In 2005 me and my contemporaries were going through a weird state-change into not-quite-adulthood, where the old accepted ideas of ‘cool’ had mysteriously died and everything was in flux. The neat categories in which we had formerly defined ourselves were fraying – chavs, grungers, ‘boffs’ (that be me), et al.
Previously, social status depended on how embedded you were within a pre-defined identity; suddenly, what mattered was reinvention and being individual.
Then I saw a show about The Fall. And there was my ‘individual’: Mark E. Smith.
I’ve always had a weak spot for misunderstood geniuses, especially ones who make themselves wilfully inaccessible. ‘Philistine’ was a Class-A dirty word in our house. The obscurer, the better.
So I bought a compilation album. And then all the early albums. And then the new ones. And then scoured charity shops in search of flea-bitten Argyle sweaters so I could pose and sneer like Mark E. Smith.
The Fall was the first time I connected music to lifestyle. They made me want to be weirder when up ’til then, all my energy had been spent on being more ‘normal.’ It was like a drug, except without the harmful side-effects (greasy Argyle sweaters aside).
After washing up in various restaurants I’d spend hours wandering around Folkestone at night, alone, with The Fall. Where was my new face in hell? Where were all the nihilistic kazoo players hiding? Come out, come out, wherever you are….
‘Sneering.’ ‘Irascible.’ ‘Chaotic.’ It’s hard to write about The Fall without these over-used adjectives. But maybe that’s all there was, and all there needed to be.
It’s attitude. It’s confrontation. It’s the sound of permanent restlessness.
It’s the sound of someone angry at you for not understanding what he’s saying, even as he strains to make himself indecipherable. Very human. That’s the dynamic tension that makes something inside you wake up whenever The Fall comes on.
I loved his disregard for his audience, for tune, for coherence. I genuinely believe that underpinning all that is an invitation and a welcome: “I can treat you like this because it’s between friends.” (The most messed-up, bizarre part of you is being invited to play.)
I always felt like he was saying: “if you get it, then you know it’s nothing personal; if you don’t get it, then it’s no skin off your back.”
Here ambled an artist who invited you to be there for the shambling highs and the shambling lows.
What do his songs mean? What the f**k is he talking about? “These songs don’t belong to you, so don’t kid yourself.” They belong to the English language itself, perhaps. Or to demons. Or to nobody.
P.S. If I had to choose one Fall track other than ‘Totally Wired’, it’d be ‘The Classical.’ Whenever my life is falling apart and I want to enjoy the feeling, that’s the song. Cacophonous, insistent, sprawling: like a snow-angel cast in a trash heap.
P.P.S. A more sober favourite: ‘Living Too Late.’ Mostly sounds like another band entirely. Until he starts wailing like a fornicating fox.
P.P.P.S And ‘C.R.E.E.P.’ And everything else.