Punk, literature and the Fall: Mark E. Smith

A dead punk's literary influences.

Mark E. Smith was born in the UK in 1957, and along with Tony Friel and Martin Bramah, he founded The Fall in 1976. Smith was the only original member of the band that was still active at this point. Smith hired and fired players as if it were a pleasant treat, so more than sixty musicians passed through The Fall over the course of their 38 years of existence, making it appear as though the band was more of a pigeon loft than a coherent rock band. During this time, the band was in existence.

Since the singer had to postpone or reschedule a series of gigs before the end of 2017, it had been apparent for some time that the performer was struggling with major health issues. However, he did not appear to be prepared to give up, as seen by the fact that he even performed one of their most recent gigs while seated in a wheelchair. The unique voice and style of singing that Mark E. Smith possessed was one of the defining characteristics of The Fall. Because he more often than not mumbled his lyrics through the microphone instead of singing them, it was not always easy to understand what he was trying to say. The Fall was a band that was incredibly productive, as evidenced by the fact that they released approximately 80 albums in a span of less than 39 years. The Hex Enduction Hour, which was released in 1982, is perhaps one of the band’s albums that has had the most impact. To this day, musicians from all over the world have pointed to the band as a point of inspiration in their own work.

Mark E. Smith was motivated to form his own band after gaining inspiration from the memorable Sex Pistols performance that took place in 1976. Other future band members from Joy Division, The Smiths, and the Buzzcocks were also in attendance. Smith was one of the founding members of The Fall along with Martin Bramah, Una Baines, and Tony Friel. After then, the band, which was given its name from a novel written by Albert Camus in 1956, developed into one of the most well-known and influential post-punk groups of all time.

Smith was known for his outspoken, combative, and antisocial character, and he remained the band’s vocalist through multiple line-up changes over the course of several decades. Smith was a very bright man and an avid reader, despite the fact that he never completed his formal education. According to Bramah, “[The Fall] considered that you lost all of your individuality when you were in university.” We were interested in finding out what was fascinating, but we didn’t want to be spoon-fed information. We’d all turned our backs on the limited schooling we’d been given.”

Smith’s literary tastes inspired the band’s catchy, clever, and well-written songs, which were a significant part of the band’s popularity. Smith exploited his love of literature as a weapon. He once shared: “There were no groups around that I thought represented people like me or my mates. If I wanted to be anything, it was a voice for those people. The Fall had to appeal to someone who was into cheap soul as much as someone who liked avant-garde.” Smith’s literary tastes informed his lyrical themes, which often explored, as he called it, “the horror of the normal,” mixing dry humour with sharp social critique.

Mark E. Smith’s book references:

  • Gulcher: Post-Rock Cultural Pluralism in America – Richard Meltzer
  • A Small Town in Germany – John Le Carré
  • A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. DickThe Man in the High Castle
  • The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • The Deer Park – Norman Mailer
  • The Black Room – Colin Wilson
  • Ritual in the Dark – Colin Wilson
  • Cogan’s Trade – George V. Higgins
  • At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft
  • Beyond Good and Evil – Frederich Nietzsche
  • U.S. Civil War Handbook – William H. Price
  • How I Created Modern Music – D. McCulloch (a weekly serial)
  • True Crime Monthly
  • Private Eye

Smith discussed the works of his favorite authors and novels in an article that was published in the NME in 1981 and titled “Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer.” His interest in horror and science fiction, such as At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft and A Scanner Darkly and The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, shows his interest in nihilism and the horrors of being human. Examples of these types of works include: Smith made repeated allusions to the two authors in his lyrics, even going so far as to say, “My stories are very much like Lovecraft’s actually.” Before he gave a special reading of the author’s short story “The Colour Out Of Space,” he disclosed to the BBC that he had “been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft since I was around 17.”

Smith was also an avid reader of suspense and crime fiction, particularly books like “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgens. Smith mentioned that A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carré was one of his favorite pieces of fiction. He also mentioned that The Black Room and Ritual in the Dark by Colin Wilson were two of his favorite works of fiction. Non-fiction works, such as Beyond Good and Evil by Frederich Nietzsche, which is considered to be a foundational nihilistic text, were influential on the leader of The Fall. One of his favorite books is titled “Gulcher: Post-Rock Cultural Pluralism in America” by Richard Meltzer. This book proposes that the role of music as a marker of contemporary culture could be challenged in the future. ✪


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