Return to Part One
The Fall's most popular LP was The Infotainment Scan
from 1993, which got into the top ten, and their most recent LP, as I write these words, is called Reformation! Post TLC
. It was released in February 2007, and I have heard it. It sounds like one of the tedious American bands on MySpace, but with Mark E Smith occasionally shouting unintelligible words over the top, and gurgling, which is his new vocal trick. It is a tedious album, but it is not the end. The band's live shows of 2007 have attracted good reviews from fans and the press alike, and it will be interesting to see what Mark E Smith
does next. Die, probably. Mark Smith has also released two spoken-word CDs, which you would have to pay me to hear. He has written an autobiography, Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith
, which is due for publication in 2007 or 2008, depending on how you interpret The Fall's website. I am not going to hold my breath
for this book, which will probably be a waste of money
. What do you expect him to write in his autobiography? "Once or twice a week I look at myself in the mirror and I cry. I drink because I hate myself.
" No, he will not say that. His autobiography will be a lot of drivel. A lot of silly nonsense. Bah.
OUR HEARTS ARE NOT IN THE LEAST TIRED, FOR THEY ARE NOURISHED BY FIRE, HATRED AND SPEED
"The English have always been great for going abroad and liberating the slaves and all that, while people are starving over here. While I was on the dole, I hated being lectured by some cow just how oppressed people where in Chile.
" - Mark Smith
interviewed for Jamming!
The Fall is not an overtly political band. In interviews, Mark Smith did not appear to be interested in politics or current affairs. Mark Smith's early lyrics were relatively coherent, in the sense that e.g. "Bingo Master's Break Out
" was about bingo, "Industrial Estate" was about industrial estates, "Rowche Rumble
" was about valium (which is made by a company called Roche - I surmise that, before the internet became popular, it must have been very hard to check spellings and company names, hence Mark Smith's inability to spell Roche
properly). "Bingo Master's Break Out" was the band's first single, and had the line "all he sees is the back of chairs / in the mirror, a lack of hairs", which perhaps explains why Mark Smith's lyrics became more abstract as the years went by. The band did not rail against the government, instead evoking a general sense of dread and angst, notably in "New Face in Hell", a paranoid short story in which a man is framed for murder by agents of The State. "Industrial Estate
" seemed like a parody of the typical socially-aware punk song, its chorus consisting of the title repeated several times in an angry voice, but the lyrics did not propose a solution for urban malaise, and neither did they apportion blame. When The Fall was photographed by magazines in the early 1980s, the band was always posed in front of derelict houses and wasteland etc, but this was true of all indie bands
that appeared in the NME
etc. The Fall is indelibly associated with the left wing, but that is only because so many indie groups from the 1980s were associated with the left wing, not because of anything Mark Smith said or did. The Fall is all things to all men. Communists probably think of The Fall as a Communist band (Mark Smith is from Manchester). Monarchists probably see Mark Smith as a quirky Monarchist. Naturally, I view the band as a Fascist entity
, in the classical Italian sense. Mark Smith is impulsive, idealistic, irrational, doomed to irrelevance and obscurity. He acts without thought of moral laws, and is driven by a demonic power. He is a vampire of speed and power. He is a weird, affected aberration, a product of the union of extreme times and extreme events that will not recur until the present has been forgotten.
I have always admired clarity, because I have always valued information and facts rather than emotions and feelings, which disperse when subjected to the heat of scrutiny. I am sure that, if Mark E Smith voted during the 1980s, he probably did not vote for the Conservative Party. Nonetheless The Fall was not part of Red Wedge
or Artists Against Apartheid
, and I imagine Mark E Smith probably felt that rock stars who supported such obvious causes were beneath him. I can appreciate that. I have never respected people who hold obvious, cowardly opinions, people who have not given their position much thought. They are the equivalent of those non-music fans that buy Coldplay
records, who do not have an opinion on music. No, that is unfair. I do not dislike someone for liking Coldplay, or for not having an opinion on music; I myself do not have an opinion on cod fishing, and I would be upset if a cod fisherman disliked me because of it. The fisherman should understand that different people have different priorities, rather than imposing his own sensibility on others. Music is just one part of a life, and it is not a sin to be uninterested in music. What is a sin
, and I will tell you this, is to be uninterested in music - or any other field - whilst pretending to be an authority on music, or using music as a means of expression, or of domination. That is why I hate young people
. They should go naked rather than wear logos, or they should wear plain t-shirts, preferably green or red, because green and red
are fundamental colours. One day Mark Smith might regret the things he failed to do and say.
There is a video clip of Mark E Smith, on YouTube
, where he is interviewed by Frank Skinner
, the British comedian. The interview is from March 2007, on the occasion of Mark Smith's fiftieth birthday. Frank Skinner was also fifty years old at the time of the interview, having been born two months before Mark Smith. Skinner has a pleasant face, and although he was once an alcoholic, he has avoided drinking since 1987. This is in direct contrast to Mark Smith, who appears to have drunk for two men since that time. Perhaps Mark Smith is Frank Skinner's drink self
, who grows old while Skinner remains young. For some men, an interview with Mark E Smith must seem like a rite of passage, a test of manhood. Throughout the interview Skinner seems thrilled to have met Mark, as if Mark was an oracle, sitting on a hill. Frank Skinner sits at Mark's table in the manner of a young boy invited into the pub to meet an RAF fighter ace, and perhaps to Frank's disappointment, the interview is a pleasant affair that does not transform into abuse and fisticuffs. Mark Smith does not shout or become angry, he does not hit Frank Skinner or accuse him of being middle class. Nonetheless Mark gives nothing away, and responds to Skinner's questions, which are banal, in slurred half-sentences. YouTube also has interview footage with Mark Smith from the 1980s, which strongly suggests that he has never, ever been articulate in interviews. He can only communicate with words when there is a band playing music behind him, and even then he deliberately makes his words as baffling
as he can. What a perverse man. One day he will fall in the street and ask for help from passers-by, but instead of saying "please help me, I have fallen", he will say "expected eight three oh / peculiar", and he will bleed to death. That is how evolution destroys the incomprehensible, and promotes clarity. It is why I
am writing about Mark Smith, and he
is not writing about me.
SECRETS AND LIES
Mark Smith's second wife was never in the band. Everyone who contemplates The Fall eventually wonders what it might be like to play for The Fall, as one of Mark Smith's backing musicians. I doubt that I would get on with him. We are not alike. I am not a fan of the band. From what I have read, Mark Smith does not enjoy criticism, and likes to surround himself with people who agree with him, or at the very least who are quiet. Mark Smith is from a city in the North of England, and I am from the countryside of the south of England. We are from similar social backgrounds, except that life as a working class poor person in the countryside is generally less unpleasant that the same life led in a city, and I did not leave school at 16
, because it was not the done thing to leave school at 16, when I was 16. He would probably disrespect my southern qualities. Mark Smith hangs out in pubs, and I do not. I possess great mental clarity, whereas Mark Smith affects great mental diaphanousness. Mark Smith is essentially a self-employed businessman, with a personal assistant (he mentions his PA in "Dr Buck's Letter
", a song from The Unutterable
). He probably has an accountant and a lawyer, or at least deals with an accountant and a lawyer, or has their numbers in his mobile phone, because he is the boss of the band, and it is his job to work things out with the record label
and the publishing company
. He is twenty years older than me. I do not play a live instrument. I could be a roadie
, though. All you have to do, to be a roadie, is to lift things around, and I can do that. My back is still in one piece. It can't be all that hard, being a roadie, and you get to travel all around the world. For most of the day there is nothing to do except drink, party, and sleep
. I can do those things. I am not a natural partygoer
, but everybody has to have a hobby, something to practice.
But what if The Fall does not tour with roadies, but instead hires them locally? I am not prepared to follow The Fall at my own expense, just for the pleasure of lifting amplifiers and testing microphones etc for The Fall
. That's how Les Harvey
was killed. He was lead singer in a band called Stone the Crows
, and in 1972 he reached for the microphone and ZAP, he was dead. There would always be the risk that I might be electrocuted, or that I might electrocute Mark E Smith, although that would probably just add to his legend. Perhaps this aversion to risks is another thing that separates me from Mark Smith. He had the courage to embark on a career in rock and roll, back in 1976 or 1977 or whenever, and I did not. Perhaps he had nothing to lose. Perhaps he had a spider on his back
. But then again, perhaps he had saved up tens of thousands of pounds given to him by a rich uncle, and he has only been pretending to be a poor northern lad. There are lies, in the music business, and people embellish their pasts.
IGNORANCE OR AVERSION
"Fascism wants man to be active and to engage in action with all his energies; it wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them. It conceives of life as a struggle in which it behoves a man to win for himself a really worthy place, first of all by fitting himself (physically, morally, intellectually) to become the implement required for winning it.
The more I read of fascist ideology
, the more I realise that it fits the world of rock music in general
, and of Mark E Smith in particular. He is a paradox of weakness and strength. Contrary to the fascist ideal
, he does not overtly seem to be active or engaged in anything. When he is on stage, he often turns his back to the audience, or fiddles with notes, and pretends to read his lyrics from sheets of scrumpled paper that he produces from his jacket pockets. This is an affectation. It is not possible that a man who has trouble remembering lyrics would need to fumble artlessly with a lyric sheet in every single live performance
, and he would not keep his lyric sheets in the same pocket every time. Mark Smith is not a helpless idiot. If he was genuinely confused, he would buy a teleprompter
, or simplify the lyrics
. Mark has a routine whereby he wanders around the stage, fiddling with the amplifiers and microphones
and instruments, as if to psyche out his band. He does this at every show; the band must be sick of it, and it achieves nothing. In interviews, he affects diffidence. Physically, he is a a weak man, a stick insect whose movements are halting and confused. He is the physical opposite of Benito Mussolini
. And yet his life and work has been a successful struggle against financial ruin and hecklers. He is not afraid to use his fists to extract satisfaction, or simply for the pleasure of destroying another man. He has won for himself a unique place in the world of music. He is too distinctive for other artists to imitate. He uses people in order to achieve his goals, and disposes of them when they are no longer of use, or when he tires of them. He has sacked men and women
. Sometimes he sacks them for no reason, to encourage the others to play harder. By subsuming himself into The Fall, Mark Smith has achieved a form of life after death
, because The Fall's records will surely continue to sell after Mark Smith himself has died, or at the very least they will still be traded, or available to the public in some form, if only on the internet. They will go out of print
eventually, and they be archived and forgotten, but they will outlast Smith
. He will die without knowing when his work will die, which is more than most artists can hope for.
I expect that, when Mark Smith dies, the headline on the BBC News website will be FALL MAN DIES or FALL SINGER DIES or JOHN PEEL FAVOURITE DIES rather than MARK E SMITH DIES, and the story will start "Mark E Smith, lead singer with art rock group The Fall, a band that was a favourite of John Peel, died yesterday at the age of 58". He will always be part of The Fall.
HE LOOKS AT THIS WORLD, AND WANTS IT ALL / SO HE STRIKES, LIKE THUNDERBALL
It is interesting to compare Mark Smith with Shaun Ryder
, who was born in Manchester five years after Mark Smith. They are mirror images of each other. Smith is thin, and Ryder is fat. Ryder's commercial peaks were far higher than The Fall's, and his low spots have been lower. Ryder's art is much more conventional and commercial than that of The Fall, but it is twisted nonetheless. They are both physically wasted, but in different ways. Smith and Ryder became famous for delivering idiot savant poetry on top of backing music, although Ryder emphasised the idiot part of idiot savant. Insofar as Mark Smith aspired to idiocy, he aspired to the idiocy of a perceptive madman, rather than the idiocy of an actual idiot
. Ryder seemed like a major part of British culture in the mid 1990s, but he has since disappeared off into obscurity. He was boyishly handsome in his youth, but became wasted in middle age.
Whereas Mark Smith turned thin and wizened
, Ryder went fat and bald, on account of his addictions, which were beer, crack cocaine, and ice cream
. Mark Smith is also addicted to beer, but he offsets this with an addiction to cigarettes, which are potent engines of weight loss
. Neither Mark Smith nor Shaun Ryder are good advertisements for addiction. Ryder's overweight baldness was one of the things that endeared him to the music press, and to British culture in general. His singing voice was tuneless
, but endearing
. He was the musical equivalent of the porn star Ron Jeremy
, in the sense that he was one of us. Overweight, balding men could look at Shaun Ryder and feel better about their lives, because if Shaun Ryder could be a famous rock star, any man could be a famous rock star
, even an overweight and balding man. Few men can be as thin or as weird as Mark E Smith, but every man can be a fat wasted bald lazy sack of fat
, like Shaun Ryder.
Shaun spent his youth indulging in drugs and petty crime, whereas Mark Smith's dad was a disciplinarian who ensured that Smith got a job after leaving school. By the late 1980s Shaun had become lead singer of The Happy Mondays
, a British pop/rap/rave/indie band that sold many more records than The Fall. The Happy Mondays was as much a gang as it was a band; they debauched and shoplifted even as they were hitting the charts, and they were not averse to drugs. The Mondays split up in 1992, having become casualties of excess. It seemed that Ryder would succumb to his addictions, but he formed a new group around himself, called Black Grape. Conceptually Ryder's new group was similar to The Happy Mondays, although the only recurring members were Ryder himself and his friend Bez
, who danced, and was an entertaining person to hang out with. Neither Ryder nor Bez were musicians in any conventional sense
, although Bez had some experience with the maracas
. Nonetheless, the pair of them could assemble a band, and spot a good tune; they were similar to Mark Smith in that respect, although they gave the impression of being lucky idiots rather than Machiavellian plotters. Ryder delivered nonsensical stream-of-consciousness lyrics over music, just like Mark Smith, although Ryder's band's music was dancier and funkier than Smith's band's music. They would make an interesting comedy double-act. It would be fascinating to trap the pair of them in a lift, and monitor them for sixteen hours.
was an unlikely commercial
and artistic success. For eighteen months during the height of Britpop
, Black Grape was one of the major groups of the day. The band's singles were catchy and won positive reviews in the press. Their debut album, It's Great when You're Straight, Yeah
, went straight in at number one in the charts, and probably sold more records than everything The Fall had released to that point. It was a consistently entertaining piece of work. Black Grape's second and last album took two years to come out, an eternity
in pop terms, and was a notorious flop
, and that was the end for Black Grape, and for Shaun Ryder. He reformed The Happy Mondays in 1998, to pay off a tax bill, and has not produced anything of consequence since then. He looks almost as bad as Mark Smith, except that whereas Mark Smith is nowadays thin and dehydrated, Shaun Ryder is nowadays puffy and glazed. If you do a Google image search
for "Shaun Ryder", the first result you get is a 2.5 megapixel
image of his teeth, and it is horrifying. He has subsequently had his teeth done, and perhaps with a lot of work he might live to collect a pension. He has kids, and his wastedness is a bit more distressing than Mark Smiths' wastedness because of this. Mark Smith is a sealed unit.
Mark Smith continues to this day, five years old than Ryder, slightly more healthy to look at, far less comprehensible in interviews. Ryder seems forlorn
and lost, whereas Mark Smith is still in control. Ryder has cronies
that he hangs out with, whereas Mark Smith has his wife and no-one else. If they were characters from The Brak Show
Ryder would be Brak
, and Mark Smith would be Zorak
. They have both led interesting lives, or at least eventful lives. By they time they were thirty-one years old they had done more than I have done in my thirty-one years
, and they did it fifteen years before me. I would not want to swap places with them.
And there is Shane McGowan
One of the most fascinating characters in recent motion picture history is Colonel Kurtz
, from Francis Ford Coppola
's Apocalypse Now
(1979). The film is set during the US invasion and occupation of Vietnam
, perhaps in 1969. Kurtz is a US officer who has been sent into the jungle to fight the Vietnamese. He is an intelligent and well-read man who has come to the conclusion that the Vietnamese will win the war, because they have a simpler and less squeamish moral sense than the Americans. "You have to have men who are moral, and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling
", he says. "Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends.
" Kurtz has cut himself off from the military chain of command, but he still commands troops, and fights the war with his own methods, which are never shown, but are presumably revolting. The film implies that he is very successful at fighting the Vietnamese
. The film presents Kurtz
as a rambling madman, although it has an ambivalent attitude towards him. I suspect that the filmmakers admired Kurtz for his honesty. The actor who portrays Kurtz delivers his lines poorly, in a whining monotone, and the character's words are more resonant on the page than in the film.
The band's new record, Imperial Wax Solvent
, is a striking return to form. It's catchy, and it has a song sung by Mark Smith's girlfriend on it. Perhaps this is The Future of The Fall.
Appendix 1: Ten Great Songs by The Fall
I have not picked these songs because they are famous or notorious or meaningful or because they will give you an insight into The Fall's history. I want you to remember that I am not a fan of The Fall. I have picked these ten songs because they they appeal to me in the here and now. Until this moment, "deceptable
" has not been a word. Now I summon it.
But first I would like to discuss The Fall's sound, or rather, I would like to discuss The Fall's sounds
, because the group's music exists in three dimensions. Firstly there are the studio recordings
. Despite operating on a minuscule budget, The Fall's studio work has a professional sound. The early records sound tinny and thin, but this is appropriate for a band that was spiritually tinny and thin. The Fall's productions of the mid 1980s and early 1990s have a glossy sheen that nowadays sounds old-fashioned, whereas the band's music of the late 1990s and 2000s has not dated. Secondly, there is The Fall's live sound, which followed a similar pattern, but louder; the earliest and most recent live shows are raucous and energetic, whereas The Fall's performances of the mid to late 1980s sound relatively spartan
Thirdly, there are the Peel Sessions, which are an agreeable combination of the live and the studio. The Fall's Peel Session recordings of the mid 1980s are generally preferable to the corresponding studio versions, because they have a crisp live sound, whereas the studio versions tend to sound flat, with the boomy fake-sounding drums that were popular at the time. In some contexts this type of production was appropriate (most pop music of the 1980s
was deliberately artificial, and this is also true of supposedly authentic but impossibly slick artists such as Tanita Tikaram
), but it did not suit The Fall. Modern listeners of 458489 A Sides
will recoil in horror at the dated drum sound on "Hey! Luciani" and "No Bulbs", whereas most of the middle three discs of The Complete Peel Sessions
do not sound old. This rule breaks down on subsequent discs of the Peel Sessions, which were recorded at a time when modernist studio record production
was being replaced by post-modernist record production, ultimately onwards to the post-ideological production style of the nameless
, uncontemplated modern era
. With philosophy
no longer the differentiating factors, the Peel Session
versions were instead separated by performance, enthusiasm
, and the limitations of the quasi-live environment. "Touch Sensitive", for example (disc six), is a poor imitation of the studio version, even though the ideological impulses that sabotaged The Fall's earlier productions was no longer present, because it is poorly performed, without gusto
And so, the ten songs by The Fall that have given me the greatest, most sustained, largest, and brightest pleasure are, in no order:
- Theme from Sparta FC (from The Real New Fall Album: Formerly "Country on the Click"
, 2003, but there were subtly different and equally good versions released as a single, and on the Peel Sessions compilation);
- Cyber Insekt (from The Unutterable
- Two Librans (from The Unutterable
- L.A. (from 458489 A Sides
, and also Peel);
- Hey! Luciani (from 458489 A Sides
, and also Peel, and the compilation 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong
- Mr Pharmacist (from 458489 A Sides
, and 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong
- Feeling Numb (from 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong
, and as "Numb at the Lodge" from Peel);
- C.R.E.E.P (from Peel, 50,000 etc
- Cruiser's Creek (etc);
- Ladybird (Green Grass) (from The Infotainment Scan
- Guest Informant (Peel).
All the band's early stuff is boring rubbish, the kind of abrasive post-punk nonsense that is no longer relevant today. In retrospect it is amazing that The Fall has managed to stretch its central idea - Mark Smith shouts random-sounding poetry over indie rock - into so many different and interesting directions.
In roughly descending order of indispensability, and this is not all (The Fall is like a mountain, it dares people to conquer it):
http://www.thefall.info/trackrecord/ is a guide to every song THE FALL has done
http://www.visi.com/fall/bio/biography.html is a comprehensive list of all the men and women of THE FALL
http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1678307,00.html is an article in which a man called Dave Simpson tracks down all the former members of THE FALL and tells us what happened to them between the time they left THE FALL and 2006, when the article was published
http://www.visi.com/fall/gigography/gig01.html two excellent guides to THE FALL's live shows
http://www.visi.com/fall/gigography/bib.html has an archive of old interviews with THE FALL
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/johnpeel/ is the BBC's John Peel microsite, with rundowns of the Peel Sessions and of the Festive Fifties
http://www.rocklistmusic.co.uk/festive50.htm is a better run-down of John Peel's the Festive Fifties
http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/peel.htm is a guide to John Peel's early career (with samples)
http://www.cyberspike.com/clarke/review.html has several old interviews with John Cooper Clarke
http://arts.guardian.co.uk/fridayreview/story/0,12102,980633,00.html is an interview with Shaun Ryder
http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm is an article about fascism by Benito Mussolini
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/3961979.stm has the Mark Smith John Peel Gavin Esler Newsnight interview
http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2005/11/mark_e_smith_re.html A blog that has Mark Smith reading out the football results on the BBC (perhaps the producer had lost a bet)
http://www.markprindle.com/falla.htm Mark Prindle reviews THE FALL. He is the best writer on the internet today, and I have read them all. Elsewhere on his site he interviews Mark Smith (short, unenlightening), Ben Pritchard (lengthy, tragic), Paul Hanley (former drummer, brother of Steve Hanley; short, boring)
http://www.youtube.com/ is a popular website that has video clips of The Fall
Landlocked states should have access to the sea/
they might need to express themselves