In this fascinating document we can see the endlessly amusing and enigmatic mind of Mark E. Smith, founder and resident genius of The Fall, not even 20 years of age and several months before the Fall’s first gig in May 1977.
The date is December 20, 1976. Smith is writing a letter to another founding member of The Fall, bassist Tony Friel—Smith refers to “your ‘bass’ pop guitar.” (Friel would remain in the band only for a few months.) Smith is referencing a gig held at the Electric Circus in Manchester on Thursday, December 9, 1976, featuring The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and The Clash—quite a lineup! (Which DM reader wouldn’t give about three toes to have seen that show? Then again, maybe one or two of you were there.....) The din of the show must have still been ringing in his ears—Smith starts the letter with a snippet from “Chinese Rocks,” the legendary Heartbreakers song jointly written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell.
The main purpose of the letter, in addition to waxing hilarious and weird in a way only Mark E. Smith was ever capable of, was to affirm his enthusiasm about this new band The Clash, who clearly made a huge impression on Smith: “New pop group the CLASH are going to be very big,once they do a tour of the Village,and then signed on to Village records Ltd.” But he wasn’t telling Friel about the band, surely. Smith and his buddy Friel had quite probably discussed The Clash already, both having most likely seen them at the Electric Circus. Indeed, later on he adds, “Combined, The Heartbreakers and Clash were better than Sex Pistols, doncha?” As in, “Right? You agree? You who saw them too?” Smith was putting on his oracle hat and predicting great things for The Clash. Seems like he hit that one on the head.
The postscript is a snippet of dialogue (real or imagined?) from the immortal 1960s TV series The Prisoner.
Here’s the full text of the letter:
? Dec. 76
for: No. 505048A99FU
from: the new number 2
‘I’m livin on a Chinese rock/all my clothes are in the pawn shop’ WRONG.
And today, the new number two is wearing a ‘Healthiflex non-restricti Collar’ dark blue in colour.
New number two says “New pop group the CLASH are going to be very big,once they do a tour of the Village,and then signed on to Village records Ltd.”
Please find attached a rough ‘set’ for the Outsiders.Apologies for any ommissions. Also find attached a little pres for you,a sticker for your ‘bass’ pop guitar.Last night I did not notice any “plain clothes policemen in pop gear” did thou?
You had better stick the fucking syticker on your ““bass”” or your ass.Or I will tell news agency Tass.
I did not get any sleep last night as i was speeeeding maaaaaan.
Combined,The Heartbreakers and Clash were better than Sex Pistols, doncha? Je tres fatigue - non dormir!
be seeing you,
the new number 2
No6: “How did that typewriter get here ? At night ???”
No.14: “I am not allowed to answer that.Be seeing you.”
Here’s the letter (you can see a much larger version here):