Introductory notice: D.A. (or ‘David’) Manning is the rhythm guitarist, singer, and (presumably) main songwriter for the Sneaky Nixons. He formed the band with other students whilst studying at this university, and has been their chief mouthpiece ever since, championing their supposed brand of punk despite retaining an air of cold-eyed mystique and unapproachable ferocity. He bellows into a megaphone during the performance of certain songs, sets his guitar alight for all of five seconds upon the culmination of each set, and has adopted the stage name ‘Charlie’ for god knows whatever reason. He is, in short, a cultural oddity. This letter is addressed to the very same C-Bro (in a manner reminiscent of that pretentious rag known as The Times), but perhaps you will derive some pleasure from its perusal, or at least be inspired to listen to some Sneaky Nixons songs yourself. Either way, you will learn more about the musical phenomenon that is D.A. Manning, and even learn a little bit about the punk rock ethos in the process. Here’s hoping, anyway…let’s dig deep.
Sir, I first came to hear of you through word-of-mouth; fantastical stories of some crazy punk who sets his guitar on fire at the end of every gig and has been banned from almost all live music venues in Liverpool as a result. These whispered tales eventually connected themselves with the graffiti proclaiming ‘Sneaky Nixons’ which I saw scrawled across the city, from a bin in town to the rundown wasteland known to most as Smithdown Road. Apart from this formidable reputation, however, little else was known about you…that is, until we shared a module last academic year.
Contemporary Genres, as taught by the inimitable Rob Strachan, gave me the opportunity to hear your badass views first-hand, with lines such as ‘Biggie lived it’ (the life of a gangster, that is) being amongst my favourite pieces of classic cultural codswallop ever uttered by man and student alike. Your vicious attitude towards all kinds of music besides punk had me hooked, and I wished to know more about your Pretty Green-wearing persona.
Every time you spoke, some new witticism burst like a bolt of Newport lightning from the corners of your smirking mouth, declaring Iggy Pop to be ‘punk before punk’ in addition to extolling the virtues of wearing winklepickers. All squealed in the revolutionary breath of cockney cant. You became a hero to me partially because of these cartoonish qualities, all of which helped make you a walking, talking, anachronistic joke. Heroic in the sense that you represented the old world, a world of musical righteousness before the Age of the Hipster, a world in which your gospel was punk and nothing could shift you from your salient stance. Then I saw you perform.
Feverish anticipation gripping the crowd, you ambled on to the stage of the Zanzibar on Seel Street, plugging in your instrument of societal defiance before stepping up to the mic. All of the whispered tales, all the gossip, all the mind-numbing Contemporary Genres workshops where you cackled out your narrow-minded view of the musical world – it all came to nothing. The Sneaky Nixons had been too sneaky with their reputation. I was expecting some sort of Sex Pistols second coming, but what I got was a decent little rock band thrashing out love songs with pseudo-pretty melodies, a shadow of punk’s former self. But have the Sneaky Nixons ever been punk?
You sold me out, brother: your whole attitude to life was that of a rockstar in the most cavalier sense, but your music could never live up to the promises your mind spluttered out. You are not punk, and the fact that you proclaim yourself to be ‘punk’ surely means that you are anything but. There is no ideology in your songs, nothing to follow but perhaps a girl down by the riverside to talk about ‘love-love-love-love-love-love-love’ and thus drown in the spew of self-promotion your brain cooked up when you believed in the lie of music being ‘authentic’, meaning ‘punk’ in the truest sense.
The biggest joke of all is that I used to believe that as well; watching Amadeus and falling for the idealisation of the ‘troubled genius’; art for art’s sake; the poet in the garret who dies penniless for his art. Then I came to university and all of that was beaten out of me by pretentious dull lifeless dry academic pointless excruciating arguments of no importance whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. It is MUSIC, not something to be bled dry and analysed to within an inch of its life and anyway who the fuck cares whether something is truly punk or not but all I care is whether it moves me or gives me an emotional reaction. I don’t care what key it’s in or who plays it or what their background is but I’m sick of all this god-awful academia and thought that pigeonholes and categorises everything and turns us inside out and makes us feel dead inside because we are dead inside we are losing our feelings and emotions and it scares the hell out of me because where do we go from here I have no idea but I don’t want to know I don’t know what to do I don’t want to waste my life talking and talking and talking about things that don’t matter I just want everyone to be happy and get along and enjoy all music until the sun engulfs everything we’ve ever done so it becomes ash and dies in the hands of fate.
D.A. Manning, you will never live up to what I’ve always imagined you to be in my mind, but that’s okay. I admire what you stand for, and I think you’re like me. Music means the world to you. You have a child-like excitement about music which I’ll always remember, even though your band has never been as incredible as my overactive imagination would have me believe. Like me, you are serious. Like me, you have some sort of darkness within you. Like me, you would probably laugh at the pretentious disgrace of this piece of writing if you ever return to it in the future. The Sneaky Nixons have a place in this world, but it sure as hell isn’t at university, Liverpool, or anything to do with me. You belong in my heart as an idea; not as a person but for what you stand for. Precisely what you stand for is anyone’s guess, but your oddness at least kept us entertained in the bizarre limbo of university life. I’m rambling now, so I’ll wrap things up by quoting your own words of wisdom when I half-jokingly asked you for an autograph after one of your Zanzibar gigs: ‘fack off’!