Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith

Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith



The Pequod Review:

Mark E. Smith (1957-2018) was the founder of one of the most extraordinary post-punk bands (The Fall) and his memoir Renegade is similar to his music — raw, bitter, cryptic, and entirely unique. The book is less a memoir than a rant about everything he loves (which is more than you might expect — Johnny Cash, Arthur Machen, The Twilight Zone, The Searchers, Albert Finney, Link Wray, etc.) and everything he hates (pretty much everything else). But all of it is delivered in his trademark style:

If I wasn't who I am, I wouldn't stand a fucking chance nowadays. I'm trouble. They'd rather have somebody straight-weird like Ian Brown or Russell Brand; a fellow who can be reined in, given enough coercing. They don't want anybody like me. They don't want the honest stuff — somebody saying I don't want that, I don't want anything to do with that. But I'm incapable of toeing the line. If something is clearly wrong or third-rate I'm not willing to let it go. 

He has some very good insights into music:

One of the best gigs I saw in the 70s was Gary Glitter and the Glitterband. This was just before The Fall. It was astonishing. A friend of mine put a Glitter record on in a pub recently and they turned it off because of what he is now, but it's worth remembering what a great band they were. The sound was heavy, like a war tank, two drums blasting out at you...

I was more influenced by that than the stuff Fred and Baines were listening to. It had more edge. Steve Wonder's "Superstition" was another. Unlike Weather Report it doesn't force its quality, it isn't false; it's very much a record that's aware of its own strengths. I like the direct poetry of its lyrics, too, the economy. Journalists ramble on about Dylan being a poet and all that, how his words have the ability to do this and that — totally overlook stuff like "Superstition"; probably because most of the journalists writing that stuff are white males who grew up trying to be Dylan and now can't move on from that same wave of thought.


To me, punk was a safety net for a lot of people, a refuge of sorts from the reality that was 70s Britain, On one side, it was something that the kids could fall into, and out of when it all got a bit too complicated and harsh; and for the older generation, instead of concentrating their minds on the undeniable mess of the State, it provided them with an almost manageable problem.

That whole scene has been wildly misrepresented over the years; once the revisionists get their hands on something it's hard to seek out the reality. The best thing about it was that it didn't rely on perfection; you didn't have to be a well-schooled musician to be a punk. But, as with many scenes, it became very conservative — with everybody dressing the same and avoiding those that didn't. Small wonder that they soon ran out of things to say.

Even The Clash — who, I must admit, were very good when they started out, much better than The Pistols — lost it spectacularly. After that first album there's really nothing there; and in a way, like a lot of those punk bands who wanted to be 'Punk' — not like us — they turned their backs on their real selves, embracing all the old rock postures and themes instead of keeping to what they did best.

That's why I've never aligned myself to the whole punk thing. To me, punk is and was a quick statement, That's why most of the main players couldn't handle the fall-out of it all, they were like a bunch of shell-shocked army majors stuck in time, endlessly repeating their once-successful war cries. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I wanted something with a bit more longevity. When you're dealing in slogans like The Clash and The Pistols it's hard to keep that shit fresh. I sensed that at the time. It's like when we played live it was — attack! People at the back of the room would be like — whoa, what the fuck is this? Quite confrontational in a way … But the songs were more like short stories; unlike every fucker else we didn't just bark out wild generalizations. Simple fact: we weren't a punk band. That wasn't my intention.


The power these [record] labels have is quite frightening. The connections they've got. We've never taken big advances — not then and not now. We're autonomous. All these independent labels are the worst. People are just realizing it. Major labels aren't right for The Fall all the time, but at least you know where you are. The independents pay you less, they interfere and they're all in each other's pockets.

He also has great lines on his own band's style: "combining primitive music with intelligent lyrics." And useful advice on playing an instrument: "If you’re going to play it out of tune, then play it out of tune properly." Recommended.