Mark E. Smith, the iconoclast behind the Manchester post-punk band the Fall, died last week at age 60. He leaves more than 30 albums of irreverent, verbose, artful music that left its mark on the music scene. The Fall’s only permanent member, Smith was responsible for steering the band through dozens of lineup changes and constantly revamped sounds. Smith could be acerbic, cranky, and downright hateful. He reveled in it, giving voice to that of the most seminal punk emotion: rage.
Although the Fall never found huge commercial success, it had legions of devoted fans, particularly in the U.K. The band never had a radio hit of its own. The Mancunian frontman’s fans included musicians who would go on to shape music in the late 20th century and into the aughts.
Fellow Mancunian Morrissey was an obsessed Smith fan in his youth. According to Smith’s ex-wife Brix Smith Start, Morrissey was hugely influenced by the Fall, but there was also a rivalry there. “Morrissey was a massive Fall fan before the Smiths, and used to write him fawning fan letters, which we have in our house, signed. But the Smiths signed to Rough Trade, and Rough Trade obviously put everything they had into the Smiths, which we can see now was worthwhile. And Mark felt kicked to the curb.”
John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, certainly seemed to share a surface dynamic with Smith. The two are both famously puckish, but Lydon dismissed the Fall as “it’s all basically the same song.” Smith retaliated by calling Lydon’s book “middle-class propaganda.” Although the Sex Pistols had a brief, showy run, the Fall outlasted them by decades.
The Fall made music that was decidedly outsider, indie rock-identified. Pavement was highly influenced by the approach, which shows in their lo-fi sound and purposeful lack of polish. Stephen Malkmus is a huge fan of Pavement, referring to Smith as his “Wallace Stevens.” Smith characteristically dismissed Pavement as useless imitators. Smith once said of Pavement, “it’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”
Fellow indie champions Sonic Youth are also indebted to the Fall. One of the band’s EP’s had three covers of the Fall, in addition to the Kinks’ song “Veronica,” which the Fall had also covered. Naturally, this didn’t sit well with Smith, who said that Thurston Moore should have “his rock license revoked.”
Smith was a one-man band, which had a big impact on James Murphy, who is the singular driving force of LCD Soundsystem. Murphy went so far as call the Fall “my Beatles.” This was almost designed to be Smith-bait, prompting him to write a song called “Irish” which contained some mean references to Murphy.
Smith’s legend seemed to grow with each cranky jab at the younger set. The internet was euphoric when Smith threw a bottle at Mumford & Sons, whose sound check had annoyed him. They’re “a load of retarded Irish folk singers,” he said. These anecdotes probably serve mostly to obscure the music, but there is plenty of material for curious music fans to discover.