Speaking in tongues
Mark Robertson encounters a world of shark-women and bingo rebellion as Peter Wild explains how he edited short stories based on song titles by the Fall
It is always the first thing that strikes you. The song titles. Before you even take the vinyl out of the sleeve or the CD out of its jewelcase, it’s those militant statements of verbosity, those acid-dipped, verbal conjugal visits, those florid, post-Beefheartian one-liners that grab your attention. From ‘Eat Y’Self’ or ‘Lie Dream of a Casino Soul’ to ‘Spoilt Victorian Child’ or ‘Mollusc in Tyrol’, Mark E Smith has always had a knack for a snappy title. Often cryptic or surreal, and always intriguing. That’s why Mancunian author and journalist Peter Wild’s fancy - to construct a book of short stories by various authors all inspired by Fall song titles - isn’t such a daft notion.
Wild commissioned 23 authors to write a story each where they could take as much or as little reference from the song itself as they pleased. They run chronologically, from Niall Griffiths’ take on the band’s debut single, 1978’s ‘Bingo Master’s Breakout’, through to Rebbecca Ray’s stab at ‘I Can Hear the Grass Grow’ from the band’s recent album Fall Heads Roll. The Fall’s music has always been rooted in a 50s rockabilly sensibility but driven in varying directions by Smith’s lyrical waywardness. He is the nobbly asteroid around which the musical ideas orbit and the book indicates that no matter how familiar a writer is with their own back catalogue, there’s a varied world of possibilities to be conjured from these titles.
‘If anything, it shows just how personal music can be and how two people’s take on the same artist can be so radically different,’ says Wild. Demand to be included was high once word of the project got out. ‘The response was amazing, and people began to approach me. The Fall are a real authors’ band obviously.’ Matt Beaumont, Andrew Holmes, Helen Walsh and Nicholas Royle are among the contributors, all with varying approaches.
‘Some used the titles as mere jumping-off points into something completely different where others, like John Williams, for instance, who was friends with the band very early on in the late 70s, talks about his involvement with them, and others like Carlton Mellick III go off on some quite radical tangents and are just . . . mental.’ Mellick’s ‘City Hobgoblins’ is among the best here and tells of a grimy Jeff Noon-ish future world of love and lust between a man and a mutant liquorice-flavoured shark woman. In further contrast, Stewart Lee deliberately wrote in the voice of Smith himself, a conceit that doesn’t quite work but is still a valiant effort.
This book is far from a stand-alone tome however, with two sequels on the same premise for Sonic Youth and the Smiths nearing completion. ‘The intention is to have six books with three bands from New York and three from Manchester with Ramones, Joy Division and Velvet Underground completing the set,’ explains Wild. For now the works of MES and co are enough to keep us sated. ‘My hope is that the book works both ways,’ says Wild. ‘It might get Fall fans into reading short stories and it might get fans of Michel Faber or Nicholas Blincoe out buying Fall albums. That would be the most I could ever wish for.’
Perverted by Language is out now, published by Serpent’s Tail