I hope I can quickly learn the language
In my early teenage years I would read Melody Maker and listen to John Peel, trying to piece together all this music out there, all this music that didn’t appear on Top of the Pops, that wasn’t piped through the supermarket speakers, that wasn’t in my parents’ record collection.
There was this whole unknown something, that before online streaming and YouTube, could only be revealed very slowly. Clue upon clue. A paragraph in an article. A tape picked up in a record shop bargain bin. A glimpse on late night TV.
The Fall were at the centre of this unknown. A band that appeared to have always been there and that always would be there. Unmovable and unknowable. The ultimate unknowable. So many records. Too many. And each record, each song, so dense, hard to penetrate. Each line could send you spiralling off in another direction, piecing together this alternative vision of the world. Each song full of clues. Clues to decipher, to follow, to misunderstand, to maybe one day reveal themselves.
However, the song I feel closest to was a cover version. It feels like a fraudulent choice, but maybe by hearing The Fall play someone else’s song back then I was able to enter that unknown, that unknowable, more readily. We all have our own gateway, I guess.
The choice of song seems perfect for them. Contrary, uncool, that word again – unknown. A song played on New Faces in the mid-seventies, a song once voted one of the worst of all time. A tiny fragment of an alternative history. The seventies wasn’t all glam, prog, punk. And the song is performed straight. There are no nods or winks here.
Mark E. Smith showed us that you can create your own world, your own alternative culture. You can pick apart the detritus around you, find your own meaning, even within old TV talent show turns, and that is far more rebellious than just following those standard counter-culture narratives.
The Fall remain unknowable to me. I imagine I will forever be scrambling around the records, the lyrics, the performances, trying to make some sense, trying to find the clues, see where they take me. That is the point for me.