Mark E. Smith R.I.P.

Mark E. Smith dead? It is too early, too raw. I cannot process this.

I found out via Facebook of course. The illusion of friendship that has never ably managed to replace same. Three friends tagged me in the space of 30  minutes, recollections and past lives tumbling out. All confusion, misremembered and abridged. As it should be.

Mark E Smith dead? Fuck, man. My overwhelming memory is of us larking around at Imperial College, South Kensington – where we all worked as cleaners for foreign students in the summer of 1980 – climbing out of one of the dorm windows, up a fire escape ladder to the next floor and yelling through the upstairs window, “Is there anybody there? Yeah!” (a line stolen direct from early live Fall album Totale’s Turns). *

We would repeat their lines as sardonic mantras, over and over to each other. “You still doing what you were doing five years ago? Yeah? Well don’t make a career out of it!” Even more relevant, in 2018. Saw my all-time favourite 1980s band, New York’s UT, first supporting Birthday Party and then supporting The Fall. So extreme, Fall fans were hurling glasses at us for dancing. Fuck man. Jesus. I would be here from now till November 2028 if I was to start recollecting the number of times his music has intersected with my life. The influence (good, bad – who’s keeping score?). The inspiration. One of my proudest moments, him and Hooky turning up uninvited to a Melody Maker debate and standing there posed for a photograph with their hands on my shoulders like they were passing on the mantle or something. Never met him, never wanted to. Last time, I ever saw ’em, at ATP – belligerent and drunk off in the distance on main stage as Steve Gullick and I argued with punters, belligerent and drunk on our magazine table way back.

Mark E Smith was as important and integral and inspirational to my life, my ways of being, my ways of seeing, my ways of hearing, as Nina Simone, as Joey Ramone, as Kevin Rowland, as Ari Up. He never ceased antagonising, for better or worse. Never a hero to me, always a folk devil. That’s as it should be.

And he never stopped inspiring.

Fuck man. Mark E Smith dead. Top 10 Fall songs? I’m not sure I could narrow it down to even a Top 100.

Here is something I wrote a few years back on him, for The Guardian, back when people still paid any attention to my words.


I never joined the Fall.

I’ve never wanted to join the Fall. Mark E Smith‘s reputation as a cantankerous, belligerent ringmaster precedes him. Yes, he’s thoroughly entertaining and a scoundrel, but he’s also far too demanding, way above and beyond the call of duty. I’m a Fall fan, not an obsessive.

I fall into the right category: male, white, and over 40 (journalists, in particular, love this band as there’s so much they can pick apart). I’ve always thought that the Fall peaked in 1983 (coincidentally, when manager Kay Carroll ran out on them) – same as David Bowie believes – but there were a couple of storming returns to form at the start of the 90s (see 1992’s scathing Code: Selfish), and in 2005 with Fall Heads Roll.

I’m not particularly familiar with band-members either. Er, off the top of my head: Scanlon, Karl Burns, Riley, Blue Orchids founder Martin Bramah, Una Baines, alt-fashion icon Brix Smith, Hanley, Yvonne Pawlett, Julia Nagle perhaps … certainly not all the 43-plus “musicians” that have served time with the Fall during their 30-year history. As Mark E Smith once put it: “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.” Who cares who’s creating the music, as long as it’s there? I mean, really.

The Fall are a band I return to time and time again (a cursory glance at my iTunes reveals 554 songs – and that’s not including the vinyl), but not in female company. Women, curiously, don’t seem to appreciate the compiling Top 10 lists/football fan/Pitchfork-reader side of being a Fall fan. Yet I’ve never wanted to discover more about the personalities behind the sound, not even Mark E Smith’s. My curiosity is sated by the music alone – brilliantly spasmodic, anti-melodic, grating, and sometimes, pure pop. I hardly ever listen to lyrics, even when they’re created by the most lyrical of iconoclasts. I hook on to the odd line, like I do with the Ramones, Shangri-La’s and the Spice Girls. I appreciate the timbre and rhythm of Mark E Smith’s voice.

1979’s Live at the Witch Trials may well be the first album I purchased (I was so naïve I believed it must have taken years to achieve such a fluid, rich sound), and I still reckon Witch Trials to be of my favourite three albums … um, when I want to grade music like a Pitchfork nerd, which is rare.

I never wanted to see the Fall play live that much – I saw them a handful of times at the start of the 80s, but only because mighty US female trio Ut played support. Maybe I was scared they could only disappoint in the same way that penalty shootouts do, even when I don’t care for the teams (which is always). I’ve heard Mark E Smith likes a drink. Heard he likes a fight. Heard he likes to unsettle. All of these are mighty great things to like, of course, but why the need to live vicariously? I have my own secret identity.

I’m reminded of all this by a recent book about the Fall by Guardian critic Dave Simpson, The Fallen (Searching for the Missing Members of the Fall), a great book – a fucking amazingly great book – that starts off in normality and quickly spirals into the nightmarish and extraordinary, as Simpson goes in search of every former member of the Fall. It’s a simple but excellent concept for a book, and one that Simpson – to his credit as an author, but perhaps not to his advantage as a human being – doesn’t back down from pursuing to the bitter end.

My theory is that a Fall obsessive is a perfectly decent human being who uses the band to introduce a degree of the extraordinary into his life. He looks on with envy at Mark E Smith’s renowned manipulative skills and wishes he could be the same. He looks on with jealousy at the stage(d) fights, the alcohol and drug use, and wishes it could transfer without effort. Sometimes it does. That’s the nature of desire. But be very careful what you wish for – it may come true, as Simpson discovers to his cost.

The Fallen is a salutary tale in how not to go about being a rock star, being an author, and finding a band to cherish. It is absolutely brilliant. It has made me race back to all 554 Fall songs and put them on repeat as I, too, fall once more in thrall to the oblique, contrary charm of Mark E Smith and his band of undervalued troubadours.


And here’s one reprinted from The Vine (Australia). I reprinted it on Collapse Board, in a somewhat futile attempt to remind any potential editors that, yes, I was perfectly able to write album reviews, thank you. I was (and still am) a fraction surprised no one asks me to write them actually … especially bearing in mind the sheer volume of crap that does get printed under the banner of ‘music criticism’.

A random album, a random review … but I think it captures something.


The Fall
Your Future Our Clutter
(Domino)

There’s confusion over the title. Some say ‘Your Future Our Clutter’. Others write ‘Our Future Your Clutter’. Both are from the same lyric, the banal (no insult) repetitive (no insult) slow-burning (no insult) opening track (no insult) ‘O.F.Y.C. Showcase’ which follows the familiar Fall template, honed and discarded and built-upon and brutalised over the past three decades: a main phrase, continually spat-out and repeated, with suitably darkened, off-mic lyrics added somewhere, the music building and building – a jam (no insult) in the style of (no insult) formative Fall influence Can (certainly no insult). Does this confusion even matter?

Much about The Fall is confusion, deliberately so.

The second track, ah now. ‘Bury Pts 1 & 3’. It’s about an obscure town somewhere in the North of Britain. Or perhaps it’s about a state of non-living? I suspect that in this context that it’s the former, what with all the mentions of “municipal buildings”, “grey squirrels” and “a chain around the neck”. It doesn’t matter. Sole Fall member Mark E. Smith – the remaining members might last for three days or 30 years but they’re still treated and thrown away as session musicians – might be rightly renowned as astonishingly creative, a fearsome wordsmith and lover of alcohol, but personally I’ve always listened to, and loved, The Fall for the rhythm in his voice, the static staccato magic of his sarcastic syllables. Not. The. Words. Themselves. Oh, and for the repetition, of course: it’s The Fall’s fiery and righteous substitute for the groove.

And this song certainly has it.

It’s the fashion, when it comes to reviewing a new Fall album, to cite a previous Fall album and place it in an order of ranking – a trick that is a little more purposeful when you consider that Wikipedia reckons they’ve released upward of 28 studio albums, and triple that, including live albums and other assorted releases (John Peel sessions etc). I own approximately 60 of these albums, at last count, and so it is with a bit of assurance I can report that 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter lies somewhere between the venomous revitalisation of 2007’s Reformation Post TLC, never dipping into shallows of the fallow late 90s Fall, and 1982’s steadfast Hex Enduction Hour (although clearly it’s way too early to say whether it aspires to the dizzying heights of the first two albums, both released during 1979, or indeed 1981’s lively Slates). Apologies for the momentary lapse into trainspotter-dom, but The Fall will do that to a (wo)man.

But that’s the wonderful thing about the Fall and the Mark E. Smith template for better living: the musicians he regularly pulls in to replace the ones he let go before are so hyper-aware of The Fall sound and The Fall method there’s both constant reinvention and re-evaluation. Take the third track here, numbing in its force, ‘Mexico Wax Solvent’. Could even the most fanatical of a Fall fan place which year it came from shorn of context? Well of course they could. I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to, though, jumbled up. The confusion is sex.

Incidentally, the line-up here is the same as on 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent – including Mark E.’s wife Elena Poulou Smith, who takes on the early 80s Brix E. Smith role on obscure backing vocals, keyboards and texture.

If you want to highlight the difference between US and UK underground ‘alternative’ rock in one snap and rather risible phrase: America gave us Sonic Youth while the UK gave us The Fall. It’s a heady thought indeed.

‘Cowboy George’, the fourth track here, nods acidly and amiably at a 60s surf garage past, and a 60s surf garage future: towards the end, the echoed feedback is monotonous (no insult) and monolithic (no insult) as Mark E. continues ranting to the galleries, my interest no longer piqued as the pulse, the feedback, the hunger has momentarily gone. But we all need a toilet break, right?

‘Hot Cake’ (the fifth track here) and ‘Y.F.O.C./’Slippy Floor’ (the sixth track here) are a ‘City Hobgoblins’ and a ‘Fiery Jack’ or possibly ‘Kicker Conspiracy’ for 2010, respectively – but wait, before you become too excited, you crazed Fall follower you, I’m not saying these tracks are anywhere near as good or immediate or canonical as the former, just pointing out superficial musical similarities. I’ll tell you what, though: if this was the first Fall album I heard, and I hadn’t heard Krautrock iconoclasts Can or super German 60s garage beat group the Monks before either, I would not be disappointed, not at all. I would be going, whoa, shit, wait. How the fuck come this isn’t being played on late night radio, every evening, every day of the week, every year of my life?

The music could change my life, or at least make it a fraction more palatable.

‘Chino’ echoes the Goth undertones of Germanic underground groups from the early 80s, and as such shouldn’t be discounted, although sure as shit I’m not playing this one again in preference to ‘Bury Pts 1 & 3’ or even some of those more obscure pre-Joy Division Warsaw outtakes (who this most resembles). ‘Funnel Of Love’ boasts a great title. ‘Weather Report 2’ is… well, let’s retain a little piece of mystery about the new Fall album shall we? Let’s just call it sinister, and move along.

There’s a new Fall album out. In comic book terms, this would be called the second Silver Age of The Fall, or something.


Here’s another one. more obscure.


The 3 r’s | repetition, repetition, repetition

Remember the three ‘r’s. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

From Facebook:

There are two types of people. Those who like this and those who haven’t heard it.

Paul Boggan, Chris Power, Ioan Humphreys and 56 others like this.

Marco Lombardi
I was person type 2 then I listened to it now I am person type 1
7 November at 23:16 · Unlike · 1

Andrew Michael Bennett
Best band in the world ever.
7 November at 23:30 via mobile · Like · 1

Jenny Howe
and they still have the ability to frustrate and excite me in equal measure
8 November at 00:52 via mobile · Like · 1

Martin Grimshaw · Friends with Andrew Michael Bennett
Ideally listened to wearing platform shoes,a tank top and a kipper tie.
8 November at 01:29 · Like · 1

Connie DeBruler · 2 mutual friends
Yep!
8 November at 01:38 via mobile · Like

Peter Daykin · Friends with Cindy Stern and 12 others
their first offering
8 November at 02:25 · Like

Paul Boggan
Is there anything in life more reliable than a fall track???
9 November at 03:17 via mobile · Like

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.

Jamie Holman, DoAs TheBirds, Ross Thornton and 14 others like this.

Nik Hb · Friends with Tommy Morgan Jr. and 3 others
I loved when you wrote in melody maker, finally technology has invented a way of me telling you this, and so yeah, I just wanted to say that . collapse board, im just catching up on that, so ah I just wanted to say that
8 November at 10:43 via mobile · Like

Graeme Semple · 5 mutual friends
The band against whom all other must be judged
8 November at 11:29 · Edited · Like

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Doug Hamilton, Pete Nevin, Brigette Adair Herron and 21 others like this.

Lois AndMole Tozer
The 3 R’s….repetition, repetition, repetition.
8 November at 17:07 · Like · 1

Ian Wieczorek
Still think this is better… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgIivSCfLWE
The Fall – In My Area
b-side of Rowche Rumble (1979 single)
8 November at 19:35 · Like · 1 · Remove Preview

Everett True
fighting talk.
8 November at 21:12 · Like

Ian Wieczorek
Put ‘em up, put ‘em up….
8 November at 21:16 · Like

Everett True
pretty fucking genius.
8 November at 21:17 · Like

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Jasmine Darlington-Rielly, Andrea Cerello, Julie Cafritz and 13 others like this.
————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Florence Vicha, Fred Paquet, Doug Hamilton and 5 others like this.

Dario Western
I like repetitive music.
6 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 2

Everett True
I like repetition.
6 hours ago · Like

Everett True
I like repetition.
6 hours ago · Like

Everett True
I like repetition.
6 hours ago · Like

Allan Roepke · Friends with Simon Reynolds and 8 others
the 3 R’s……….
6 hours ago · Like

Julian Humphreys · 18 mutual friends
You’re never gonna lose it!
5 hours ago via mobile · Like

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

AB Leonard, Chris Power, Nick Halliwell and 10 others like this.

Christof Reichelt
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP_Dk81f9fg
Jeffrey Lewis The Legend of The Fall
Diaporama of Jeffrey Lewis low budget video about The Fall – With Jack Lewis and…See more
11 November at 21:18 · Unlike · 4 · Remove Preview

Chris Power
I think it’s quite extraordinary to see The Fall become mildly popular again.
11 November at 22:23 via mobile · Like

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Jamie Holman, Andelo Jurkas, Robertt Long and 12 others like this.

Bill Schlanbusch
Hmmm. Oh, I get it.
13 hours ago via mobile · Like

Tish Marrable
keep up the good work!
13 hours ago · Unlike · 1
Like · · Promote · Share
————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Peter Ross, Tish Marrable, Daniel So Tough and 9 others like this.

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I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Scott Creney, Yaprak Gökçöl, Abby Werth and 8 others like this.

Pearl Pelfrey
Me too
15 November at 10:51 · Unlike · 1

Rez Bohemia Guthrie 
Good plan.
15 November at 11:36 · Like

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

DoAs TheBirds, Mike Walker, Jake Healy and 5 others like this.

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Sara Century, Andy Wood, Matthew Mueller and 6 others like this.

Keith Edwin Graham · 2 mutual friends
What was that again?

————————————————————–

I’m going to be listening to this on repeat for the rest of the month.
And I’m going to be repeating this status update while I do.

Pete Wylie, Nathaniel Mellors, Jan C Michaels and 4 others like this.


See also: Everett True’s Favourite Albums of 1980


This is me, right now.

I have to stop now before I start listing hundreds. I cannot process this.

*Yeah, I know the line is from Psykick Dancehall (which is actually the opening song on Dragnet, and not on Totale’s Turns at all), but this is how I always remember the incident – and thought it better to leave the false memory in, as it is far more representative.

One thought on “Mark E. Smith R.I.P.

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