The Fall’s Mark E. Smith’s (RIP) Creates a List of His Favorite Books, Films & Music, Circa 1981

Some of us are still reel­ing from the death this last Jan­u­ary of Mark E. Smith, the front­man and acer­bic brains behind The Fall, sure­ly one of post-punk’s finest groups, and def­i­nite­ly its longest last­ing. The band might not have scored that many Top 40 sin­gles, but Britain’s music press loved and feared Smith in equal amounts. He was always good for a bel­liger­ent quote, or a beer-fueled inter­view down the pub. To para­phrase DJ John Peel, Smith was the yard­stick against which oth­er musi­cians were mea­sured.

And his death has also brought out a trea­sure trove of clip­pings, includ­ing this one from the August 15, 1981 edi­tion of NME. “Por­trait of the Artist as a Con­sumer” was an occa­sion­al series, ask­ing musi­cians for their favorite books, art, writ­ers, come­di­ans, films, and even oth­er music. We’ve past­ed the orig­i­nal scan above, but just in case, we’ve tran­scribed his lists with a lit­tle bit of com­men­tary.

Gulcher — Richard Meltzer
A Small Town in Ger­many — John Le Car­ré
A Scan­ner Dark­ly — Philip K. Dick
The Sirens of Titan — Kurt Von­negut Jr.
The Deer Park - Nor­man Mail­er
The Black Room — Col­in Wil­son
Rit­u­al in the Dark — Col­in Wil­son
Cogan’s Trade — George V. Hig­gins
At the Moun­tains of Mad­ness - H.P. Love­craft
Beyond Good and Evil — Fred­erich Niet­zsche

U.S. Civ­il War Hand­book — William H. Price
How I Cre­at­ed Mod­ern Music — D. McCul­loch (a week­ly ser­i­al)
True Crime Month­ly
Pri­vate Eye
Fibs About M.E. Smith by J. Cope (a pam­phlet)

Okay, for long­time fans of The Fall, the appear­ance of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Love­craft should come as no sur­prise, as Smith ref­er­enced them often in his lyrics. Gulcher (sub­ti­tled Post-Rock Cul­tur­al Plu­ral­ism in Amer­i­ca) was one of the first ever col­lec­tions of seri­ous rock crit­i­cism from one of the first ever rock crit­ics. The blurb on Col­in Wil­son over at Ama­zon says he “wrote wide­ly on true crime, mys­ti­cism and the para­nor­mal” which sounds pret­ty much like Smith’s CV. George V. Hig­gins was also a crime writer, with a gift for mafioso gab. And as for The Deer Park by Mail­er, Smith took the title for an ear­ly Fall song:

Of Smith’s fas­ci­na­tion with the U.S. Civ­il War, I can think of his own visu­al­iz­ing between the North and South in his own belea­guered Britain, and the lyric from “The N.W.R.A.”:

“The streets of Soho did rever­ber­ate
With drunk­en High­land men
Revenge for Cul­lo­den dead
The North had rose again
But it would turn out wrong”

Don’t go look­ing for the McCul­loch and Cope writings—they’re both jokes at the expense of fel­low Man­cu­ni­ans Ian McCul­loch (Echo and the Bun­ny­men) and Julian Cope, who Smith gigged with back in the day and went on to—as Smith no doubt saw it—sell out to the main­stream

[UPDATE: As one com­menter has not­ed D. Cul­loch is actu­al­ly Dave McCul­loch, Ian’s broth­er and once the edi­tor and writer for Sounds. How­ev­er, he is a man that has dropped off the face of the Inter­net, and we’ll need some more dig­ging to see if his ser­i­al even exists. Help us in the com­ments.]


Claude Bessy

Of William S. Bur­roughs much has been writ­ten, but Claude Bessy was a French writer who start­ed and/or wrote for sev­er­al punk fanzines, includ­ing Ange­leno Dread and Slash, was the res­i­dent VJ at Manchester’s Hacien­da Club, and directed—supposedly—music videos for The Fall (which ones, I can’t dis­cern).

Wyn­d­ham Lewis
Mal­colm Alli­son
Vir­gin Prunes
The Worst live, March­ester Dec. ’77

Those who have seen Lewis’ writ­ings for BLAST, the mag­a­zine of the vor­ti­cist move­ment in Britain, cir­ca 1914, might be mis­tak­en that they were look­ing at a M.E.S. lyric sheet.

The list is Smith’s joke over what is con­sid­ered art: Mal­colm Alli­son was an Eng­lish foot­ball play­er and man­ag­er; the Vir­gin Prunes were an Irish post-punk band; The Worst was a lit­tle known punk band that shared the bill with The Fall and John Coop­er Clark at the Elec­tric Cir­cus gig—the record­ing of which was the Fall’s first release.

Lenny Bruce
Alan Pel­lay
Bernard Man­ning
All Ian Cur­tis deriv­a­tives

Lenny Bruce and Bernard Man­ning are oppo­site ends of a very odd spec­trum. More inter­est­ing is Alan Pel­lay aka Al Pel­lay aka Lana Pel­lay, who front­ed a group I Scream Plea­sures that often opened for The Fall, and whose angry dec­la­ra­tions over dub tracks by Adri­an Sher­wood are son­ic cousins to Smith.

Polanski’s Mac­beth
Mel Brook’s (sic) High Anx­i­ety
Fellini’s Rome
The Man with X‑Ray Eyes and The Lost Week­end star­ring Ray Mil­land
Visconti’s The Damned
Days of Wine and Ros­es with Jack Lem­mon
Char­lie Bub­bles with Albert Finney

The most per­son­al selec­tion here is the last one, a 1968 film that starred Finney as a des­per­ate but suc­cess­ful writer who returns to his child­hood home…Salford, near Man­ches­ter, Smith’s own home­town.

John Cleese adverts

Of the two, Bluey is the rare one, a cult Aus­tralian cop dra­ma from 1976 cre­at­ed by Jock Blair and Ian Jones. We also have no idea why he liked it.


Take No Pris­on­ers — Lou Reed
Peter Ham­mill
John­ny Cash
The Pan­ther Burns
God Save the Queen — The Sex Pis­tols
Raw and Alive — The Seeds
Peb­bles Vol. 3 — Var­i­ous
16 Great­est Truck Dri­ver Hits cas­sette
Radio City — Philip John­son (cas­sette)
Der Plan
Alter­na­tive TV
Land of the Homo Jews and Hank Williams Was Queer, live — Fear (L.A. Group)
We’re Only In It for the Mon­ey — Moth­ers of Inven­tion

So, at last, the music list. No sur­pris­es see­ing Lou Reed, John­ny Cash, The Pis­tols, or Zap­pa on here. The Pan­ther Burns was a favorite group of Claude Bessy; The Seeds was a great garage rock band of the ‘60s; Peb­bles is a com­pi­la­tion of Amer­i­can psy­che rock; Alter­na­tive TV, Fear, and Der Plan had vary­ing degrees of suc­cess in the punk and elec­tron­ic gen­res.

Of note, two things: the 16 Great­est Truck Dri­ver Hits cas­sette, which the band must have picked up some­where on tour. A baf­fling release, it has songs not cred­it­ed to any artist, so per­haps this is a stu­dio band con­coc­tion of coun­try cov­ers. But it might have inspired Smith to write his own ver­sion of the Amer­i­can truck­er song, “Con­tain­er Dri­vers”:

Also Philip John­son. Radio City was one of a dozen self-released cas­settes by an ear­ly elec­tron­ic artist, which DieorDIY described as “A fan­tas­tic cut up of var­i­ous cur­rent affairs radio broad­casts, with the clas­sic AM radio sound qual­i­ty, made good by that cosi­ly depress­ing fer­ric oxide degra­da­tion tech­nique.” For those look­ing for the var­i­ous influ­ences on the genius of Mark E. Smith, this entire list gives you a good place to start.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Springsteen’s Favorite Books & Read­ing List

Hayao Miyaza­ki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (7)
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  • Andrew Lynes says:

    Won­der­ful to read this, thanks for post­ing. I reck­on D McCul­loch will be Sounds jour­nal­ist Dave rather than Ian of Bun­ny­men fame.

  • ted mills says:

    Good point and thanks for the tip. The three seemed so close at one peri­od in time. Let me do some more research­ing.

  • Towerblockrock says:

    Sounds jour­nal­ist Dave McCul­loch is not Ian’s broth­er (Ian has a broth­er named Peter)
    His ser­i­al def­i­nite­ly does not exist, this is pure snark from Smith.

    Ian McCul­loch and Julian Cope are not Man­cu­ni­ans!

    McCul­loch is a Liv­er­pudlian and Cope is from Tam­worth in Stafford­shire.

  • Stefan Cooke says:

    Andrew is def­i­nite­ly cor­rect about D McCul­loch. Also Ian McCul­loch and Julian Cope will be sur­prised to learn they’re from Man­ches­ter, not Liv­er­pool.

  • Dirker says:

    The Dave McCul­loch week­ly ser­i­al “How I Cre­at­ed Mod­ern Music” is, of course, not real, but a ref­er­ence to McCul­loch’s writ­ings in Sounds, which was released week­ly. Writers/editors/critics used to often behave as if they were of tan­ta­mount impor­tance to the direc­tion of cul­ture. I do not recall if McCul­loch was any more prone to this than any­one else of the era, but I remem­ber that Sounds, Melody Mak­er, and NME would com­pete to be the first to ele­vate new artists, or drag down artists cham­pi­oned by the oth­er rags, and would open­ly boast of their influ­ence.

  • Douglas says:

    Dave McCul­lough* was a Sounds writer, known for his pre­ten­tious­ness and ludi­crous stances on cur­rent pop music, eg laud­ing plas­tic chart pop acts while diss­ing bands more appre­ci­at­ed by most Sounds read­ers. Noth­ing wrong in that by itself, but he did seem to just enjoy being con­trary and wordy.

    *I’m pret­ty sure that’s the spelling — the use of “McCul­loch” was either poor copy­writ­ing by the NME or anoth­er sly dig at Dave by MES — either is entire­ly like­ly.

  • Scott says:

    Dou­glas is right on the spelling — Dave McCul­lough. He was great, and has remained truer to the spir­it of punk than any of them, by com­plete­ly dis­ap­pear­ing, rather than becom­ing a media pun­dit. He did go through a “new pop” phase but also cham­pi­oned some of the most under­ground stuff, includ­ing Philip John­son. He laud­ed the Fall ear­ly on, and was men­tioned on the first two LP sleeves.

    I think Dirk­er means “para­mount”, not “tan­ta­mount”.

    “This is where C. Wil­son wrote Rit­u­al in the Dark” (“Deer Park” on “Hex Enduc­tion Hour”). You have to rely on Ama­zon for your knowl­edge of him??? I can hear MES cack­ling from beyond the grave!!!

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