Frank O’Hara, Charles Bukowski, Mark E. Smith and Shogun
Similar comparisons have been made many times before by far cleverer people, but for old time’s sake, with the passing of the Mancunian malcontent, singer/songwriter Mark E. Smith of The Fall, here’s a post that compares the words of three 20th century icons, and looks to the future that is Grime.
My link to The Fall is via The Fall’s home city of Manchester in the north of England. One of the many members of The Fall was a school classmate of mine. I think a lot of people had a classmate in The Fall because there was a high churn. I think that’s where a lot of the energy came from.
Hit the North
The Fall’s timeless songs are prescient warnings for dangerous times right now. 2003’s Theme for Sparta FC, is a shocking abstract snap shot of casual high street racism which is, sadly, just as relevant now.
The Fall were the howl of an attacked, divided and insecure society, projected by someone with the bile of the nihilist. Never saw Brexit coming? You probably never listened to The Fall.
Listening again to English Scheme, Pay Your Rates and The War Against Intelligence, I’m wondering about the future, and who’s taking swipes at the aspirational norm that passes for culture in the UK. Grime steps up.
My New Novel Update
I’m on the lookout for what’s new in the UK all the time and I’m a subscriber to YouTube channels: LDK, StormzyTV, and Twelve 50 TV. I listen to JME, Skepta and Stormzy because dragging up a new novel from scratch, you need to block out the powerful mainstream voices, the carefully curated product placements, and the slight novels of literal-minded journalists who start their thrillers in the middle. It goes with the coffee rituals and the creative battery acid recharge.
Couldn’t Get Ahead
The Fall were always effective in blocking out those serious intrusions with a relentless cultural water cannon. I’m always asking, did Mark E. Smith really say that? And yes is usually the answer. He did. I checked back to the lyrics of Couldn’t Get Ahead because I couldn’t believe how good they were. Not ‘good’ in the way that they rhyme and are, by definition, lyrics, but ‘good’ in that it’s great poetry.
‘Culture’ right now seems to be a driverless car steered by algorithms built on rank, averages, statistics, spreadsheets and bots. You have to clean the slate every day with something that (as they’d say on GBBO) cuts through the blancmange.
Everything Suddenly Honks
20th century American Post-Modern poetry does the blancmange-cutting. O’Hara and Bukowski’s influence is in The Fall’s Couldn’t Get Ahead, so here are two poems followed by my transcript of Couldn’t Get Ahead showing Mark E. Smith was right up there with the very best, and then it’s the future.
A Step Away From Them by Frank O’Hara (excerpt)
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
Note: So, to set the ball rolling, in the above poem, the ad-man’s alluring message goes over the poet’s head, and then he sees its by-product, resentment and racism, on the street: a black man dares to look at a white girl, and it all kicks off.
My Old Man by Charles Bukowski (excerpt)
it was a story about
a rich man
who had a fight with
his wife and had
gone out into the night
for a cup of coffee
and had observed
the waitress and the spoons
and forks and the
salt and pepper shakers
and the neon sign
in the window
and then had gone back
to his stable
to see and touch his
kicked him in the head
and killed him.
Couldn’t Get Ahead by The Fall, Mark E. Smith (transcribed by me)
Come out of the pub, the shop is closed
Come out of the pub, Harry wants to know
When the next bus is, I said five or ten minutes
I had change in my hands
The bus flashes past, my hands are caught
In a week, earned money for a month, got all my jabs done
My eyelids were sticky with it, gist was I could sleep for a day
But bad bills have no respect for a decent man’s rest
Flopping on the doorstep, outlined in colour red
On an Asiatic plane with wings not of the grain
Toilet queue was endless, couldn’t get a beer
The hostesses were muslims
When I get in the toilet, light flashes: “Return to seat”
I feared withdrawal and I feared beer was making sludge in my head
Couldn’t get ahead, I just couldn’t get ahead
The King is Dead, Long Live the King
Here’s the future:
Cy Forrest is the author of The Punished
Links to publications and the Art Decades interview are here.