The Great MES Dead at 60 . . . Is there anybody there?? . . .

I feel I should say a few words.
I’m always curious about those things we love, loved, and will love. Do they have meaning?
Mark Edward Smith, also known as MES or the poet vocalist anchor of the rock band The Fall has died (January 24th 2018). And it is perfectly meaningless, hell I didn’t know him. By all accounts, especially Ben Pritchard’s, and Steve Hanley’s (both former band mates who tell some cringingly disappointing tales) he was a difficult handful of unknowable drunkenness. But just the same I feel something, don’t I? If it’s not meaningful it’s at least noteworthy.
Kurt Vonnegut says that he met Jack Kerouac when Kerouac was unknowable. Someone set up the meeting but Kerouac was such a drunk he was basically a crazed person. Vonnegut’s son came home during the meeting and was at the time basically a hippy, with a backpack and shaggy look. Kerouac apparently launched into the younger Vonnegut angrily saying “You think you know me?!” Kurt’s son didn’t know him at all and was bewildered by the onslaught. The story is a sad tale, alcohol had ravaged Kerouac. Whatever Kerouac had once been was lost now, and the man wasn’t even fifty yet.
My good friend Joe Murphy managed to meet MES in Canada. He was on his honeymoon with our dear friend Ellen, whom he’d managed to marry in the early 90s (that long ago?). Sitting at a restaurant Joe happened to realize he was looking at MES at another table. Sure enough they were in town for a show, and Joe bought him a drink. MES came over to their table and thanked Joe. Joe told me later that MES had been seriously soused and was remarkably pungent. He offered to put the newlyweds on the guest list, but later when Joe and Ellen went to see if they were, they indeed weren’t on the guest list and they had other things to explore. No big deal, but perhaps MES in a nutshell?
We’d seen the Fall a number of times in the 80s each time with Brixie doing material off mid-80s albums Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, and well as This Nation’s Saving Grace. My friends and I argued over what Fall was the best Fall, my favorite was the Fall of slightly previous albums like Hex Enduction Hour and Slates. I adored their skronking rough-edged wholly unproduced sound. Most of their recordings from the early albums sounded like one off garage tapings. Things that would never have required a studio, and part of the appeal of that was the fact that we too had a band and we too had terrible cellar recordings of our efforts. It felt right to be associated with a band that sounded something like we could achieve. There was something else though, something deeper that resonated with our little group of mates, and that was MES’s poetic cloud. He excelled in a poetry of something akin to a rock pile, or a garbage heap, or maybe a word hurricane. It was indescribable and vast. It was his own literature. No one wrote or performed the sort of verbal onslaught MES did, and probably no one ever will again. I will provide a favorite example the song is called “Leave the Capitol”:
The tables covered in beer
showbizwhines, minute detail
its a hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square
its vaudeville pub back room dusty pictures of
white frocked girls and music teachers
the beds too clean
the waters poison for the system

Then you know in your brain
Then you know you must leave the capitol
straight home straight home straight home
then you know in your brain
you know in your brain
leave the capitol

it will not drag me down
I will leave this ten times town
I will leave this fucking dump
one room one room
Hotel maids smile in unison
then you know in your brain
you know in your brain
then you know you must leave the capitol

I laughed at the great God Pan
I didnae, I didnae
I laughed at the great God Pan
I didnae, I didnae, I didnae, I didnae
Leave the Capitol
Exist the roman shell
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Pan resides in Welsh green masquerades
on Welsh cat caravans
but the monty
Hides in curtains
grey blackish cream
and all the paintings you recall
all the side stepped cars
all the brutish laughs
from the flat and the wild dog downstairs

MES delivers all that over a very catchy riff and a tight performance of the band. I don’t think they ever did this one live for us, but I always loved it. You should go listen to it on the Youtube. He somehow makes it all fit makes it all feel like you’re listening to a pop song. Do we know what he’s talking about? Hell does even he? Bob Dylan used to rave about that, the people, especially the conservative ears, waiting desperately for his attack on mainstream culture or the meaning of the Vietnam War. They wanted so much to hear in his lyrics a clear message to their youth that was inciting them to reject the world they’d worked so hard to create (or so we all like to think, really the world is an accident of the many independent activities). Dylan always refused to agree, asked instead what things meant to people who listened to him. I don’t know if MES wrote the same way, if he was blank and just letting it happen. But it is an artist’s way. Art often enough is a bridge we build to someplace we don’t know, and crossing a distance we have no idea about, and lastly providing a reason or purpose that is entirely non-existent. Luigi Serafina some thirty plus years ago created a whole encyclopedia, that is occasionally added to over the years, of a non-existent world full of non-existent animals and plants, invented natural phenomena, occupations and activities that cannot be interpreted as the language of the Codex Serafinianus is also an artful creation. It is possibly the most useless thing ever painstakingly made, but it is nonetheless beautiful and inspiring. The author said he wanted to create, in part, the feeling of a child looking at a book before reading was possible.
MES’s lyrics remind me of this, though I’m sure there are meanings in some of his lines, and I’m sure some of the mess is reflective of his beloved pub culture, and of course football. He was a blue collar working stiff once, and once said that if the band didn’t work out, that he’d just go back to working at the docks. A little lyric book, half in German, we bought early on in the Fall’s career called The Fall Lyrics has a bit of a blurb about the albums the songs come from, “Fit and Working Again”, it reads, is about regeneration.
Another example called “A New Face In Hell”:
Wireless enthusiast intercepts government
secret radio band and uncovers secrets and
scandals of deceitful type proportions
aghast goes next door to his neighbour
secretly excited as aforementioned was a
hunter whom radio enthusiast wanted
friendship and favour of
a new face in hell
nearly a new face in hell
a muscular thick-skinned, slit-eyed neighbour
is at the table poisoned just thirty seconds
before by parties who knew of wireless
operator’s forthcoming revelation.
A new face in hell
a prickly line of sweat covers enthusiast’s forehead
as the realization hits him that the
same government him and his now dead
neighbour voted for and backed and talked
of on cream porches have tricked him into
their war against the people who enthusiast
and dead hunter would have wished torture
on. A servant of government walks in and arrests
wireless fan in kitchen for murder of his
A new face in hell
the dead cannot contradict sometimes the living cannot

You get a feel for his rambling storytelling which sounds a lot like so many blue-collar stories bandied about mostly urban legend-like. He’s good for slogans too, crazed things, “Stop talking to the cigarette machine!” and things chanted like “senior twilight stock replacer!” from a much more recent vintage. But I shouldn’t spend all my time just dishing these things up for you, it’s much more fun to get lost in the whirlwind of his blue-collar lit-wit.
I’ve read his book, called Renegade. It’s a bit of a mess, it starts off defensively as at the time Ben Pritchard’s harsh criticism of MES had put him on his heels. Pritchard was frustrated with MES as he was constantly abusing people and the final straw was this moment when MES was pouring beer over their tour-bus driver’s head going 80mph down the highway. Another old band mate earlier on, Mr. Hanley, tells the story of the brawl that actually ended the band to my mind it should have been impossible to resurrect it. I was unaware that they’d actually split over a fist fight in NYC in 1998. My then wife and I actually went to see The Fall in London that summer and it was MES with a couple of ladies on guitars (we hadn’t a clue who they were, and I was in a bit of a shock not seeing Scanlon or Hanley on the stage). I joked that it must be his daughters.
MES recounts the fight, it doesn’t sound good though, and I feel like it had to have taken its toll on him psychically. Of course, MES rallies and says that if it’s him and your granny on a bongo it’s still a Fall show! OK why not. Captain Beefheart wasn’t much different and doesn’t Robert Fripp recreate King Crimson every few years?
There are ramshackle poetic word salad bits in the book as well, but they don’t seem to me to hang together. I sense randomness, chaos, perhaps something like Uranium spitting out particles that can’t be predicted. MES in decay.

When Bowie passed, just a little while ago, I thought: holy shit if even David Bowie has to die . . . what chance have we got?
Sometimes I think, it’s not really important, these things we love. We fall in love for no good reasons. We fall in love with things we make ourselves familiar with, and then we harangue friends and acquaintances with it all. You didn’t love Abba? You’re crazy! Abba were great. And maybe so, maybe so, but I had MES, still do, hell I’m spinning the 2017 New Facts Emerge and I swear there’s no break in the excellence. I did not see, but I heard that he was now performing from a wheel chair. I don’t know if I care to look that up. I’d rather remember my slang king in his Guess jeans mumbling into his pocket tape recorder and shouting, “For all those who’s minds entitle themselves and whose main entitle is themselves shall feel the wrath of my bombast!”
The great MES! Imitable is the word for him. Where are we going to get another one?
His vibrations will live on.

2 thoughts on “The Great MES Dead at 60 . . . Is there anybody there?? . . .

  1. beautifully written.
    we will never stumble upon the likes of him again, but would we want to?
    of course we wouldn’t.
    we *loved* this man and only he could conjure up the poetry and bombast like no one else.

    he is immortal through his art.
    thank you, Mr. Smith.

    1. Hey Patti! thanks for checking in! I don’t know why my system didn’t tell me you were here! I forgot to add the Psychic Dancehall line about his vibrations living on . . . but you know what I mean.

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