His Nation’s Saving Face

So, where’s the best place to read about Mark E. Smith’s politics? Like, where did he stand on Brexit, for instance? What was that “obliguh-tree (n-word)” line all about? Have to admit, I’ve always been curious — But I’ve also always been either too lazy or too maybe-don’t-really-wanna-know to research it. I mean, I do remember people talking about his “anarchism” now and then. (In fact Jon Pareles even used a form of the word in his New York Times obit, though I’m not sure how literally: “Mr. Smith’s intransigent voice and anarchically caustic lyrics often rode pitiless, repetitive riffs toward an almost ecstatic bitterness and cynicism.”) But he definitely wasn’t, like, the Mekons in anarchy’s regard. I don’t think. One problem is I almost never read interviews with musicians, period. Another problem is I don’t speak British.

Eric Weisbard suggests a 2006 post called “Memorex for the Krakens: The Fall’s Pulp Modernism,” on Mark Fisher’s K-Punk blog. And yeah, maybe parts of this might help: “The enemies are the old Right, the custodians of a National Heritage image of England (‘poky quaint streets in Cambridge’) but also, crucially, the middle class Left, the Chabertistas of the time, who ‘condescend to black men’ and ‘talk of Chile while driving through Haslingdon’. In fact, enemies were everywhere. Lumpen punk was in many ways more of a problem than prog, since its reductive literalism and perfunctory politics (‘circles with A in the middle’) colluded with Social Realism in censuring/censoring the visionary and the ambitious.” (Eric also alerts me to the academic-looking 2010 tome Mark E. Smith and The Fall: Art, Music and Politics, by Benjamin Halligan and Michael Goddard.)

Tom Ewing’s helpful, too: “The political lyric that always jumped out at me in a Fall song was from ‘Idiot Joy Showland’: ‘The working class has been shafted/So what the fuck are you sneering at?’ — I always got the sense that his class and regional identity meant more to him than organized political movements or coherent positions, even (sometimes especially) the ones purporting to represent those identities. So he’s hard to pinpoint, easier to work out what he isn’t than what he is — not a Tory, not New Labour, but not entirely Old Labour either — he claimed he quit the party over its opposition to the Falklands War, and he had a nationalist streak.”

Mainly though, his politics were just as difficult for me to parse as the rest of his lyrics (which I often somehow loved, regardless.) Though maybe too obvious to mention, I always heard the Fall’s cover of “Victoria” (“I was born, lucky me, in a land that I Iove….For this land I will die, may the sun never set…Canada to India, Australia to Cornwall, Singapore to Hong Kong”) as music’s best straight-up pro-colonial Empire statement ever (see “nationalist streak” Tom cited above), since MES ranted it so joyously, like he really meant it. (Not sure whether Ray Davies originally meant it”ironically” or not. Maybe both.)

facebook, 27 January 2018

1 comment

  1. via facebook:

    David Strauss
    That song was written for a teleplay, and meant to be sung in character. Of course, all Davies songs are, to some extent…
    I remember hearing The Fall for the first time and thinking. “This sounds really political, but I have no idea what these politics are.” Perhaps the politics were sonics.

    Phil Freeman
    My understanding is that his politics would make no sense to an American.

    Jake Alrich
    I always thought the Fall were like if “Louie Louie” were a band: no fucking idea what the lyrics are but you’re just positive the FBI has launched an investigation.

    Steacy Easton
    i always thot that the key was a sort of regionalism, but i have also never figured out what those regionalisms meant in america or how they attached to class

    Graham Ashmore
    Did his Falklands stand have something to do with opposition to the Argentine junta?

    Simon Reynolds
    Mark e smith voted Tory at least once – or so he claimed – because his local labor MP was too trendy lefty. He favored nuclear weapons because he believed conscription and conventional ground war would be worse (decimating the working classes like in WW 1. He disliked whole grain and brown bread. On the basis of these opinions, I would bet a solid sized wager that he was in favor of Brexit.

    Joey Daniewicz
    “He favored nuclear weapons because he believed conscription and conventional ground war would be worse (decimating the working classes like in WW 1.” galaxy brain

    Nigel Richardson
    I think he liked to believe he was above politics. There was an interview a few years back where he said he’d met some young guys in a small American town who didn’t know who the President was, and this, he asserted, was a good thing.

    Deborah Frost
    In the words of the prophet John McEnroe- are you SERIOUS?

    Diane Aguilar
    The libertarian in me would like to think he distrusted authority wholesale, e.g. that famous lyric about locking “the powers that be” in a room until they’d “have to eat each other”, but I fully acknowledge I may be reading into things there.


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