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Mark E. Smith

Mark E. Smith and The Fall performing on The Tube television show, London, November 8, 1985. Photo: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock.

YOU CAN TELL how a trombone sounds by looking at its shape—just as you could see, in the scowl and bitter rictus of Mark E. Smith, the slashing vocal intensity that came pouring out of that face. Years of listening have nailed his words into my head: brittle consonants and yowled vowels, a spray of polysyllabic elocution cut abruptly short by something funny, something wounding, and thus moving, bristling, ragged with need.

THERE IS NO CULTURE IS MY BRAG.
MANACLED TO THE CITY! MANACLED TO THE CITY!
LEAVE THE CAPITOL. EXIT THIS ROMAN SHELL!
PARALLAX! ONE OF THE MILLENNIUM OF CONSPIRACY.
TOO MUCH BRANDY FOR BREAKFAST.
WIRELESS ENTHUSIAST INTERCEPTS GOVERNMENT SECRET RADIO BAND AND UNCOVERS SECRETS AND SCANDALS OF DECEITFUL TYPE PROPORTIONS.

Words swirl away from their referents. It’s strange to see them written out, twitching nakedly on the page—severed from his yelp, his

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