ESSAY Rachel Trezise

NWR Issue 99

Alright, Cocker?

It has been a publisher’s predilection, on occasion, to release limited edition music-related books, coffee-table tomes packed with accomplished photography or artwork à la Radiohead’s Dead Children Playing: A Picture Book by Stanley Donwood and Dr Tchock, or Pennie Smith’s photographs, The Clash: Before & After. They are not standard rock star autobiography/ biographies, though they also remain ever popular, but curios for a more discerning aficionado, ranging in price from twenty to two thousand pounds; music memorabilia for the thinking fan. As readers turn in ever larger numbers towards e-books and the future of the paperback becomes less certain, one assured way of keeping bibliophiles hooked is by beautifully produced hardbacks about crowd-pleasing topics – subjects that specific readers are already passionate about. Enter Death of a Polaroid: A Manics Family Album by Nicky Wire, and Mother, Lover, Brother: Selected Lyrics by Jarvis Cocker, two highly anticipated titles from the department of music, stage and screen at Faber & Faber.

At first glance Death of a Polaroid: A Manics Family Album is a lovely thing: a sturdy, outsize volume with an attractive baby-pink cover. The end paper and flyleaf is a tough, reflective silver, appropriate protection from grungy fingerprints. The first batch of Polaroids are test shots taken at the beginning of magazine shoots spanning the Manic Street Preachers’ career, including the famed NME cover by Kevin Cummins: Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards draped in leopard-print and love-bites. The photographs are cleanly allocated, one or two to a page. Then, at the subsequent section (there are seven altogether), it quickly becomes evident that the book is simply not going to live up to its promise of being ‘a rich, visual biography of one of the most loved and iconoclastic British bands of the past two decades.’ That would mean it would have to contain photographic evidence of the band’s many trials and tribulations. Former pupils at Blackwood Comprehensive School, the Manics were a quartet before the disappearance (now presumed death) of Richey Edwards in 1995. Later they attracted commercial success and reached number one in 1998 with their fourth album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. They were the first major Western band to play a live concert in Cuba, witnessed by Fidel Castro from his seat at the Karl Max auditorium in Havana. However, a third of the total images are random, albeit scenic photographs, of snow, clouds, fields, motorways, sunsets, beaches, discarded household items, the 1998 Christmas decorations in Sheffield city centre – apparently anything but the band. The most biographical element here is the notes scrawled by Mitch Ikeda (the band’s official photographer) at the foot of each image. Under a plain-looking white house, a factory smokestack in the background: ‘12th MAR ’99, 3:21 P.M. DRESDEN’, or a sepia-toned mackerel sky: ‘31st JAN ’99, 1:15 P.M. BLUE SKY (PERTH)’. Though the Polaroids are reportedly from Wire’s personal collection, most of them were taken by Ikeda, and many of them have been further distorted by Ikeda’s biro and scratch markings. As any Polaroid enthusiast is keen to inform, the charm of such an image stems from the limitations of the format...

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