Meeting Erika and Seeing The Fall C. 1986 (Excerpt of Near Do Well)

I am inspired. I meet Erika over at she and Rod’s apartment in Arctic, and I immediately start some kind of wholly loopy argument with her about the invalidity of The Cure being a worthy band to devote to. Erika for her part is far too easy to rile up about her beloved Robert Smith.
Erika is tall, slender, elegant, has a terrific relaxed, mellifluous, voice that crackles with excitement occasionally and rises dramatically in pitch when it does. She has soft round cheeks, big wide-set golden eyes, and exceedingly delicate features. Some beauties don’t seem possible. I have to keep looking at her to see if what I’m seeing is real. She talks with her elegant hands making graceful gestures that reveal, to my mind, a sophistication. I cannot take my eyes off her, and when her eyes are on mine I feel a little extra heat.
The Cure have always just seemed kind of boyish in comparison to the level of Mark E. Smith’s wry, observational, literate, ranting. What I call his old-man delivery. A Mancunian accent peppered with his speech habit of adding an “uh” to the end of each phrase, “Underground medicine-uh, underground medicine-uh”. His poetry is loaded with references to Greek gods, the occult, modern and old Brit culture, and what turns out to be a powerful love of English football. Mark E. Smith maintains himself as a blue-collar workman. He was a longshoreman before The Fall, an everyman poet. I find this distinction important. I respect the working-man artist.
“But The Cure aren’t about anything, the lyrics are a kind of universal pop song, with the exception, maybe, of ‘Killing An Arab’, everything else is aimed at the pop charts. You can’t be arguing that that “Love Cats” thing is anything but chart trash . . . ” I’ve got her at the mere mention of this one. A pain seems to have forced a convulsion starting in her impossibly slender lower spine.
“Ooh, you skipped a lot of good stuff in your rush there, . . .” she waves a slender hand, her voice cracking a pitch higher.
I smile. Here we go, it’s Robert Smith vs. Mark E. Smith. It was almost obvious for Morrissey to create a band called The Smiths, now wasn’t it?
“Well give me a song by The Fall that rivals ‘Killing An Arab’ then,” she says, holding her chin up from her comfortable arm-chair.
I don’t have a response really. The closest gun-toting song by MES isn’t about a Camus novel, it’s basically a sort of news item he may or may not have invented about—well, some idiot who shot his wife. Smith mentions novels, musicians and writers from time to time, such as Wilson’s Ritual In the Dark, which I haven’t read. While it’s perfectly ridiculous to argue taste, to attempt to justify these favorite things being better than other people’s favorite things, I still devote myself to it. I can’t help it and I am still not-so-secretly sure that I’ve got the right to do such, that I’m justified imagining my things better than the things of others, because, well, I imagine I devote more, care more, am moved more, am more introspective than the average Joe. But I also maintain the argument because if I don’t it might cause her to stop paying attention to me.
I’m sitting on the floor, feeling like we’re a bunch of very cool folks of intellectual depth, listening to records and talking about the various qualities of our favorite artists. What could be better?
In a nutshell I’m fond of The Fall’s uncompromising garage-rock style, they took punk rock, which took earlier garage rock to another level of angst, and created a new music. Next to The Fall so much else seems overproduced and unrealistic, full of back-up singers, overdubs and other studio tricks.
“In my opinion all you boys into The Fall are confused. I don’t think you can understand what he’s talking about. He’s writing about experiences you guys aren’t having—living in Manchester, or whatever,” she’s got me on this.
This is, in fact, a problem with MES’s lyrics, much of his work is definitely setting oriented, about northern English experiences, that I’ve not and cannot have. But I don’t care. I enjoy his weirdness, his surrealism, his lack of interest in pop song lyrics, his stories about J. Temperance. It’s a delivery, and an art, why must it be easy to understand? He’s a punk rock Thomas Pynchon. There are no love songs, no spelling songs, nothing done just to be pretty, nothing done just for appeal.
Rod runs back and forth switching albums, “You guys like Fear?”
“They’re OK,” Moshe says lackadaisically, exhibiting excellent detachment cool.
Rod only lets “The Mouth Don’t Stop” play—not a song you typically want to play for the ladies—and then switches to The Dickies.
Vinny is fondling Rod’s records, he’s got some nice ones, some oddball stuff too, an original 3D cover of Their Satanic Majesties Request (the one where you can search out the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo in the artwork (though I fail to find one of them!)), and some fascinating French stuff I never heard of, Les Rita Mitsouko and Jean Michel Jarre. Also Rod isn’t afraid of blank-jacketed bootlegs of things. He’s got bunches of PiL and Joy Division live shows that sound as though they were recorded from outside the venue with the microphone possibly inside someone’s shoe. The bootleg records are in plastic bags, have hand-written numbers on them in ball-point. Vinny wants to hear them all, even the really bad ones. Vinny’s a classic Ian Curtis obsessive.
Ty leans against the wall, smiling. I suspect he and Vinny have already smoked a bowl before we picked them up.
I reach for, and pull out a Crass album with a photo of a sex doll in black in white on it, and Rod is on me fast.
“Have you heard that? You need to hear that.”
Crass had formed early in the punk stream and disbanded by the time I heard the first Crass song.
Everything is in our hands all at once. Dates on these records seem all to be simultaneous to us, our access to them is limited by our funds and the crap record outlets at the mall, or the lousy Strawberries (though I got all the Buzzcocks albums from their cut-out bin!). It’s a while before anyone gives us a good place outside of Boston to buy our music.
Rod has more than we’ve seen available. It happens that Rod has been around a bit, he went to NYC with his previous band, spent a bunch of time trying to rekindle the origin of the punk scene with a bunch of potheads called Buddha’s Palm, apparently after a kung-fu movie killing blow.
“Oh Rod,” Erika scrunches up her pretty nose.
“Erika’s not a fan,” he smiles at me, he-he-hes out the side of his mouth as he slips the Crass disk out, and before long has what I quickly learn is Eve Libertine snidely ranting about falling about in a pair of red high-heels, being a vulnerable slave of fashion, or something. I find it sexy, somehow appealing—but I know I’m probably not supposed to. The vocal is in that very declaratory-accusational style, the urgency of a newly quit smoker telling you about your smoking dilemma. She’s doing her best to impress me with how wrong I am, what a bad man I am. Fine lady, whatever you say.
I’m sitting close to Erika’s tiny, stocking-clad feet, very bony little things, cables and wires. I noticed her tiny Peter Pan boots by the door when I came in. She’s the only lady in the room with the five of us music obsessed boneheads. I want her vulnerable in a pair of red high-heels.
I wonder how I can continue to keep her interest, no sense in delivering endless Robert Smith put downs. Truth is I like The Cure, especially the moody Pornography with the creative drum patterns, but also pop songs like “Plastic Passion” are addictive fun. There are few song-smiths as clever as Robert Smith.
Rod is switching it up again. he wants to compare something, note the depth of drum tone on Live at the Witch Trials. This makes me grin, it’s a Fall album. Erika’s mouth is twisted to the side with a sweet amusement, she’s playing with me. I bump the foot nearest me with my hand and she play-acts kicking me with a smile.

Erika knows her way around Boston like a pro and promises to get us to the Spit to finally actually see The Fall touring their The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall album. She orders me to take up both lanes as she hasn’t decided which exit to take yet, the boys in the back of the van are discussing the various merits of jello-wrestling with Muriel Hemingway. I’m feeling so adult, responsible for blocking the road at Erika’s command.
The Fall take the stage while we try to pick lint off our black-lit trench coats. The opening phrases of “Lay of the Land” drone over the crowd. The band with Brixie, such a cute monkey-girl, chanting “lay, lay, lay”, I hear Smith but don’t see him. He’s begun the jeremiad, “Armageddon, . . . this beautiful tree, . . . boo hoo, . . . give up livin’, . . . I’m who I . . . be given!!—” And then he stands up, ah, so he was laying down, there he is, nerdy, bony, after so many pictures, he’s so tiny. He’s wearing a pair of Guess jeans, and this I find almost too funny. A kind of weird-ass embrace of fashion strapped onto a man whose bony little behind will never embrace anything like a fashion beyond being a kind of poet and rock artist—Guess jeans! I get this joke! I have no idea if he intends it, but, of course, he can’t help this. I smile broadly, dumbly, he’s our sage, our guru.
The band kicks off the song in a simultaneous bluster of power and it is arguably one of their most arresting rockers. It has an almost Arabic-influenced swing to it. I feel more than hear the heavy bass driven riffs of Steve Hanley’s no-nonsense box patterns, driving the music. After Smith, Hanley is The Fall’s sound. I study Craig Scanlon’s lefty technique, and I cannot see how he can be playing guitar. His hands barely move, his rhythm hand without rhythm.
This is the first time I’m seeing my favorite band and my heart is pounding. Who are these people who have managed to inform me so? What are they really like? Would I be disappointed? Do I need to know? And then while I’m standing behind Erika she leans back into me, and I put my arms sort of around her, hold her shoulders, and she just kind of lets me. I am excited and a touch worried by this, but it seems entirely unremarkable to anyone else. The crowd hides us. I embrace her secretly.
All the way home we’re obsessing about the show, every nuance, did you see this, did you see that, that was the coolest thing, Brixie stepping back with the megaphone, MES using his pocket cassette recorder intermittently with his live vocals. . . . Rod is excited about Karl Burns’ powerful drumming style, he is certain it’s his style too, just like he plays.
By the way, we have a band too. We struggle with our own version of cellar rock in my parent’s basement. But ours is a band with issues, we struggle over originals. We’re all writers, all artists, all Fall lovers, and we’re all ridiculously critical of everything. We agree on almost nothing, argue incessantly and disturb one another’s wa.

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