For over 40 years, Mark E. Smith was one of the most entertaining personalities in rock, both on and off the stage, mainly for saying exactly what was on his mind at any given time. The Fall frontman, who died today at 60, had a reputation as a magnificently cranky and quotable bastard that preceded him, making him something of a modern day Oscar Wilde crossed with a profane soccer hooligan in the midst of a blackout.
Smith’s cantankerous demeanor often struck fear in former bandmates and opening bands, as well as journalists who hoped to find Smith in a good mood when they were tasked with interviewing him. That said, most writers relished the fact that Smith always gave a great quote, and few things brought out that colorful side of him than being presented with the opportunity to spew bile in the direction of uninspired musicians and bands he deemed pretenders to the Fall’s throne.
If musicians haven’t been able to earn the iconic and influential songwriter’s elusive admiration over the years, then they should take comfort in the fact that an insult from Smith was an honor in and of itself. Getting owned by post-punk’s roastmaster is an exclusively club, and one that just shuttered for good.
On Kate Bush:
“Who decided it was time to start liking her again?” Smith told the Manchester Evening News in 2014. “I never even liked her the first time round. It’s like all these radio DJs have been raiding their mam’s and dad’s record collections and decided that Kate Bush is suddenly cool again. But I’m not having it.”
On Telly Savalas’s beloved detective character Kojack:
On young bands The Fall typically shares festival bills with:
A bunch of “ass lickers.”
On Mumford & Sons:
“We were playing a festival in Dublin the other week. There was this other group, like, warming up in the next sort of chalet, and they were terrible,” Smith told the Aussie magazine Brag in 2010. “I said, ‘Shut them cunts up!’ And they were still warming up, so I threw a bottle at them. The bands said, ‘That’s the Sons of Mumford’ or something. ‘They’re number five in charts!'”
On Morrissey (probably):
According to A.V. Club writer Jason Heller, the 1984 Fall song “C.R.E.E.P.” is rumored to be about the fellow Manchurian and then-Smiths crooner. Let’s take a look at a verse and judge for ourselves. From Genius:
He reads books; of the list book club
And after two months—his stance a familiar hunch
It’s that same slouch—you had the last time he came around
His oppression abounds, his type is doing the rounds
He is a scum-egg; a horrid trendy wretch
Well, Morrissey wrote a song about visiting John Keats, Oscar Wilde, John Yeats’s graves, so he’s probably read some books.
Upon hearing news that Smith passed away, Suede bassist Mat Osman tweeted a story about playing a few shows opening for the Fall early in the band’s Britpop band’s career. Osman said he and his bandmates were huge fans, but nervous to be touring with the post-punk legends because Smith could be “could be rough on support bands,” but the cantankerous frontman turned out to be friendly and accommodating throughout the tour.
The M. Night Shyamalan twist came shortly after the band finished the tour and were listening to an interview with Smith on the ride home.
On Thurston Moore:
In a 2010 New York Times review, Ben Ratliff wrote that Smith “once suggested that Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth should have his rock license revoked.”
When asked by a Guardian journalist in 2017 if he was a Prince fan, Smith responded: “No. They’re weird aren’t they, Prince fans?”
On the state of music in 2017:
“The standard of music these days is fucking terrible. Being poorly you have to watch shit like Jools Holland,” Smith told the Guardian in what the site calls Smith’s final interview. “A lot of it sounds like when I was 15 and I’d go round to a long-haired guy’s flat to score a joint and they’d always put on some fucking lousy Elton John LP. That sounds like Ed Sheeran to me, a duff singer songwriter from the 70’s you find in charity shops.”
On Philip K. Dick movie adaptations:
“I think the original Blade Runner is the most obscene film ever made, I fucking hated it. The Man in the High Castle is one of my favourite books; how they fucked that TV show up I don’t know,” Smith told the Guardian. “The only good Philip K Dick film is Total Recall, it’s faithful to the book. Arnie gets it. I was physically sick watching A Scanner Darkly, it was like an episode of Cheers painted over except they all smoke dope and imagine women with no clothes on.
On people from Manchester:
“I don’t like Northern people, I don’t like Manchurians,” Smith told Noisey UK. “There’s something about Manchester musicians that’s particularly fucking irritating. They have this sort of God-given right, which Londoners used to have I suppose. They think they’re superior, but they’re not. Manchester’s only got Freddie and the Dreamers.”
On Franz Ferdinand citing The Fall as an influence:
“If I could afford a lawyer, I just might pull an injunction on them mentioning our name. Haha! I mean, if you’re new to The Fall… a lot of these groups… I don’t know what it is,” Smith told Brooklyn Vegan in 2006. “I think a lot of these group use it to sound a bit hip. When I was a teenager, people used to say “oh well this group sounds a lot like this group”, and then when you go and see them they sound like a pack of shit. They sound like the Talking Heads to me, and I’m not knocking them, it’s just misleading.”
Smith was known to be the hardest on the bands that looked up to him the most. Pavement made no secret of the influence the Fall had on their music and Smith made no secret of that fact that he was unimpressed by the ’90s indie rockers, explicitly calling them “rip-offs.”
“It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it?” Smith famously said of Stephen Malkmus and co. “They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”