The Old Golden Savage – A Mark E. Smith Tribute
As I see it, over time, the music of The Fall has become the staunchest formative presence in my life. Found out at fourteen, picking up a bootleg cassette of Dragnet at an outdoors market. And all through the years that followed. Blasting ‘Garden’ on long night walks. Drunkenly hopping to ‘The Classical’ at my wedding. ‘Fiery Jack’ on my headphones on repeat as I cowered in a vomit-spackled corner of the main room of that overnight Japan-Korea ferry that spent ten agonizing swinging hours moving through a Pacific tsunami. ‘Totally Wired’ rattling in my brain as I repeatedly walked out of jobs, careers, relationships, lost schmoozing opportunities, ambitions, refusing to yield, however self-effacing. ‘No Bulbs’ becoming the centerpiece of my chemical afflictions. And ‘Fantastic Life’ playing at full tilt in a bar in New Orleans outside which I got into a bloody fight with that Kentucky marine (lost a tooth, broke his jaw). As hokey and idiotically juvenile as it might be, it’s something that helped me zero in on what it meant to preserve a bit of primal soul. I danced to this music in dark rooms, and my guts were on fire.
A small lifetime ago, I worked at a record shop for an old burnt-out Brit who used to say that a proper Englishman listened to Blue Orchids in the summer, Joy Division in the winter, The Damned in autumn, Sex Pistols in spring, and The Fall at all times. I don’t know if information from one drunken self-dubbed messiah’s lips to another is something worth soaking in. I did learn that cultural refinement is fucking trash. And I learned that dying a little to justify keeping living is as bad as dying altogether.
To the usual hump, the daily is packed with big all-forming knocks, the spaces between which are filled out with smaller easier-digestible concessions. The worst isn’t even that torment itself, not the constant ceding. It’s the moving on. It’s like Rimbaud said, that wine-sodden little dandy, ‘The most unbearable thing in life is that nothing is unbearable.’ Even the stuff of nightmares, meant to take us apart, we learn to shrug off and plow on, know it as biologic instinct. It isn’t like Mark E. Smith was exempt from that gutting nonsense either. You don’t spin around the record industry for so long without learning retreat and retread. But his infinite pool of unerring vitriol helped make it bearable, against the flat-packed tide of beastly boring bosses, etching a small living in flailing economies, staying nihilistic in the age of middling governments, keeping a casual sneer in the face of self-gratifying fascists that slowly morphed from right-wingers to radical leftists and the terrifying beyond.
In that sense, MES’ last years were the perfect image of what the tail-end of a career non-conformist look like – what was once lean and hungry made into a withered mess, the total sum of being stuck, shoved between the grinding wheel of ordained living and one’s own chronic shortcomings, flayed down to gnarled mush. Small price to pay for pilfering a nominally larger amount of freedom that’s usually on offer, I say.
The music often veered into shit, especially in the later years. The dogma did too. The wick stayed in the wax though. And that is something grand and irreplaceable in itself.
Here’s a tall leaded cold one to a man who would not bend, unless it’s the drink turned his legs to rubber.