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The Fall’s Mark E. Smith – Genius In Farrahs

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Mark E. Smith, erstwhile gaffer of The Fall, has a reputation which most would kill for; by turns eccentric, maverick, innovative, curmudgeonly, seminal, evil and drunk. And, to be fair, after finishing his autobiography ‘Renegade’ it’s impossible to discount any of those labels.

This book isn’t a linear history, more a stream of consciousness from a very unique mind based loosely round some vague timeframes. There is an implied notion that the reader will have some knowledge of The Fall’s history, which is fair enough and, given the amount of articles the band have garnered in the monthlies over the years, not too difficult, but there is plenty here for someone coming in blind.

Smith is, simply, a deranged if lovable bastard and brilliant so long as you don’t have to live with him. ‘I’ve had loads of partners’ he boasts, ‘though they’ve mostly left me, mind’. His attitude to his music can be summed up in one phrase; don’t compromise, ever. Fundamentally, The Fall is Smith’s band, it does what he wants it to do and that’s the end of that. Guitarist wanting to influence songwriting style? Fuck him. Sacked. Producer moaning at Smith and his preferred recording style? Fuck him. Sacked. Record label getting ideas above their station and wanting input? Fuck them. Smith walks. It’s very difficult not to admire this stance, though one does feel some sympathy for those who have to deal with such an uncompromising manner (he goes through Managers the way normal citizens go through toothbrushes.)

There are some absolutely unshakeable tenets in Smith’s life; all middle-class people are arseholes (“see, working-class people don’t have this daft notion of rebelling against their parents the way middle-class people do; we appreciate what they’ve done for us”) but it isn’t their fault (“it must be hard when they realise that their idols, be it John Lennon or Bono or whoever are, or were, cunts”) and that nothing, ever is his fault, except, of course, when it is. And that’s the wonderful thing about this book; it’s inherently full of contradictions because it’s subject is absolutely riddled with them. Smith, I suspect, genuinely believes everything he says at the time he says it. He’d pass a lie detector. At times he’s vehemently anti-drugs (except booze, always) before, a few short pages later, he’s describing various altered states of consciousness.

Above all, though, it’s funny. Although I’m a big fan of Marc Riley, you can’t help but laugh as Smith takes him to task for ‘thinking he was in the fucking Beatles or something.’ Various musicians get the hairdryer treatment for not being rock’n’roll enough and ‘running back to all them dickheads in Bury telling them how I was mental just because they can’t handle the road’ and, perhaps most tellingly of all, Fall fans who ‘just get too into it.’ Basically, if you are a Fall fan, their leader welcomes you to come up for a pint and a chat. What he does not want is your story or a tale about how one of his records changed your life. As he says, why the fuck does he care?

Where this book really is in avoiding the ‘it’s grim up North’ clichés whilst simultaneously avoiding glamorising Smith’s exploits. This is neither a judgemental nor hagiographic book. This is simply one fairly unique musicians story, devoid of sentiment or posturing.

Oh, and he only met John Peel twice and thought he was a ‘good bloke’, but that he gets too much credit for any success The Fall have had. A national treasure.

The Fall – Reformation

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10 Responses

  1. Loved the anecdote about Marc Riley on the train to London for a Peel Session:

    MR: “Peel Session, how great! We’re getting somewhere now.”
    MES: “Calm down for fuxake you big girl.”

  2. Reading that review of MES book made me think of all the ELM contributers very similar attitudes to life!

  3. Absolutely. And it’s a fine attitude to have!

  4. I disliked it. Far from maintaining any level of mystery or persona, MES reveals himself to be an unpleasant, sarcastic moaning local type. Pretty boring, actually. Which is a bit galling, considering how many of his records I own. I think I’m going to sell the book on ebay and stick to the music from now on.

  5. But Wally, I think he’s so brilliant precisely because he’s so sarcastic and parochial!

  6. Fair enough – I’m not saying he’s not funny. The main reasons I like him are his unfathomable lyrics and that fearsomely sharp intellect (the infamous NME interview along with Nick Cave and Shane McGowan being a great example.) The book just served to undermine that for me, and play up to the tittering broadsheet style expectations i.e. slagging off people who left his band in the 1980s, or whatever.

  7. I judt thought the book re-affirmed why I like him – he genuinely, honestly, doesn’t give a fuck.

  8. This comes in handy for bored days at work. In fact, it’s essential:

    http://www.visi.com/fall/gigography/bib.html

  9. Only recently read the book, so now can comment.
    It’s pish.
    You’d never expect MES to be boring but the book is as dull as dishwater.

  10. You reckon? I thought it was funny!

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