Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Fallen - Dave Simpson


"We are The Fall." as Mark E Smith declared on the debut album 'Live At The Witch Trials' back in 1978 "Northern white crap that talks back." And almost 40 years later, on stepping onto the stage at any Fall gig Mark still introduces the band by declaring "We are The Fall" even if it's just him and his granny on bongos. It's a pertinent point for amongst other things The Fall are famous for having a bewilderingly high number of line-up changes over the years and it's this that journalist Dave Simpson has chosen to write a book about, naming it - naturally - The Fallen.

In excess of forty musicians have passed through the ranks of The Fall in almost as many years and Simpson makes it his mission to track down each and every one of them though his reason for doing so is never really made clear. He's a Fall fan, of course, or perhaps that should be a 'Fall obsessive' and it seems to him to be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
"Ha ha ha ha ha. You're crazy!" says former lead guitarist Marc Riley who along with all other ex-members that Simpson approaches, still agrees to be interviewed. For Simpson, he imagines the former members might hold the key to the legends of The Fall and that they're a piece of social history, as in decades of music seen through the eyes of the foot soldiers. Mark E Smith, however, fails to understand and finds it all very boring: "I don't understand the big deal with it." he says "They came, they saw, they fucked off and now I no longer see them. The Fall are about the present, and that's it."
Mark also fails to understand why former members are so quick to talk about their Fall-years (or days): "It's as if they've been to Vietnam or had a particularly fraught space-excursion and their senses have been obliterated. It's all they can talk about, it's all that remains in their fried heads. I'm thinking about setting up a post-Fall-syndrome therapy hour. That'd chase a few wolves from the door." And as often is the case, there's a lot of truth in what Mark says because what comes over in the interviews Simpson conducts is that the former members are indeed in need of some form of therapy and use their interview as a way of getting it for free. There are certain things some of them still can't bring themselves to talk about: dark, drug induced secrets; demons they still shy away from addressing, though strangely they all say they'd return and play with The Fall again if asked.

Of all the former members, the most interesting is Kay Carroll who from 1977 to 1983 sang backing vocals but more importantly, was the band's manager. By all accounts Carroll was (and still is) a formidable woman who terrified her fellow band members. She was also Mark's girlfriend at the time. According to Carroll, The Fall's entire 'no sell-out/outsiders' stance was her creation, her 'musical instrument'. "I brought an ideology to The Fall and Mark carried it on." she says.
The ex-member offering the best insight into The Fall is perhaps not by coincidence also a woman, that being Brix Smith, former guitarist/backing vocalist/'stylist' and also Mark's wife at the time of her being in the band. According to Brix: "Like a great painting, what people make of The Fall is actually a reflection of themselves." This idea is expounded upon by ex-member Marcia Schofield who played keyboards, who suggests that The Fall are a mirror and Mark E Smith is "a walking, cultural Rorschach Test."
The thing about these specific offerings is that not only are they from women but they also echo my take on Albert Camus' book The Fall (see a previous review), from which Mark, of course, took the name for his band. And it's funny that of all the people interviewed by Simpson - including Carroll, Brix, and Schofield - none of them not once mentions Camus' book or even hints that they've ever read it.

Simpson just about succeeds in his quest but apart from an article in The Guardian and the completion of his book, in the end he actually has very little to show for it. In fact, he seems to have lost more than he's gained for not only has his girlfriend of 17 years left him - tired of taking second place to his Fall obsession - but he's also received withering condemnation from Mark E Smith himself for 'the hatchet job on Fall members past and present'. But then what did he expect? Particularly as at times in the book he comes across as a stalker, even at one point lurking around outside of Mark's home and asking neighbours if they know who lives there? And sure they do. "Mad Mark", as one of them replies with a shrug, as if to say 'And? So what? What's it to you? What's it to anyone?'

And so consequently, if as Brix Smith suggests The Fall simply reflects and as Marcia Schofield suggests that The Fall is a mirror; what we're left with at the end of the book is a not very flattering portrait of the author Dave Simpson going through a very long and slow nervous breakdown. The one unexpected blessing for him being that though he's not actually become a member of The Fall, in a certain way he has become a member of The Fallen who like the others belonging to that particular club who he's tracked down and interviewed, seems to be in need of some form of therapy.
John Serpico

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