The Fall’s Mark E. Smith Dies


David Corio,
David Corio,

Mark E. Smith, the longtime frontman for the Fall, has died. He was 60 years old.

“It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Mark E. Smith,” wrote the band’s manager on the Fall’s website. “He passed this morning at home. A more detailed statement will follow in the next few days. In the meantime, Pam & Mark’s family request privacy at this sad time.”

The news was also posted on the band’s Twitter.

Rumors have surfaced recently that Smith was in ill health.

The Fall were one of the more curious bands to come out in the late-’70s’ punk and post-punk scenes. As the visionary behind the Fall, Smith led an ever changing lineup of that band for more than 40 years. His distinct vocal style — coupled with a smart, sarcastic and sharp take on society — set him apart from everyone else at the time.

John Lydon may have had the snarl and spit, and Joe Strummer may have had the heart, but Smith had something else altogether. His vocal delivery was more talking than singing, as he addressed listeners from a wobbly pulpit. Over the course of dozens of albums, singles and band lineups, Smith remained unfazed and uninterested in anything but his own musical and lyrical visions.The sound of the Fall would change over the years, but that change was always within its own skin.

The early material sounded like it came from a misplaced ’60s garage band on a cough-syrup-and-speed bender. The Fall were always slightly disjointed but a rock ‘n’ roll band all the way. Early singles like “Rowche Rumble,” “Totally Wired” and “Lie Dream of a Casino Soul” featured manic attacks that were singularly their own. Their 1979 debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, remains a crucial statement of the era. The jagged, driving guitar and the pumping rhythm section contained punk’s energetic mindset, but Smith’s vocals took the game elsewhere and, in the process, helped open the door for much of what would be called post-punk over the years.

In the mid-’80s, the Fall hit upon a winning run of LPs that continued to build on their style while adding elements of everything from krautrock to pure pop along the way. The Wonderful and Frightening World Of, This Nation’s Saving Grace and Bend Sinister ushered in a new era for the band as the mainstream moved closer to them rather than the other way around. That run of albums contained some of the Fall’s finest material as they found their ground. By 1987, they were scoring Top 40 hits in the U.K. with singles like “There’s a Ghost in My House” and a cover of the Kinks‘ “Victoria.”

Though the brief flirtation with pop success was short-lived, it opened the band up to a new audience and helped cement the band’s reputation as something more than a punk-era novelty. Throughout the next decades, Smith ushered more members through his band than just about any other group in history. He wasn’t the easiest guy to work with, colleagues admitted, and the band infamously fell apart while onstage during an appearance at Brownie’s in New York City. Drummer Karl Burns and Smith got into a fight in front of the audience, and Smith was later being charged with assault.

This was just a bump in the road for the Fall. They would again hit another creative stride in the new millennium with albums such as Fall Heads Roll and The Real New Fall LP, both of which found Smith and the band re-energized.

Smith would make a cameo appearance as himself in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People, which centered on Manchester’s music scene of the late ’70s and ’80s. While contemporaries like Joy Division, Happy Mondays, the Smiths and later Oasis, are usually bandied about as Manchester royalty, Smith was just as significant to that vibrant scene. In 2008, a biography, Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith presented Smith in all his glory, warts and all.

He continued with an ever-rotating cast in the Fall, releasing album after single after album and continuing to do live shows. In March 2017, Smith turned 60. Instead of recognizing his birthday, the BBC erroneously reported he had died. In July, the band issued their 32nd LP, New Facts Emerge, to favorable reviews.

Later that summer, Smith’s health issues forced the band to cancel a U.S. tour.  A statement on the band’s website explained, “Despite the incredible progress Mark has made after a pretty rough year health-wise, he has now been rendered unfit to fly due to further dental/respiratory problems.”

Upon returning to live performances two months later, his health took another turn and more dates were canceled. When he did return to the stage for a performance in Newcastle, England, later last year, he was in a wheelchair for the entire show, with one arm in a sling and looking heavily bloated.

Next: Revisiting the Fall’s ‘Hex Enduction Hour’





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