Frozen pain that is so bad
I have seen the madness in my area
Madness in my empire
In the writer
In the Berlin fighter
In the mirror
The used satire
The striking delivery of Mark E Smith is what his lyrics demand but at times leaves people to under-estimate the power of the language. Too much is written about the constant line-up shuffles, Smith’s kettle-boil temper and those that have ‘fallen’ at the way side. His bark which spits out spates of images, may seem to those first listening to his music as rash and unordered. However underneath the anger quietly sits studied corners of violence, loss and often beauty.
Smith shines a torch on the dark provincial junctions of the north of England, often so keen to be avoided by writers. The sensitive language of grim small town habits and heart-breaking relationships of silent infidelity fills each barked phrase with a knowing energy of social realism. He speaks of figures that are so easy to hide away in anonymous suburbs – the paedophilic textile chemist, the burrowman frozen in pain, the rabbit killer or the Bournemouth runner. The subjects though spoken confrontationally are in fact at times tragic and lonely.
Take his lyrics for ‘Jawbone and the Air rifle’ for instance; written with a lamenting understatement.
A cemetery overlooked clough valley of mud
And the grave-keeper was out on his rounds
Yellow-white shirt buried in duffle coat hood,
Keeping edges out with mosaic colour stones
There is a lived and human quality to his writing that isn’t there to simply shock but report a life not glamourised by the young and beautiful or dramatised by the horrific or sublime. The character of the grave-keeper out on his rounds in his yellow-white shirt, ‘tending wreath- roots’ is wonderfully evocative of the sedentary and trained life of the domestic. ”Manchester has produced many men of this kind,” he once wrote, “Hard men with hard livers; faces like un-made beds.”
How familiar the grave-keeper is with his career that he keeps the graves tidy with the different coloured stones of a mosaic, a beautiful and surreal image. For Smith it is important that the tones are as worn down as the place. It is bare and unflinching but Smith cannot shy away from the imagery of this landscape. All he knows is wrapped up in the majesty of the ordinary, finding absurdity within the mundane. Never one to embellish, it is laid out carefully and bluntly but in doing so wipes the dusts off the lives which have as much tragedy as any. If his language illustrates anything it is a fight for his setting, whether aggressively or sensitively, he makes sure others do not take it for granted.
by Alex Marsh (co-editor)