RENEGADE : THE LIVES AND TALES OF MARK E.SMITH by Mark E. Smith with Austin Colling (Penguin Books, 2008)
I can visualise ghost writer Austin Collings lining up the pints of beer and whisky chasers in a Manchester pub then setting up a recording device in front of Mark E.Smith.
I doubt that any overly active conversational skills would have been required since one gets the distinct impression that his subject operates best in monologue/ranting mode.
In more or less chronological order, Smith catalogues his life and times as chief hirer and firer of The Fall “for people who are sick of being dicked around”.
He formed this band in 1976 at a time when The Sex Pistols had stormed onto the music scene. While The Fall were initially lumped under the Punk label they were and are always distinct from other three-chord wonders.
Their sound may be similarly primitive and abrasive yet what sets it apart from the competition is Smith’s intelligent and precociously barbed lyrics. The band have gone through numerous line up changes but the one constant has always been his acerbic, deadpan vocals. In print, as in song, he never suffers fools gladly and views the modern world with a mixture of distaste and venom.
Smith is a genuine one-off; an intelligent, wired and misanthropic figure who aligns himself with no causes and who rails against anything and everything that hints at phoniness, pretention or cheap sentimentality.
“The only people I ever really looked up to were Link Wray and Iggy Pop”, he reveals at one point and the list of artists he loathes is unlimited. In addition, the things he despises includes uniformity, conformity, hipsters, hypocrites, hangers-on, computers, charlatans, and critics.
The inventory of people and things he loves and respects is, inevitably, much shorter and these more likely to be related to the world of cult literature and sport than music. Even DJ John Peel, who worshiped the ground Smith walked upon, is not spoken about with any particular reverence.
The ferocity of Smith’s individualism is what drives him and means he is notoriously hard to live or work with. This book dispels any notion that there is any tenderness beneath the hard-edged exterior.
It could have all been too grim and serious but the dry as a bone humour is what makes this avalanche of bile so entertaining; Smith nurtures the hope that it might come to be regarded as a “Mein Kampf for the Hollyoaks generation”.