The Architectonics of The Fall. Part the Second.
Mark Fishers article (pp. 151-169), Memorex for the Kraken, in Excavate! is at the centre of the book, literally and metaphorically, even down to its M.E. Smith - like title. Fisher, rather helpfully, manages to subvert his own arguments, by opining that:
“…(Smith’s) notes and press releases (i.e. his ‘para-texts’) were no more intelligible than the songs that they were supposed to explain”.
You could say the same about Sun Ra’s poetry or Anthony Braxton’s paratextual song 'titles’. I love further Fisher comments such as:
“…goblets of linguistic detritus, direct from the unmediated unconscious, unfiltered by any sort of reflexive subjectivity”.
The same has been said about dada poetry, Burroughs’s 'cut ups’ and other plethora of spoken word avantism. It’s very tongue-tripping diction, but what did Smith make of this sort of “academic thingy”? To her eternal credit, Brix Smith seemed to 'earth’ Smith somehow. with her “subliminal pop-harmony choruses”. Michael Bracewell was left with his fanciful imaginings of “bad nights in a working man’s club in Wakefield” or “vituperative Manchester lorry drivers”. This is rather absurd, like Oscar Wilde pontificating and fantasising about Emile Zola’s chosen subject matter, but has gifted Fall-watchers with various 'classist’ misattributions ever since. (Bracewell’s chapter in his This Is England essays is Exhibit A in this regard). The middle class press continued to regard the 'working class’ in retro-powered awe, as seen in the Oasis 'controversy’ (with Blur presented somehow as 'inauthentic’) of the mid-90s, with the Gallagher brothers presenting themselves as the ultimate 'anti-woke’ warriors, despite their moving, as quick as their eyebrows allowed them, down to London. (’Join the Capital’?) M.E. Smith predated their shtick by 15 years. But at least he knew his place. Unlike the aspirational Burnage twins, he barely moved away from his place of birth, Prestwich, for any length of time, apart from a brief time in Edinburgh (celebrated in the great Edinburgh Man, one of Smith’s most straightforward and directly honest tracks).
Both Michael Bracewell and Mark Fisher equate The Fall with “great art” (“the ability to provoke and doubt, simultaneously”, an utterly
unnecessary equivalence if there ever was one.) Smith’s incoherence ultimately rendered the group as aesthetically flawed; they were 'merely’ a great rock band, in the final analysis. “Whenever I say something, I often think the opposite as true as well”: this is a comment of the pub smart arse, not a great artist, and Smith’s lyrics are ultimately autodidactically incoherent (no offense here meant for either quality). It is possible, nay probable, that Smith became so arrogant because the “Southern white middle-class crap” put him on the pedestal of working class iconoclasm, a position that the Prestwich (i)mage undoubtedly reinforced and condoned.
So, Excavate! is not really a multi-faceted history of The Fall that I’d like. It over-focuses on the 'early days’, it downplays the role of female participants, it exaggerates certain literary influences and ignores the precipitous decline of the 'later years’. But, in the end, if you are a Fall fan, you will find much within these pages to enjoy. As ever with The Fall, there is much, much more to tell, but this blog format demands some brevity.
The ultimate Fall book still awaits us!! “M.R. James be born, be born…Sludge Hai Choi”!!