“And what’ll you do when the rental’s up? / And your bottom rack is full of vids / Of programs you will nay look at”
Factory Records’ video imprint, IKON, released miles (kilometers?) of quality VHS tape in the 1980s, back when videocassettes came packaged in those hard plastic cases with snap-shut lids and transparent sleeves for the cover art. IKON had it all: the posthumous Joy Division collection Here Are the Young Men; Taras Shevchenko, a tape of New Order live in the Ukraine; the Birthday Party captured in their prime on Pleasure Heads Must Burn; The Final Academy Documents, a double cassette of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin collaborations concluding with their 1982 performance at Manchester’s Hacienda; and Claude Bessy’s hilarious, can’t-be-arsed “sales” vid Bessy Talks Turkey. And that’s skipping the videos by Survival Research Labs, the Durutti Column, Severed Heads, and Hunters & Collectors.
But the Fall took advantage of the full range of possibilities of the new home video format on 1983’s fabulous Perverted by Language Bis. “Scripted” by Mark E. Smith, the collection brings together the usual material—no-budget promo videos, live clips and interview footage—but spiced with visual non sequiturs and linked with snatches of insane prose. Thirty-two years later, it’s still weird.
Detail from the back cover of Perverted by Language Bis
Speaking as a devotee of the compilation Palace of Swords Reversed and the album Perverted by Language, the video also happens to catch (lucky me) my favorite period of the Fall’s now very long career, namely the years just before and after Brix joined. Along with “Hip Priest,” “Totally Wired,” “The Man Whose Head Expanded,” and several tracks from Perverted by Language, you get videos for three of the four songs from the supreme summit of the Fall’s discography, the gemlike “Kicker Conspiracy” double seven-inch. There’s the title tune, in which MES vents his spleen about something to do with English sport (beats me), the rockabilly truck-driver song “Container Drivers,” and the sci-fi time-travel story “Wings,” set to perhaps the mightiest Fall riff of all. And unlike sucker me, who paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 for this thing just to shudder under its crushing weight for the rest of my born days, you’ll be watching it for the internet’s “nice price” of zero dollars, free from physical encumbrance and joint pain.