As part of our Mark E Smith tribute in the latest issue of Q, we spoke to illustrious fans, friends and former colleagues of The Fall leader. Here, ex-wife and former Fall guitarist Brix Smith Start recalls her time with the Hip Priest.
“I’m not surprised by the overwhelming reaction to Mark’s death because I always suspected that when he died people would finally realise how important he was as a true artist. I knew he’d be more revered later in life by way more people. I keep hearing everywhere, ‘Who is this man and why are The Fall so important?’ And they’re going back and listening to the music and going, ‘Oh my God!’ Because The Fall didn’t get the credit they were due. You know, we certainly didn’t when we were in the band and after my time it was much the same.
“Though I was surprised [by the reaction] on a personal level because there was such an outpouring of grief to me in so many lovely messages on every social media platform. I felt really lifted by it. Because even though I knew Mark was very ill, he didn’t look like he was long for this world in the pictures I saw of him, I braced myself for it emotionally. But when it happened, I wasn’t personally prepared for the onslaught of my grief and the collective grief. It was absolutely overwhelming and I felt horrendously sad – a deep, deep, deep aching sadness because of the deep connection that we had. The fact that Mark was such an important part of my life. I mean, if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be in this country, I don’t know if I would be playing music, I certainly wouldn’t have my last name… there’s so many ways in which he changed my life. Even though in the last few years we didn’t see each other, we didn’t really communicate, but the intensity of what we had made me very emotional and I still am. I’m really, really struggling actually.
“I first met Mark after a Fall show in Chicago in 1983. I was alone in the bar because my friend Lisa had gone off with a bloke. I was this abandoned, awkward 19-year-old trying not to look awkward. Just as I went to the bar, I turned round and literally bumped into Mark, and that’s how we met. Fate pushed us together and that was that.
“I never intended to join The Fall. Mark cooked it up because he was probably thinking it would shake the band up, fuck them all up by bringing this American in on guitar, even though I’d been playing bass. He encouraged me and made me confident, saying I played guitar like Lou Reed. Mark’s the sort of guy who created chaos and shook things up all the time, made things uncomfortable, in order to create. I just added some light to their shadow and I wrote some hooks and riffs. I was very conscious and delicate about what I put in. We all contributed – we were all like the wheels that made Mark’s car move.
“In terms of Mark’s poetry and his lyrics, he’s a fucking genius. The social commentary that’s going on in his words and what he reads into them, often using cut-up techniques, was unbelievable. He wasn’t classically educated or anything – he was super, super working class in every fibre of his body and the fiercest Mancunian I’ve ever known! – but he read a lot and was very smart in a different way other people were smart. People say, ‘He pushed the envelope.’ But people don’t understand, he was the envelope, he was creating something so far outside what anybody else was doing. He was so unique. The other thing is, THE GUY NEVER FUCKING SOLD OUT. EVER! He was absolutely uncompromising to the end. You know, credit where credit is due, there was plenty of times when we were on the brink of real success and he didn't let it happen because that was part of what he did. He’d sabotage everything because that was his way of keeping everything fresh in order for it to go forward.
“For such a controlling man, and I mean, this was the most controlling human being on the planet, strangely he could neither swim nor drive. He had a real fear of water and of drowning. I often think of the lyrics on Bug Day, “Facing up to the sea is a very hard thing”. This big vast sea was a very scary thing for him to face, all that turmoil and not having any control if he went into it. I remember a funny time when my grandparents invited my whole family on a cruise from LA to Acapulco to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. Can you imagine anything weirder than Mark E Smith on a luxury cruise liner like The Love Boat? He hated the sea and the sun and was getting fed up with my family so he retreated to the ship’s library which was cheesily called Cruiser’s Creek, so that’s where that song came from.
“Choosing just one favourite Fall song is too difficult. I have a real passion for Garden. I think Wings has got incredible lyrics and in terms of quirky Britishness, Eat Y’Self Fitter. Songs from my time – US 80s 90s and LA. From before my time, I think it would have to be Totally Wired because I don’t think it gets better than that.
“I actually don’t think The Fall’s legacy can be calculated at this point because I think it’s going to grow. Knowing the guy, I very strongly suspect Mark has one last album waiting. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t go out without a bang and have the last word. But I think The Fall are one of the most influential bands of all time. Mark was a pure, great artist who never wavered from his singular vision. He was so brave on every level. He wasn’t an easy guy, because that’s part of who he was, and he never stopped working.
“Mark stuck to his guns his whole life and went down fucking fighting. He was still doing it right to the end. Those pictures of him from his last show, being hoisted onto the stage in his wheelchair, singing for the last time with his broken body and his swollen face and in obvious pain and distress… It might’ve been uncomfortable for everyone to watch, but he still fucking did it, and that’s the most rock’n’roll thing of all.”
Interview by Simon McEwen. An abridged version of this interview appears in Q383 alongside our full Mark E Smith tribute. It's out now, or available to order from here.