Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Rock and Roll Eulogies: Mark E. Smith

It’s there from the start. From “Repetition” on Early Fall. The Fall is the most complete aesthetic statement in all of rock and roll. Repetition repeats. Wheels within wheels. Waking up, eating, shitting, going to sleep. The patterns repeat: chew, chew, chew, swallow, chew, chew, chew, swallow, ad nauseum. And the nausea too. And history. Bloody history. Nausea. Mark E. Smith never aimed to make music to make us feel better. For forty years of the same and the same and the same, he aimed to make us queasy. Bent over and sipping hungover breaths through gritted teeth. Afraid to open our mouths or eyes too wide, for fear of letting the world seep in. Smith always knew that the most dangerous infection is the most pervasive. Through, I dunno, maybe 60 albums (it depends how you count them), The Fall’s music has desperately repelled the disease of liquidity; of assuming the shape of its container (drivers). Like a gas (man), it escapes. Like a solid it stubbornly stays the same. Errant vowels at the end of words and squeals of malfunction in the midst of boggle-jumble-phrases (“Rowche Rumble,” “Smile” (just “Smile”), “Eat Y’self Fitter”). The anti-matter James Brown. Jesus Christ in reverse. Because art rarely prompts us to ask both the question “how does he do that?” and “why does he do that?” The first question suggests technique-inspired wonder, while the second implies confusion regarding intent. So, if we do ask both questions, it’s about the bad taste of excess (cf. Neil Peart). But with Mark E. (the Marquis) and the rotating cast of Fallers, the questions are begged by the depth of an obviousness we could never have imagined. Like Lester Bangs said about somebody else, The Fall are all about “musical ideas that may not be highly sophisticated (God forbid!) but are certainly advanced.” It’s the nose in front of your face. Out there, in front. But so hard to see, until you smash into the mirror. Sometimes you need to break the thing wot breathes just to remind y’self of how difficult and dangerous it can be to put on airs (or put up with ‘em, or put ‘em in you). Be careful what you wish for, lungs. The first time I saw The Fall I’d taken mushrooms. Rethought the notion of “psychedelic music.” (And “psychedelic.”) (And “music.”) The way he squatted with his back to me the whole time. Another time, the carry bag man lost hold of a shopping bag full of lyrics on the festival stage. Sheets of words deserted him in the wind. He tried in vain to repatriate them to the bag – the odd jobs concatenations that somehow sat upon dumb dogmatic bass lines and befuddling, scudding drumming like a vested monkey riding a rodeo horse. Most of them got away. Like the time he told the recording engineer that the drummer didn’t deserve more microphones than his own single vocalist allotment and made him take the rest away. Or the time he tells the lighting guy at their hometown Hacienda “Donald, stop those lights flashing or I’ll break your fucking neck”and then recites, simultaneously into the microphone and into a school cassette recorder “he tried to induce epilepsy. I, and my strong personality, was having none of it” like those were just the lyrics of the song which maybe they were because how did he do that? / why did he do that? His tongue was so deep in his cheek it came out the other side, which is either the opposite cheek, the opposite of cheek, or maybe the listener’s cheek, or maybe the very idea of the idea of having one’s tongue in one’s cheek, such that it is swallowed back down the throat which is what can happen during induced epilepsy, the gag reflex, and nausea. Or asphyxiation. Rock and roll must now be officially dead, right? Kidding-not-kidding. Fuck.

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