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You always remember the music you grow up on, but you aren’t always aware of its influence until later in life. As a kid sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car, I would beg her to turn on the radio, but I was stuck with her favourite band, Manic Street Preachers. It took years for me to realise the blessing in disguise growing up with their lyrics was.
My mom always stressed to me how intellectual the Manics’ lyrics were, but when you’re young, songs about deforestation policies or revolutionary leaders don’t exactly interest you. I was 12 when Send Away the Tigers came out and I read the lyric sheet for the first time. I still didn’t understand why she liked them so much, but I remember being able to answer who shot John F. Kennedy in school from a reference in one of their songs.
When I got to university, I felt lonely being in a new place, so I put on the albums that defined my youth. Despite having listened to Motorcycle Emptiness a million times before, it was like I was hearing them for the first time. Like many other first year students, I came to school more interested in the social aspects of university over spending my days at the library. I used to love reading and sharing books with my dad, but felt I didn’t have time anymore. Everything changed when the Manics became the soundtrack to my education.
One day, I randomly came across an interview with Richey Edwards about his time at university and how he detested students who constantly missed courses, emphasising that an education was a privilege and learning itself a pleasure. I felt intense feelings of guilt as I thought of all the people who would never get a chance to go to school and all of the support of my family. I knew I needed to make a change.
I became obsessed with becoming a great student not only for me, but for everyone who encouraged me. I began to sit in the front of my courses and I always had something to say whether it was about art history or American democracy. I studied the lyrics behind albums like Generation Terrorists and The Holy Bible and I could always find a reference from the courses I was taking somewhere between the lines. I developed an insatiable quest for knowledge and rekindled my passion for books. On top of my courses, I was voraciously reading Orwell, Camus, Dostoevsky, Kerouac and Plath on a daily basis. The Manics helped spark in me an unbreakable motivation to succeed and a burning ambition to be the best.
As I became more interested in the band, I was inspired by where they came from. Influenced by the miner’s strike and collapsing industry that surrounded their hometown in the Valleys, the Manics took the destruction that faced South Wales and threw it back as a new identity not only for the working class, but for their country as a whole. The only exposure I had to Wales was the small flag my mom kept as an homage to the band. When I went there for the first time, I was so in awe of the welcoming nature of the people who treated me not as a traveller, but like their long-time friend. Wales may have endured a difficult history and hold an uncertain future with Brexit, but it’s become one of my favourite places to visit because of the strength and optimism of its people. It wasn’t until I had experienced the dignity and kindness of the land myself that I realised the cultural importance of a song like A Design for Life.
It was the feeling I got from the Manics’ music that made me feel like I could change the world if I wanted to. They were never afraid to call out the apathy of generations today and helped give a name to some of history’s forgotten leaders from Paul Robeson to Primo Levi. They push their fans to do more, to work hard and be fearlessly individual. The Manics will always be a special part of my life and Richey always remembered for his intelligence, honesty, and everlasting inspiration. They never made it big in America, but they made their way to me, and I am so proud to say that my favourite band came from Wales.
Originally published by Buzz Magazine Wales on April 5, 2017