cannot finally recall the requisite Shakespeare. As if in response to the album itself, a few of the autumn 1994 setlists were adorned with lines from the Bard’s tragedy.

‘[A] good stealer is ipso-facto a good inventor,’ wrote Marianne Moore in her Notebooks. Only, Moore probably took the line from Samuel Butler, who wrote: ‘A good stealer, a good user of what he takes, is ipso facto a good inventor.’ [16]

The scholarly interest in identifying and confirming such wide-ranging references on The Holy Bible shows the album to be an even richer work lyrically than even many complimentary critics have given it credit for – but it ought not to supersede a more perceptive engagement with the way Richey Edwards’ and Nicky Wire’s choice of words, and the manner in which those words are sung by James Dean Bradfield and underscored by Sean Moore’s percussion, create their own web of emphases, repetitions and echoes that encapsulate the album’s character, its obsessions, its inner life.

Notes:

[1] Laing, R D The Divided Self (Penguin Books, 2010). Another quote from Laing’s book would appear on the following night’s setlist that autumn: ‘The truth is past all commiseration – Maxim Gorky’, which forms the epigraph to chapter 11 in The Divided Self.

[2] Richey Edwards’ last television interview, available to view online (in poor quality) at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnJ5nkju0gQ. Better quality footage of this interview appears in No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers (2015, dir. Elizabeth Marcus).

[3] See Magnusson, Ulf ‘Holy Shit – It’s The Manics’, Kerrang, 6th August 1994. Accessed online at http://www.foreverdelayed.org.uk/msppedia/index.php?title=Holy_Shit_-_It%27s_The_Manics!_-_Kerrang,_6th_August_1994 (1 December 2019)

[4] Lukes, Daniel ‘Fragments Against Ruin: The Books of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible’ in Jones, Lukes, Wodtke Triptych (Repeater Books, 2017). All further quotes from Lukes are taken from the same book chapter.

[5] See ‘Richey’s Favourite Books’, http://www.richeyedwards.net/richeybooks.html

[6] More recently, Nicky Wire has adapted a line from the poem (‘The heap of broken images’) for the song ‘Broken Algorithms’, on the album Resistance Is Futile (2018). Perhaps a reading of Lukes’ text in turn prompted Wire to return to Eliot.

[7] Gregory, Elizabeth Quotation and Modern American Poetry: Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads (Rice University Press, 1996). Gregory writes, ‘Though the borrowing of the words of others has a history that extends back at least as far as Plato, and no doubt an extensive prehistory as well, quotation was pivotally defined for modern use by Christian scriptural commentary and homily’. See also: Gregory’s comment on Eliot’s use of Ezekiel 2:1 in The Waste Land, ‘a clear image of quotation as ingestion of prior texts, and a nice figure for what goes on in The Waste Land…’ All further quotes from Gregory are taken from the same book.

[8] For evidence of Richey Edwards’ earlier transcription of lines from Morrison’s graphic novel, see the Japanese monograph Manic Street Preachers (Crossbeat Special Edition, 2018) which reproduces a handwritten page of extracts from Arkham Asylum. For the possible connection between Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and ‘Yes’, see my essay ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was “Yes”’.

[9] Quoted in Gregory, p.164

[10] While The Holy Bible’s depictions of femininity are deserving of more careful consideration than this brief text can offer, it is worth noting (following the terms of Gregory’s argument) the way in which Edwards is closer to Moore, a woman poet.

[11] Quoted in Jovanovic, Rob A Version of Reason: The Search for Richey Edwards (Orion Books, 2009)

[12] Kristeva, Julia Desire in Language (Columbia University Press, 1980)

[13] Lukes refers to Hubert Selby Jr’s short story ‘Song of the Silent Snow’ as the source of Edwards’ line. David Evans, however, points to the resemblance to part of the dialogue in Tennessee Williams’ Eccentricities of a Nightingale. See Evans, David The Holy Bible (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

[14] ‘Seven Days in the Life of Richie Edwards’, Select, February 1992. Accessed online at http://www.foreverdelayed.org.uk/msppedia/index.php?title=Seven_Days_In_The_Life_Of_Richie_Edwards_-_Select,_February_1992 (3 December 2019)

[15] Jones, Rhian E ‘Unwritten Diaries: History, Politics and Experience through The Holy Bible’ in Triptych

[16] Moore, as quoted by Leonard Diepeveen in Changing Voices: The Modern Quoting Poem (1993). See also Butler, Samuel Notebooks transcribed for the web at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/6173/6173-h/6173-h.htm

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