Sunday 28 January 2018

Mark E. Smith - Memorial and Memorabilia

For me, Mark E. Smith is a greater loss than David Bowie. Let’s just say his chief virtue was that he dealt with the concrete, things which were really there, as opposed to fantasticalities. The prime merit of his work was its truth. He was free from any affectation or pretentiousness. You could happily go for a drink with Mark E. Smith in a way you could never with Bowie. I never did, but I can imagine the sparkling table talk. What made him an entertaining social companion was the same thing that made him a lyricist of genius: you never knew what he was going to say next. 

Example (from one of two lyrics I have in front of me): 

I meet my old friends there/ They queue up for cash there 
They are part Irish / They have no conscience 
And they get threatened by the Cracker Factory 
2 steps back (Cracker Factory – A place where you get into the ‘working routine’ again. = Re-habs
                                             for no hopes = Pre-fabs for Jobless Dopes) 

2 steps back in. 

Mark E. Smith could never have the appeal of Bowie because fantasy is always more palatable to the masses than truth. But fantasy is a juvenile pastime, and the condition of present-day pop culture attests to the deleterious results of arrested development. Whereas too much reality leads to grumpiness. Mark E. Smith balanced grumpiness and playfulness brilliantly, until they become two sides of the same coin. Most of his lyrics are reportage (never straight reportage), but his powers of observation are acute, and given an edge by a unique sensibility, which is working-class, caustic, subversive and absurdist. The Fall's music is punk of uncompromising truculence, yet open to esoteric experiments and surprise undercurrents (he was a fan of Northern Soul and Roy Woods Wizzard). As rooted in the moment as a snapshot, the music actually sounds better from the perspective of mid-lifeas if the band’s listeners’ physical age caught up with the spiritual age of their hero. Smith's great achievement was to harness existential rancour to rock ’n’ roll, a juvenile art-form, with unlovely and paradoxically optimistic music.

I have come not to bury Mark E. Smith but to praise him, or at least exhume some of his ephemeral scraps. I’ve made a modest collection of Mark E. Smith memorabilia over the years. It started with some papers I found secreted into my second-hand copy of The Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit, SFPS028, 1987). These included a cutting from NME, 14 Nov. 1987, with The Fall's UK Discography; a photocopy pic of Marc E. Smith next to a list of the line-up (Marc Riley era) in a handwritten scrawl (“yes 6 like dice”); a typed sheet of the words of ‘Two Steps Back’ and ‘Rebellious Jukebox’ (direct from the man, see below); a press release from 1978, which bears evidence of Mark E.’s unique prose style (“i.e. Who will crack first? Will it crack at all? Will you crack?”); and, as piece de resistance, a letter. It reads: 

[The Fall, Witch Trials typographic letterhead] 

May ‘79 

Dear Dave, 

Thanks for the present of your poetry & letter. The flow of your writing is Brill. All hail Joey. Stockport is a funny place, I’ve a lot of friends there. 

Hope contents suffice, would’ve been more but I’m a slow typer & no paper! Do you wear badges? 

Thanks for support & stimulation. 

Rays of affections 
R. Totale XVII Mark ESm. 
(2 people at once) 
for the fall.

P.S. keep going and we will too.

To these I’ve added extra items which came my way courtesy of Ra Page, City Life (Manchester What’s-On) colleague and erstwhile City Life editor. One is a two page prose work (Ra was always soliciting short stories and would sometimes publish them as City Life supplements) called No Place Like It. It ends: 

"It's crap out there isn't it" Says JOE 

"Damn right it is" 

"Let's form a Party" sez FRANK. 

There there is a page of handwritten answers to typed questions headed OUT TO LUNCH WITH... CITY LIFE QUESTIONNAIRE. As follows: 

Name? SMITH, M.E. 

How often do you go out drinking? (and where?) 

3-4 times a week if flushed, which is rarely. I drink Holt’s bitter, not because it’s cheap, but because it’s the best beer in the world, bar none. I know because I’ve drank all the world’s beers. In the past on long tours I used to suffer ‘Holt’s Withdrawal’. 

How often do you eat out? (and when?) 

All the time if I’m away but in M/CR not so much as I used to, it’s too suffocating and pretentious now. Julio’s Terazzia was the best until it [illegible] on Coronation St and like K2 [?] (Walpoles). he’s the best [illegible] ever. The Prachee [?] at Heaton Park is spot on, too. 

Worst experience? (where) 

Vomiting all over a local T.V. executive in a crowded exclusive M/CR restaurant about a year ago, about Noon – but I think that had as much to do with him as with the place. I can’t stand eating with music/media types, they talk rot and are always surprised I know more about food etc. than they do. 

Do you cook at home much? 

Yes, my roast beef sandwiches have made both grown intellectuals and hoodlums weep with pleasure. 

What would improve Manchester's food and drink scene? 

It’s ridiculously expensive for what it is compared to virtually anywhere else – be it Rossendale or America, but that’s maybe rent etc. Also, in M/CR no bars seem to have heard of a clean, cold glass – most places’d get trashed if they were in Glasgow or someplace. And I’d argue it’s even harder now to get a decent drink after 11p.m. than it was in the early 80’s. 

This is accompanied by a handwritten note written on tatty, lined paper, torn off when the message ends: 

From M.E. SMITH 
11 JUL. ‘99 


Dear Ra: 


The Nepalese is actually called KAILIL on George St. Also the New Emperor is v. good too. 

Also, got cheque for a £100.00 – is this correct? My phone’s bust, so write me. 

All the best...   

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