Friday 1 August 2008

Being Frank

Mark E Smith, London Literature Festival 2008, Southbank Centre, London, Wednesday 16 July 2008

For just a moment in a recent in-conversation event between Mark E Smith and Ian Harrison as part of the London Literature Festival, Mark morphed into Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News and scourge of Fleet Street reputations. Maybe Harrison, Associate Editor of Mojo, had asked one too many questions about the presumed influences of Mark’s parents and of Manchester, and one too few about the actual project of The Fall and their music. Mark rounded on him.

Journalists just rely on t’Net these days; the editors are lazy; journalism is dying, like it has in America, France and Germany; coming over here; just relying on what the press release says; you are all taking it lying down basically. Some of us are struggling against it. Not hard enough you’re not.

What brought MES to accuse Harrison of Mere Pseud Mag. Ed-ness? The evening had opened to the strains of Von Südenfed’s Fledermaus Can’t Get It, leading me at least to hope that there might be some discussion about what direction Smith is planning to take next. Instead we got an attempt to reduce Smith to ‘influences’, to reveal his weaknesses for drink and sacking band members, and we got the predictable cussed evasiveness from MES. The interview’s basic structure was something like this.

You say that people, men, are without a compass these days, what do you think about that? A compass, what chapter is this in, fourteen or fifteen, he, heh, hmmmm, cough? The book is a very humane take on your personality, you come across as very, humane. It does?, I can’t read it myself…

Manchester has always been very important for you. The Fall are not from anywhere, nothing to do with anywhere, you never know what they’re talking about, they’re not from Manchester

Given that Austin Collings - ghost-writer of Smith’s ‘autobiography’ - had not made it to the Southbank, Harrison might have taken the hint that continuing a line of questioning into the personality and inner life of MES was not going to be the most rewarding tactic on the night. As I pointed out in my review of Renegade on spiked, Mark has yet to become Self Revealing Talkative Man. It is not always completely clear just what role he is playing in public or that it could ever be determined and written down in terms of his private life. Nor is The Fall a band that can be pigeon-holed and neatly explained away in terms of apparent musical influences.

You say you don’t like the straight-weird people? I make a lot of words up, weird straight, straight, wheels, straight-wheels, don’t like the punks, don’t like the Buzzcocks on the telly every day. What’s wrong with it if it gives people pleasure? I like the Searchers, I don’t like the Buzzcocks, I don’t mind; never mind that…

He also likes Jerry Lee Lewis and was moved by Bo Diddley’s recent death.

I was a bit upset about that. You met him didn’t you? Yeah, twice, it was that thing on The Tube, he said you’re the only rock and roll band on there; I was on Cloud 9.

So, OK, push him far enough and you might get him to admit his feelings, his vulnerabilities, admit that he does after all want to Be Appreciated and be loved by someone, admit that he is just a normal and weak individual like the rest of us. Harrison wanted to get to the dirt though, picking up a very quick reference in Renegade to Mark’s drinking problems in the ‘90s.

What do you think about everyone wanting to be happy nowadays? Needing counselling?...........................silence.....................................It keeps them off the streets don’t it really?

Is this all we want from autobiographies? The easy moral? The story of working class boy makes not good exactly but all right, reaches the edge, goes over it, and is rehabilitated back into polite coffee table reading and Southbank interviews? Admit your victim-hood and you can be one of us? But isn’t MES there on stage in London precisely because he is more than that? Because he has done something with his life and producing 27 studio albums is not a bad record? Mark, I think, still sees more than a little virtue in basic self-respect and had had enough.

Are you not appreciated: do you feel that? I don’t think its important, I’m a Smith, I’m anonymous and I love you Ian and I think it’s about fucking time we wound this up don’t you?

Parting comment as he walked off stage? The Fall hasn’t started yet. I’m glad that we can look forward to more from them and hope maybe for less on where they came from.

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