Thursday, January 15, 2009

Renegade – The Lives And Tales Of Mark E. Smith
Mark E. Smith with Austin Collings
www.penguin.com

‘Bargain booze is a particular favourite shop of mine. You can get some good offers there.’

Suitably, and more than welcomely, here’s another utterly essential read, this time from similarly scabrous leader of The Fall, or, well, The Fall itself, Smith. In typical MES style this isn’t a bitter and twisted ranting riposte casting his raptor-beak over past tribulations and the famously ever-revolving door of band members, but a series of well-informed, entertainingly and refreshingly opinionated missives that read like a less pretentious version of William Burroughs’ The Job. Well, so, ok, it wouldn’t be true to form if you couldn’t say not completely anyway. Amidst the aspic wit (‘Not like Brighton…I’d rather have Riley back in the band than live there’, ‘It’s all fine dressing in this anti-fashion style if you’re on the piss in Camden Town, but imagine doing business with a berk dressed like a vagrant…’) and dismissals (on playing local gigs – ‘there’s always some mad bird from Chorlton on E who you shagged twenty years ago who’s trying to come up to you with a knife’, on one of the many ex-members ‘the other daft cunt...’) are many instances of caustic honesty, not least in his own self-appraisals and bemused puzzlement at modern, or human peripherals from mobiles, class, love, students (surprisingly?), Americans and porn to his trade of music and writing. Never afraid to state his case, you name it, there’ll be a line or anecdote about it as he far outstretches any assumptions of him as a blazingly addled speed-guzzling, booze-bamboozled park-bench philosopher, his attitudes, occasional (however inferred) compassion and explanations to conducting, or contorting, his carnival and the stubborn, strident work ethic that’s carried him through a curmudgeonly, cantankerous career that’s so far outlived Lester Bangs. Few may come away with good words said about them though you get the impression he’d rather be kind if people lived up to his expectations and his resolutely bullshit-intolerant diet is to be applauded, an all too rare commodity in any way and walk of like not just the entertainment lark, ranking him in league with Lemmy, Keef and some strange bellicose incarnation of Morrissey. An engaging, revealing portrait of a too-easily caricatured but all too true character and enigma with an artful manner masking an acute intellect behind matter of fact pragmatic considerations learnt from life lessons that’ll keep this eloquently contrary raconteur of ticking for a long while yet. A delight in the bedeviled world of music books, do read.
Stu Gibson

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