Mark E. Smith performs the final show at Hammersmith Palais in 2007.
Mark E. Smith performed the final show at Hammersmith Palais in 2007. Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Mark E. Smith, one of British music's most perverse and brilliant artists, died today at the age of 60 from what the UK Daily Mirror describes as "bizarre and rare medical issues."

His health has long been less-than-robust. Few could have been shocked when the BBC erroneously reported his death last year, and more recently, he was rushed to the hospital. In The Rise, The Fall & The Rise, her 2016 memoir about her years spent playing music with and being married to Smith, Brix Smith Start wrote that drugs and alcohol had made her former partner into “a tiny wizened apple puppet.”

With over 100 LPs (and nearly as many line-ups) to their name, Smith's band, The Fall, represents the quintessence of the term "post-punk"—both in the sense that it emerged contemporaneously with the generation of UK punk bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned, and in the sense that its music was both a refinement and a refusal of punk's original aesthetic.

The Fall was defined by relentlessly, hypnotically repetitive songs featuring Smith's intense, discursively literary rant-singing—somewhere between rapping and incantation, made glorious summer by his Northern accent. His lyrics cover the gamut between absurdism and deep misanthropy, The Fall being a case study in how rock music can be "not for everyone," which, along with their staggeringly prodigious output, seems to be a major factor in why those who love the band really love them.

A few minutes ago, when I texted condolences to my best friend—who has to qualify as the biggest Fall fan I have ever met—he called Smith "still and always the pinnacle of creative musical antagonism." It's hard to deny. I saw the Fall at the Crocodile in 2004 or 2006, and Smith's antagonism extended to the young musicians he'd hired (presumably on the cheap) to be his touring band. He'd turn away from the audience while singing and go unplug the bass player's amp or tweak the tuning pegs on the guitarist's headstock, forcing the players to make urgent adjustments without losing the thread of the song. It was hilarious, though probably not for anyone on stage.

As with many such "difficult" groups, it's likely that you would know The Fall best by recognizing their influence on subsequent bands, most notably Pavement (especially on Slanted and Enchanted and earlier material), Sonic Youth, and I guess LCD Soundsystem.

The tributes are pouring onto Twitter:

Two years ago Stranger contributor Robert Ham undertook the daunting task of ranking all Fall albums (not counting live ones and comps), worst to best for Stereogum. It's not even really a question of agreeing or not agreeing. It's simply impressive that anyone knows them all well enough to make such a judgment.

One thing is certain: Whatever fueled Mark E. Smith's verbal artistry—somewhere between nursery rhyme and agitprop, non-sequitur meets cut-up collage, artful aphorism vs. compulsive digression, studious craft beset by amphetamine accident, high and low as indistinguishable components of the same impulse, scary + funny, heroically irreverent—his form, like his voice, was singularly his.

Not many musicians, even great ones, can make the same claim. Not without being liars, anyway. (This 2010 piece from The Quietus is probably the best thing I've read about Smith as a writer, and it's worth mentioning that a LOT of music writers have written a lot of writing about Smith as a writer.)

R.I.P Mark E. Smith, one of the most distinctive voices ever to emerge from Manchester, which is saying something.