Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Fallen: Life in and Out of Britain's Most Insane Group by Dave Simpson

All terms used to describe The Fall almost instantly seem redundant and slightly pointless. Unique, prolific, shape-shifting, inspiring. Yeah, yeah, yeah - we all know that about The Fall. And yet, we also seem to know nothing about The Fall. Are they a mystery. Or perhaps so ordinary and straight-forward they just appear mysterious. As if we are desperately trying to find an answer to a riddle, when there wasn't a riddle posed in the first place.

This is the problem Dave Simpson faced and this is the problem that drove him slightly mad in the process of investigating it. Because you can't really get to the bottom of The Fall. All you can do - as many, many, many ex-members testify to in the book - is hang on for the ride and appear bleary eyed at the end, wanting more. I've seen the faces of members on active Fall duty - at a DC club I worked at in the late 90s - a particularly volatile time for the band. It was not pretty. After the gig, I saw all the Fallers, except for Mark E Smith, sitting on the steps leading up to the stage, each occupying their own step, each with their heads in their hands as if they'd witnessed some horrible, life-shattering event. And yet none of the ex-members, interviewed in The Fallen, regret their time in the band and all would take up arms again if Smith asked them to rejoin. No matter what perceived cruelties of injustices they faced while in the band - each of them would go back for more.

Why? Who knows. Simpson likens it to a cult. All are treated brutally by their charismatic leader and all love him with unrestricted devotion. Again, this seems simplistic and add layers to The Fall mystery that probably don't exist. But there must be something about Mark E. Smith? As the book points out, he is the last man standing every time. Hardly any of the 50+ members of The Fall have gone on to do anything worthwhile musically, certainly nothing approaching the influence and impact of their former band. Yet the Fall trundles on, releasing album after album, still relevant and endearing, with only Smith as the original member. So it must be him. Mark E. Smith is, was and shall be The Fall and all others fall into line, serve their time and are then disposed of, fresh blood entering the fray.

I've always been interested in obligation and why people persist in continuing with creative endeavours when its obvious that they don't enjoy and it serves no purpose. So many bands have staggered on, hating each other, hating their audience, hating the music industry - but compelled to continue for various reasons - mainly ego-driven. I think Smith is interested in this to and has to constantly shake up The Fall to ensure the life-blood continues to flow. He might hate the people around him, the music industry and the audience, but he'll never hate The Fall because he, just like us, never knows what is coming next. His own mysterious behaviour ensures this.

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