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Appreciation: Mark E. Smith, acerbic founder of influential British post-punk band the Fall

Appreciation: Mark E. Smith, acerbic founder of influential British post-punk band the Fall
The Fall in an undated photo from the mid-1980s, from left: Craig Scanlon, Brix Smith, Simon Rodgers, Carl Burns and Mark E. Smith. The Fall's founder and only consistent member, Smith, died on Wednesday. (Beggars Banquet Records)

Mark E. Smith, the grumpy singer-shouter for the long-standing and influential Manchester, England post-punk band the Fall, has died at his home in England.

The artist, whose angular compositions and skewed melodies inspired generations of underground guitar bands including Sonic Youth, the Pixies and Pavement, was 60.

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The death was confirmed by the Fall's manager, Pamela Vander: "It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Mark E. Smith. He passed this morning at home," she wrote in a Twitter post first published by the Fall's news hub, @fallnews.

Vander wrote that "a more detailed statement will follow in the next few days."

No cause of death was given, but health issues forced Smith to cancel Fall tour dates at the end of 2017. The announcement of those scrapped gigs came with the detail from management that Smith had endured "a full year of bad health."

It would take a few consecutive days to move through the overwhelming volume of Smith's barking for the Fall, which opened in 1979 with a rudimentarily-played in-your-face document called "Live at the Witch Trials" and extended through to the Fall's 2017 final album, "New Facts Emerge."

I can write, boy. I can write. That's what I do.


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In between, Smith used the Fall moniker to issue 77 or so other studio and live albums, according to discogs.com, including 1982's "Hex Induction Hour," "The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall" (1984), "Bend Sinister" (1986), "The Infotainment Scan" (1993) and "Your Future Our Clutter," released in 2010.

A singular and distinctive artist, the notoriously salty bandleader did so while burning through dozens of bandmates. He toured with a broken leg and performed in wheelchairs, and despite a reputation for drink that rivaled that of the Pogues' Shane MacGowan, players lined up to be part of the Fall across its four decades as a band.

"I don't sing, I just shout, all on one note," he shouted in one note during "Your Heart Out," from the Fall's 1979 album "Dragnet."

That he did so in a thick Mancunian accent was perhaps one reason why the band never had a Stateside hit. But appreciation for the band became a secret handshake among American independent bands. Indie rock icons Pavement should have paid Smith royalties for its first few releases, and Sonic Youth's method of composing catchy melodies on de-tuned guitars was directly inspired by early Fall ideas.

A central figure in the same Manchester scene that spawned Joy Division and the Buzzcocks, Smith was, perhaps most important, a crucial lyricist who delivered each line with a last-call bluster punctuated with an oratorial certainty.

"I can write, boy, I can write. That's what I do," Smith said during a 1989 "summit" for NME with fellow songwriters Nick Cave and the Pogues' MacGowan.

Pushing against those who would describe his work as "stream of consciousness," Smith said: "I put a lot of hard sweat into them, I think about them. They have an inner logic to me, so I don't really care who understands them or not."

He named one album "Perverted by Language," which was an apt description of his way with words. For "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man,' " the self-described "Slang King" inhabited the brain of a beleaguered science fiction writer who's sick of his most successful book.

Across lyrics he directed his ire at Nazis, took on British politicians by name, snapped at magazine editors, described his love of "pumpkin soup and mashed pototoes" in a song of the same name and, on "The Littlest Rebel," documented an uptight adversary wearing a "blue suit with nylon weave" who wears "wears jet black high heels" and "throws planks down the well — she's the littlest rebel."

For "In These Times," he pondered a more peaceful future away from his cluttered brain: "I often hope in days ahead my gossamer front gates / Will keep out the trash in which my psychic street's enmeshed."

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He turned these musings and rants into a vocal delivery system that had no regard for hitting notes, creating a counter-melody or impressing opera singers.

"I see writing and singing as two very different things," he said in the NME roundtable. "My attitude is if you can't deliver it like a garage band, ... it. That's one thing that's never been explored, delivering complex things in a very straightforward rock 'n' roll way." He added: "My old excuse is if I'd wanted to be a poet, I'd have been a poet."

Still, like British poets across the ages, Smith seemed to understand from an early age that his life's mission would be to make work that would outlive him.

"When I'm dead and gone," he uttered in his early song "Psychic Dance Hall," "My vibrations will live on / In vibes on vinyl through the years / People will dance to my waves."

That those lyrics were sometimes indecipherable was confirmed by a British judge during a 2015 copyright dispute when she accurately described that Smith's delivery "makes it hard to hear the words."

(She added: "I accept the contention that the line is not "And a Star Wars police vehicle Paul's off" but...the more comprehensible "And a Star Wars police vehicle pulls up.")

Some of Smith's final words to his fans arrived via a Nov. 30 post on manager Vander's Instagram. Apologizing for having to cancel a show the previous night, he wrote:

"A Message to All, to All. From Mark E. Smith/The Fall group. As I, like Pr Rupert leave Bristol with my tail between my legs, I wish to give my great apologies to everybody. This idiotic idea to do both shows was purely my idea, against the advice of Pamela and The Fall group, agent & promoter. Hope to replace shows within 4 - 6 weeks. In the interim we have eight new songs ready to go and will try and let you hear a few before Christmas. From head patient to you, the patients. I love you all but cannot embrace you all, Mark E. Smith."

Details about those eight new songs have yet to be released.

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email: randall.roberts@latimes.com.

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