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Friday, August 13, 2004

MES AS COMICS NERD #2

Interesting that Gutterbreakz should mention the Plastic Man/'How I wrote "Elastic Man"' connection... a little birdie tells me that, following my recent post on the MES/comix interface, The Fall have started playing "Riddler!" in their sound-checks as a precursor to reintroducing it into their live set.

Coincidence? I think not. As anyone who's into The Fall (or Phil Dick) knows: There is no such thing as coincidence, just precognition.

It's true: Fall songs are about nothing whatsoever. Smith almost admitted as much in a recent interview: he 'fessed up that he basically spews it all out randomly onto paper in a single ectoplasmic-like stream o'consciousness post-pub barf, and worries about What it all actually means later. He figures: something will turn up that will make it look like I know what I'm on about. And he's right; it usually does: Terry Waite, the Manchester bombings, Serbian ethnic cleansing, White Lightning cider (still available cheap from Tony Tucker's offie...uh, sorry, Yeovil in-joke...And the song was a cover version anyway).

Smith is a clever bastard: he knows Precognition has nothing to do with predicting the future; it's all about randomly cross-indexing the Past with itself in order to reveal new truths about the Present. Return to review these new permutations at a future date and all sorts of cultural 'insights' suddenly pop into view...he's reliant on us, the listeners, using our auto-instinctual pattern-recognition capabilities to decode all sorts of stuff that probably wasn't even there in the first place. Given his age, intellectual temperament and geodemographic outsider-status it's almost a given that his pool of raw material (his repetoire, if you like) would include US comic-books.

This, in a nutshell, is Smith's Modus Operandi; his gimmick. Nostradamus and Burroughs may have got there first, but they were too busy looking at the bigger picture; they lacked Smith's eye for detail, his spiteful narrowband focus...

Yep, it's a nice theory, except for one thing: Smith probably made it up. It doesn't necessarily gel with the image of a man who was recently late...very late... for a gig because he wasn't happy with the lyrics to a new song and insisted on staying in his hotel room until he'd drafted and redrafted them to his own satisfaction. This anecdote successfully recasts Smith as obsessive artisan; as someone who cares, who obsesses enough about his craft to piss off a potential audience.

Alright, then, howabout this: Smith as lo-fi alt.lit loner. History buff; collector of Edwardian ghost stories and 70's New Wave SF; comic fan; Trekkie. Or: Smith with Asperger's Syndrome: unable to emotionally engage on a one-to-one basis; badly dressed alkie; low self-esteem; socially retarded...

It doesn't add up either. I've seen Smith holding court in the pub: gregarious, loud, funny. People hang on his every word. He's a charmer, a natural Ladies Man. Smith on Ecstasy: "It turned me into a fucking sex maniac, that stuff." But let's not go there with that image, eh?

What Smith does is write stories: he writes stories using other people's stories as his raw material. There's no sense of him being present at the centre of his own songs. Only his voice is recognisable as belonging to him. His work is deceptively intimate: he uses an instantly recognisable persona, an Alter Ego, to keep a deliberate distance between us and the real him.

A secret identity.



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