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The Fall’s Legendary Leader Mark E. Smith, Dead At 60 Years Of Age

Start with his earliest Fall albums, Live At The Witch Trials, Dragnet, and Totale’s Turns. That’s the tip of the iceberg but it is also the template that Mark. E. Smith used from 1976 – 2018, when he died. Yesterday. At the age of 60.  Born at the cusp of punk,The Fall were the most notorious Manchester, England, band till Oasis briefly eclipsed Mark in the bonkers game. Sing speaking (aka rapping meets singing meets spoken word) mountains of words, over angular and terse post-punk rock by whoever was in his band at any given moment, he remained the same and yet every album was terrific. He seemed to miss a fallow period. Following his death, post-punk came out of the closet to tribute one of the greatest rockers.

But just about everywhere in the Fall catalog you’ll find great, great, and great songs. With 32 studio albums, and countless live albums and compilations, you still can’t let albums fall between the cracks. Earlier this year I bought A-SIDES 1978-2016: DELUXE 3CD BOX SET FALL on CD because it was the only form of distribution available. $30 plus, and more than worth it. It is astounding how over nearly forty years of music, it was all wonderful, disturbing, stranger.From the earliest possible “Crash smash crash ring” to “My cat says ack, hit the North, will ya hit the North,” this is the sound of white trash that fights back proletariat where the art is the artist and the artist merged in a geographical place that says Prestbury but acts like Didsbury. much more than Joy Division or the Buzzcocks, The Fall represented to working class as artistic malfeasance.

Smith less perverted language and more made it his bitch, he was a surrealist who seemed to merge into musical sense, a man with a vision of an England perverted by the end of WW2, the postponement of paradise eternally, and a lost English kids, the ones who formed the Pistols, the Clash, the first line of Tory resistance, as a place where he could sputter and sneer, in a rage even as his personal rage seemed not to matter. “I’m searching further now, I’m looking for the real thing, yeah”. Was an early explanation.

Ready to go deeper, here are two more must hears: Perverted By Language and Grotesque (After the Gramme). The former, the Fall as would be mainstream with Mark’s ex-wife Brix Smith, the latter his third album which featured “How I Wrote Elastic Man,” “The NRWA,” and his theme song “Totally Wired”. And then, in the 2010s, Mark sent the Fall on a rush of albums, from 2010’s Your Rubbish Our Clutter, to 2016’s New Facts Emerge. The Fall could play most things, whoever might be in the band, though his love for Johnny Cash lead to a taste for rockabilly that erupted all the time, and his taste for electronica (Can were a big name) lead to a lot of hypnotic beats, and his love of the three R’s (“repetition, repetition, repetition”) built a catalog that sounded very much the same and very different.

Smith sang about politics, and social destitution: his cynicism over everything from the Pharmaceutical business to the banks were legion; from dole queue his the North will rise again bromides were similar to Morrissey’s but Moz was also entangled in race and Smith wasn’t, a huge difference, with Smith’s white noise a more complicated thing. The lyrics were language as magic trick, they were as close as poetry gets to lyrics. Here is one for the early “Psykick Dancehall”:

Is there anybody there?
Yeah!

Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock
Rocky! Rocky!
Is quester psykick dance-hall
Step forward for
ESP medium discord

My garden is made of stone
There’s a computer center over the road
I saw a monster on the roof
Its colors glowed on the roof

Round the corner
Is quester psykick dancehall
Step forward for
ESP medium discord

Here they have no records
They know your questions about no words
Just bumble stumble to the waves
Twitching out to the waves

Clock it! Clock it!
It’s quester psykick dance-hall
Never bored with
ESP medium discord

When I’m dead and gone
My vibrations will live on
In vibes on vinyl through the years
People will dance to my waves

Rock it! Rock it!
It’s quester psykick dance-hall
Step aboard for
ESP medium discord

You gotta come
For a mental orgasm

As a celebrity figure, Smith had a reputation for being very difficult though when I interview him in 1981 he couldn’t have been nicer. Of course, I was a huge fan with a working knowledge of the Fall so he had nothing to get upset about. The last time I saw the Fall live was at the Peppermint Lounge and decades ago. I had a ticket for his twice cancelled New York gigs from last year,

For those who know, Smith’s death is on a par with a Bowie or a Prince, the difference between the US and the UK was defined yesterday, while the majority of the US shrugged and said what a pity, in the UK there was no denying the huge loss. For the class of 1977, it had the shock of the death of our childhood. To make matters sadder for fans, there ws no real end in sight. There was no reason to think that Mark E. Smith couldn’t keep on making great albums forever, every move forward, every Perverted By Language, remained the same unlike, say, mid-80s Ramones.

A terrible loss for popular music, if you don’t know why I recommend you find out.

 

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