Posts from 25th January 2018

25
Jan 18

And Then I Took Some Of THESE

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Mark E Smith, 1957-2018. Some things to read.

My favourite ever piece or sequence of pieces on The Fall is our own Kat Stevens’ stint on One Week One Band. It’s very wide ranging, very funny, and especially perceptive about the different things different musicians brought to The Fall. It also gives the Brix Years their due, which I’m pleased about – it may not be the greatest era of The Fall, but it was where I jumped on.

Another writer who’s good on The Fall as musicians is Douglas Wolk – his review of their Peel Sessions box set is an excellent single-article history of the band’s development, making the argument that they were often at their best in the pressure-cooker environment of the BBC studios. Peel repeated a bunch of their sessions across two weeks in the summer of 1990, and I stayed in night after night to tape them. I don’t think any Fall recording on any format could be as berserk as the session version of “Container Drivers” that kicked off the C90.

Over the last decade or so there’s been renewed interest in Mark E Smith as a literary figure, though. The Quietus has an excellent long piece by Taylor Parkes discussing him as a crafter (and, crucially, performer) of short stories in song from “Spector vs Rector” on through most of the 1980s.

And then there’s the critic I most think about when I think about recent interest in The Fall: the late Mark Fisher, aka K-Punk. Fisher is an interesting critic of The Fall because he was devoted to them but in one specific aspect – he’s quite caustic about Smith’s decline as a visionary writer (the element he loved) and reification as a national Northern treasure. It’s a reading that de-emphasises a lot – mostly the man’s identity as a working musician, a James Brown style bandleader/martinet/monster. And the fact that – granny-on-bongos jokes aside – The Fall were always a collaboration between Smith and specific sets of musicians (or dancers/artists/etc) with specific talents, something that comes out in Kat’s writing. I quit listening in 2000 or so but there are surely great pieces to be written about his late lyrical approach in this punishing, gigging context. This conversation on Smith, Brian Clough and management, from K-Punk’s blog, is an interesting angle.

But there’s much that’s truthful about Fisher’s position as well as harsh. First off, Smith really was a unique, visionary creator – there’s nothing in English pop remotely like, to take one example, “Wings”, the SF yarn Fisher talks about in this essay. And second, there was certainly a Cult of Mark E Smith, of the cartoon curmudgeon and bully, the straight-talking prole with the difficult band and the endless catalogue. He played up to it – crafted it, even – but like all cults I doubt it did him (or anyone) any good.