Released on: Everything Must Go (Album #4) Epic Records, 20 May 1996
Also on: Kevin Carter (Single #19) Epic Records, 30 September 1996
Peak UK Chart Position: #9
Band Ranking: #14
With ‘Kevin Carter’ the Manics produced another of their character studies, albeit this time focused on a real, rather than fictional, personality. Kevin Carter was a South African photographer who, after serving for a time in the Air Force of apartheid South Africa, took up his eventual vocation as a means to expose the brutality of apartheid. Carter’s work became internationally known after one of his photographs taken during the famine in Sudan in 1993 was published in the New York Times and won him the Pulitzer Prize.
The photograph, of a young boy with a vulture stood behind him, was taken just metres from a UN aid aircraft from which the boy’s parents – and many others – were collecting food. The scene was captured by other photographers also, but Carter’s image was the one that came to fame. The Times was inundated with messages requesting information on the fate of the boy, and Carter was accused in the media of being no better than a vulture himself by failing to assist him. Although this was based on a widely-held misinterpretation of the situation, it drove Carter into a depression which, compounded by his financial issues, provoked him into suicide in 1994. Carter was a member of the “Bang Bang Club”, a group of four famed photographers in South Africa. Shortly before Carter’s suicide Ken Oosterbroek, another member, was accidentally shot dead by peacekeepers in South Africa. A third, João Silva, lost both legs to a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010.
Broken up and shattered like the Bang Bang Club, the lyrics to ‘Kevin Carter’ are immediately recognisable as the work of Edwards, and represent the first of three songs on Everything Must Go with lyrics written entirely by him. Although they are quite minimal, the stream-of-consciousness words reference a number of aspects of Carter’s story – his name, that of the Bang Bang Club and the Pulitzer Prize.
The music is notable for its anguished, rising and falling structure, the fairly constant shaker percussion throughout, and Moore’s trumpet solo which while neither his first nor last for the band, has become by far his most famous. It has a real drama to it which entirely suits the poignant origin of the song. This solo has more often than not been played by Bradfield on a guitar when the band perform live (as Moore is obviously busy with his drum kit) but during the Manics performance at the Karl Marx Theatre in Havana, Cuba in 2001, they had the benefit of a local Cuban trumpeter who performed a particularly stirring version with them – quite a special moment.
The whole affair – including the song’s reaching #9 on the UK chart following its release as a single – is even more poignant given the fact that both its subject and its author were long gone by 1996. It is one long, raw nerve, rendered as a rock song and another of the most important Manics singles.
The video for the song was directed by John Hillcoat (who returned to direct the video for [A87] ‘Australia’) and is themed around photography and spectacle, showing the band constantly being photographed while performing, sat at a staged press conference and apparently dying after being “shot”.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“wasted your life in black and white”
Time Magazine – Time, an American weekly news magazine published since 1923 and now with various international versions.
Pulitzer Prize – named after publisher Joseph Pulitzer and begun in 1917, an American series of awards for journalism, literature and musical composition.
Technicolor – a colour motion picture process invented in 1916 and developed for decades afterwards.
Bang Bang Club – a group of four famous photojournalists covering events in South Africa in the early 1990s – Kevin Carter, João Silva, Ken Oosterbroek and Greg Marinovich.
AK-47 – infamous originally Soviet-made assault rifle designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov and very widely distributed around the world.
White piped – a reference to “white pipe”, which is a mixture of Mandrax (or methaqualone, a sedative-hypnotic drug) and marijuana smoked through the neck of a broken bottle. A very common hard drug choice in South Africa.
Kaffir – taboo South African term for a black African person.