La Tristessa Durera (Scream To A Sigh) – Manic Street Preachers
…I retreat into self pity…it’s so easy….
The summer of 1993, West Hollywood. 132 N King’s Road just off the corner of Beverley Boulevard. About ten blocks from The Beverly Centre. Breakfast in Jans. A small circle of friends centred on David Fincher‘s gang – Chip & Carol, Paul Carafotes, Rachel Schadt, Marcie, Ron, David’s girlfriend Donya Fiorentina, and a few Brits : Anita Lewton and Suze Crowley in Venice, Bruce Payne in Beverly Hills and his girlfriend Nina Kraft and a revolving door of visitors that is the lifeblood of Hollywood, or at least some of the blood – British and Irish actors – Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, David Thewlis, Fiona Shaw, others whom I never met. It’s a strange bubble, hard to find the centre, and the beating heart of LA carries on with or without you. An indifferent city. But it is also the centre of the film industry, where people talk about films, go to see films, compare the opening weekends of film openings, where choosing what you’re going to see on a Friday night feels like it actually matters. I always liked that. Getting auditions and meetings at Paramount Pictures, at Universal, at Disney. Having a “drive-on” so you can park your car on the lot. You never want to take that for granted. I’d done my first truly Hollywood film in 1992 : Undercover Blues with Kathleen Turner and Denis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, Obba Babatunde and Stanley Tucci, (all shot in Louisiana while Jenny and I were on honeymoon).
But I’d had a “drive-on” for costume fittings and read-through at the MGM Studio Lot in Culver City at the time. By 1993 I was into a routine of regular meetings and auditions all over town. I can only remember one. Billy Hopkins, who’d cast Alien3, the very reason why we lived in Los Angeles, had asked me to come in and read for the part of Howard Payne in a new thriller being directed by Jan De Bont. Howard Payne was the bad guy. I did one of the best auditions of my stupid life, unpredictable, whispered, snarled, charming, bisexual and deadly. The following day one of my agents Jim Carnahan rang me to say they’d offered me the role. Whoop! My life – our life – turned around. But the etiquette – indeed the common sense – of show business – means that you do not talk about jobs, work, gigs until you’ve signed the contract. There are always quite a few days of negociating. And so we started, the number of days, weeks, the quote (per week), the dates, the costume fittings, the billing, the whole shebang. It did drag out. But no more than usual. Until the day 2 weeks after the audition when Jim rang me and told me that they’d just offered my part to Dennis Hopper. The film was called Speed. It also starred Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It was an unexpected hit. I would come across Billy Hopkins again a year later, but that’s another story, even worse than this one. This one wasn’t my fault. It was the glass ceiling of Hollywood.
The Manic Street Preachers had passed me by until their second album Gold Against The Soul, which everyone said wasn’t as good as their first. We played it a lot. Probably heard on Radio One whilst in England, but also likely to have been played on KCRW the Santa Monica College Radio Station that everyone in LA listens to. (All white bourgeouis I mean). There is a morning show called “Morning Becomes Eclectic” between 9 and 12am where you could hear almost anything white and groovy. Not much hip hop or Dance music. A little bit of groovy mexican music. Loads of English indie. Otherwise American Radio is totally segmented into genres – ROCK FM, GROOVE FM, COUNTRY FM, CHART FM. all with tons of commercials of in-un-ending banality. So KCRW’s gentle white supremacy became the least-worst ear-bashing of a morning.
James, Richey, Nicky, Sean in 1994
La Tristessa Durera is in an unknown Pyrenean language half-way between French and Spanish. Le Tristesse Durera means “the sadness continues” in French, and were the last words spoken by Vincent Van Gogh according to a letter written by his brother Theo. Vincent Van Gogh shot himself with a rifle near one of the cornfields which obsessed him toward the end of his life. Why Richey James translated Le Tristesse as La Tristessa we shall never know, (I suspect it’s just more poetic?) but there’s a lot we shall never know about Richey James Edwards. The song itself is lyrically brilliant, one of Richey’s best and concerns a war veteran who describes himself as “a relic, I am just a petrified cry – wheeled out once a year, a cenotaph souvenir…“
That a young writer could put themselves into the shoes of an old war veteran, singing “Life has been unfaithful…and it all promised oh so much” is a huge credit to a compassionate and disturbed individual who seemed to see through everything and everybody and only find the pain and hypocrisy, the torture and ugliness inside. He suffered from depression and self-harmed on a regular basis, also was reported to have suffered anorexia too. He wrote and spoke about all these issues with great humility and common sense. He would go on to write 80% of the lyrics to the next Manics LP “The Holy Bible” (1994) which is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man and a modern rock classic, and the following year in February 1995 Richey would disappear. Not quite without trace – his car was found near the Severn Bridge, with evidence that he’d been living in it. The outcry and column inches would last for years. He was finally pronounced missing presumed dead in 2008.
Richard James Edwards was born in Caerphilly in 1967 and went to school with all the other band members at Oakdale Comprehensive in Blackwood in the 1980s. He joined the Manic Street Preachers as a roadie in 1990 after securing a 2:1 in Political History at the University Of Wales, Swansea. His politics and poeticism helped to shape the Manics entire image, Nicky Wire playing bass also wrote lyrics, while James Dean Bradfield, guitarist and singer provided the music. With Sean Moore on drums they were a formidable live act but I did not get to see them until the late 90s as a three-piece.
They always had a visceral passion and anger which was grounded in punk rock, a militancy based on being from South Wales, so recently hammered by Thatcher in the miner’s strike (1982) and an intellectual and poetic analysis and understanding which came from Wire and Edwards’ voracious appetite for reading, whether it was Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud, Camus, Orwell or Mishima. They were my favourite band for a few years in there, they seemed to have their collective finger on my pulse. These were songs you would sing along with not necessarily understanding the exact meanings of the lines: “the applause nails down my silence” or my favourite line to spit out “I see liberals – I am just a fashion accessory…” but of course there he is referring literally to the use of war medals as badges on fashion catwalks. In the final verse our old soldier admits “I sold my medal – it paid a bill…“.
All of their songs have this deep disgust at life’s injustices at their core and their huge success is built on being able to articulate the fury of the intelligent left-over people of the world. Another song from this album “Life Becoming A Landslide” was also instrumental in my screenplay for New Year’s Day (see My Pop Life #75) which would actually begin with an avalanche, and also hopefully bottle some of those powerful feelings of disappointment at how life unfolds for each of us, and all of us…
Live at Glastonbury ’93 with Richie (turned up!)