RIP – Mark E. Smith

Wednesday, January 24th…I am seated in my living room, having just learned that Mark. E. Smith, leader of the group, The Fall has passed away.

Devastating news. Despite the fact that you are reading this, there are no words, no words really to express my feelings.

The Fall was a group that performed a no-nonsense form of rock n’ roll. Mark E. Smith claimed in several interviews he had a “layman’s ear.” The inference being that his music would appeal to builders, plumbers and the like. This always made me laugh. Listeners were taken on several different journeys through time. “Wings,” or “City hobgoblins,” (where small creatures run loose in various metropolitan areas) are a couple of genius tracks.

I saw the band a few times, fewer than I would have liked. Living on the west coast of the United States made it difficult to see the band live, as they did not tour to west coast of the states often. That being said, when I did see them live, I was always stunned by Smith’s stage presence. Cool. Confident. And seemingly not there to please the audience as such. The band was there to play. They got on with their job. And they did it well.

I met two of my best friends at a show The Fall performed at a place called Berbati’s Pan in Portland. The bar is now closed. But they are still my very good, very best friends. Fall fans.

The first record I heard by The Fall was “Perverted by Language”. The music was strange, unlike whatever else I was hearing in 1983. I did not immediately like the album, but played it on my walkman. A Couple of years later, the group released “This nations saving grace,” which floored me from the first note all the way to the end. I have been a fan ever since.

Mark E. Smith was a founding member of the group, and remained the guiding force throughout the group’s long career, from 1976 to the present. The group changed members on a regular basis, re-invented itself, while retaining their hard focus. One of the quotes most often stated about the band comes from BBC Radio presenter, John Peel, a life long fan of the group. He stated that The Fall were “Always different, always the same.”

Anyone with a musical ear could hear traces of Can, or Captain Beefheart in their songs. They were a garage rock band that played rockabilly riffs, and also covered a song from a collection of Truck driving themed favorites. They were weird and wonderful. During the 80’s they flirted with Top 40 status, and with one of their many changes in record labels (which occurred almost as often as they changed band members), the group slipped from mass appeal. They flirted with techno in the early 90’s and when most people claimed they were on their way out, they turned around and released another amazing record like “The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country on the click’ “ in 2003. A favorite of mine and certainly a career highlight.

Since 2008, the group membership seemed to solidify, and Mark E. Smith fronted a consistent group of musicians that served him well and did The Fall name proud. The most recent album, “New Facts Emerge” was a stunner.

With Smith’s passing, I assume the vast catalog will now increase, with semi-legitimate releases, live recordings, etc.. With so many years of recordings behind them there must be hours upon hours of music left in the can or on a studio shelf. I will now approach new releases with a wary ear, whereas before, when Mark E. Smith was in control, I would have snatched up new releases with giddy anticipation.

As I prepare to wrap it up, I know these words I have written do not sufficiently convey my thoughts and interest in The Fall. It is not so much that the group changed my life, but my life would have been remarkably different if my friend, Raymund had not played me “Perverted by Language”.

If you read this far, I humbly suggest you go out and seek out some music by The Fall. If you are not instantly converted, you will be all the better for it. The band grows on you, like all great things.