Word arrived yesterday of the demise of Mark E. Smith, 60, longtime CMO (Chief Musical Officer) of the ever-changing corporation known as The Fall. Now that he is gone, we can mark the final Fall tallies: 42 years, 60-some band members, 32 studio albums, and an unknown but immense number of live albums.
Smith was truly one of a kind. Not a musician, not even a singer, really — more a human conduit for some kind of powerful, dangerous, uncontrollable energy. This kind of thing takes a toll on a person, not to mention his prodigious and unrepentant consumption of speed, alcohol, and tobacco. So on the one hand it’s fairly impressive he made it to 60; on the other hand I kind of thought he’d keep on indefinitely, growing forever more gnarled and opaque.
In his younger days Smith was, if not handsome exactly, striking:
— with a fierce intelligence shooting out of his eyes like laser beams. In later years he increasingly grew to resemble Stephen Hawking:
There may be a cautionary tale there; was there perhaps an alternate route that allowed him to maintain both his creativity and his health for a little bit longer? No way to say for sure, of course; we each must choose our own path, and Mark E. Smith certainly did that.
Well, M.E.S. is gone but he left his mark. The Fall’s catalog is both deep and broad, running the gamut from the worst kind of noise to a sort of left-field pop that netted them a number of hit singles in the UK. There’s no way to pick one song that represents their oeuvre, but here’s one of their classics, with Smith ranting irascibly about the deplorable state of his current residence: