Friday, July 08, 2011

FFB: The Fallen

For the full list of Friday's Forgotten (or neglected or insufficiently trumpeted) Books, see Patti Abbott's blog. If you're in need of reading material, there are always wonderful suggestions.

I remember when Marko asked if I had got The Fallen yet and I said, "Nah, I'm really only interested in MES, don't think I'll be interested." But then my editor Simon at the Spectator sent me a copy of the updated edition and suggested I follow the author Dave Simpson on Twitter and, well, they were right. This is an amazing book about a singular band and the obsession it provokes -- which really is all about Smith. Shot through the main narrative is also Simpson's account of the unraveling of his own relationship as his obsession with tracking down the dozens of former Fall members grows. He finally realises he has hit bottom when he finds himself listening to -- and liking -- Phil Collins songs:

What greater slur can a man carry than admitting to listening to Phil Collins?

The tale begins and ends and really never travels too far from the enigmatic frontman (whose autobiographical tome I have also written about for FFB). Many of the Fallen have gone on to success on their own -- Brix Smith is a fashionista, Mark Riley a popular DJ, Julia [Nagle] Adamson head of Invisible Girl Records -- but so many expressed a willingness to return to the fold should the boss ever ask them to do so, despite the acrimony that often accompanied their departure. Smith's philosophy gets likened to a football coach, an intimidating schoolmaster and an experimental psychologist, who thinks, "routine is 'the enemy of music'" and that regular shake-ups help keep the team on their toes (as does fiddling with their instruments and equipment on stage in the midst of a show.

While people like to celebrate groups like the Rolling Stones that have been together since the Pleistocene era (yawn) because they don't want their favourite things to change, Smith has managed a musical sleight of hand by means of constant if unpredictable change. He's famously claimed that even if it's "me and your granny on bongos" it's still the Fall and he's right. A Simpson realises,

...for all the hiring and firing in the group, the person most feeling the pressure of carrying the legend like The Fall is Smith -- because, after all, it's his reputation on the line.

By the end of the book, there's a distorted collage of the genius behind the band. Smith seems to grow and change, to be all things to all people, a "God" to some and "the boss" to others, a trusted friend and an unruly psychopath. But singular -- and indeed genius. The Fall are musical Marmite, but I think anyone who loves the music scene will find this book riveting as it delves into the 70s, 80s, 90s and noughties. It's an amazing tale well told by Simpson. Highly recommended.


Todd Mason said...

I remember when Marko asked if I had got The Fallen yet and I said, "Nah, I'm really only interested in MES, don't think I'll be interested."

--Really? But wasn't the Fall kind of the center of Smith's professional and artistic life, at least? (As in, I'm not understanding that attitude...but I'm easily confused at times. But it does seem like being a huge fan of Brian Wilson or Ray Davies and resisting reading a book about the Beach Boys or the Kinks.)

Todd Mason said...

(The Kinks being an example of a band that never did stay in a single bag for a long stretch, and yet lasted forever somehow, albeit with fallow periods. Hell, the Stones made efforts to be protean, but pretty much were over being terribly fresh by the time of Jones's death, though I'm still fond of TATTOO YOU. And Phil Collins/latter-day Genesis can be taken more easily if somehow shorn of lyrics...)

Kit Marlowe said...

Well, but given the nature of the beast, once the band members weren't in The Fall, I figured what's the point. It's the blindness of obsession. Or he just asked me on a cranky day...

Kit Marlowe said...

I refuse to comment on the Phil.