When is rock not folk ? When is pop not folk ? When it is the shiny product which can be good on the radio and the hi fi but if there was only that we’d be living in hell and sometimes we might walk into its regions eg radio in garages and shops. Yeah, that stuff has to be part of the mix and the mix would mean something while it worked on your body and mind. And part of the mix would be The Fall.
The music of The Fall was folk music about our strange everyday lives and folk music is where musical meaning and value is created and recreated. Where that precious commentary and thought which makes music mean something comes from.
The Fall could never be that shiny stuff that makes up the charts but it could still do a damn good imitation which was on a par with the finest radio music at least for those people who loved what the Fall knew and illuminated for us about the intersections that make up our musical, social, cultural landscape. It was a place filled with political intelligence and it was addictive for those who got hooked on what was being said in so many constantly changing inventive new ways and new shapes. Isn’t that the definition of what artists should do ?
MES I thought had a lot in common with those other big auteurs of late 20th century music like Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, George Clinton. They were more than solo acts. They were band leaders with unique evolving bands and Smith deserves to be seen as amidst those creative orbits, that firmament.
The music was made out some sort of plastic organic material that only Smith had supplies of. Fall imitators have never been able to keep it up for long because they only worked with an imitation of that unique endlessly fertile creative stuff.
The Fall were a band who gave a shit about novelty and entertainment value but that was done with a contempt for the inauthenticity, the silliness and vanity of the mainstream. At the same time the stream of the main (mainstream) was part of the environment that the Fall nestled in, maybe sucked a bit of its blood.
The irony of the Fall was the good sort, a warmly cynical kind where everything was just a thing to be put into Smith’s world where it would dance for you in the way the Fall made it dance. Contention – cynicism can have a warm and funny side to it but kind of adores its own aggression because maybe aggression is just a form of violent happiness, amoral bliss which ultimately feels like goodness, while it laughs down every bit of content whilst redeeming that content within itself. Is that what makes cynicism different from nihilism ? The idea of a nihilistic Fall is ridiculous. Cynicism can retain a childlike optimism amidst its slashing insightfulness.
He has often been criticised as a bad human being. So was Miles. Perhaps what they had in common was a certain liberality in justifying their own pissed offness, of artists whose passions and aesthetic senses are constantly under attack from mediocrity. In this society and culture I think that’s understandable. And hey most of us never knew him so we should probably be thankful for that. Seen, read, heard in sporadic media appearances Smith tended to treat proceedings as a spurned poet with an air of slight surprise on these rare occasions he’d been requested to give his opinions. It was at these times you could see someone who threatened these complacent/fashion led environments with exactly something intended to refuse such environments with a background in sensory derangement that put all its assumed solidities in jeopardy. He was so totally at home in the media environment he made it all look like a mistake which he had every right to expect something better, possibly madder in its place.
It would be good to see The Fall becoming more widely known and enjoyed by the people of these isles. It would be a good measure of progress. As yet they remain sadly, a minority taste. However that huge body of work exists exists so that’s why we should celebrate Mark E Smith and The Fall. Fantastic achievement really.