Brix Smith Start: The Rise, The Fall, and the Rise

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I wasn’t intending to read this book but was curious enough to pick it up, having had some dealings with The Fall, the English band Brix Smith joined a year after I ran into them. I’d thought I’d read enough about The Fall considering I haven’t really listened to much of anything they’ve recorded for more than 30 years.

Brix grows up in wealthy but broken circumstances in Los Angeles and Chicago. She shuttles back and forth and obsesses about Disneyland and then music, but Mickey Mouse is never far away. She begins to focus on British music and starts calling herself Brixton after the Clash song Guns of Brixton.

Brix meets singer Mark E. Smith when The Fall play a Chicago gig in 1983. She’s 18 and Smith falls for her and invites her to come and live with him in his squalid Prestwick, Manchester, flat. Then she joins The Fall.

Brix is rather good at describing the dysfunctional nature of the set up. Mark E. is on speed, drinking and running everything in a dictatorial and arbitrary manner while still caring and still managing to maintain some sort of vision. For the time being anyway.

Brix is a large part in The Fall, co-writing material (not always credited) and very much at the centre of things during their 1980s heyday. She features on seven albums, from 1983’s Perverted by Language through to 1990’s Extricate. She gives it all up while Mark becomes even more of a drug and drink-addled nutbar who also somehow manages to sleep around.

She gets away from the now mad-as-a-snake Mark, embarks on a solo career as Adult Net and before long falls into the arms of the mockney child prodigy violinist Nigel Kennedy. Nigel becomes increasingly famous, eccentric and controlling. It’s a different kind of suffocating crazy lifestyle.

Brix heads back to Los Angeles to hang with Bangles mate Suzanna Hoff, attend drama school and wait tables. She has lots of celebrity friends. Then, unbelievably, it’s back to The Fall as a player but it can’t last. That’s the thing about The Fall. None of it can last, yet somehow it does by constantly shedding members and evolving but there is a sense of gradual entropy here. Brix gives us an insight into the inevitable decline of The Fall and Mark E. Smith.

Again, Brix gets out and finds true love and a fulfilling and stable life in the fashion retail trade with new husband Philip Start and she’s back into the spotlight hosting a fashion reality television programme – hence the book’s title The Rise, The Fall, The Rise (Faber and Faber).

There is an element of the poor little rich girl running away with the (kind of) famous rock star and then experimenting as the partner of a classical music superstar and eventually finding happiness through the love of a good man and proper work with the help of a whole lot of crystals and various therapies. But I like this book for its very close up and honest look at a very dysfunctional band.

Other writers generally work around it, but Brix cuts to the core of it – drink and drugs and the very unpleasant personality that is Mark E. Smith.

This is a much better read than Mark E’s own book Renegade (Penguin, 2008) which is little more than a series of transcribed nonsensical and self-mythologizing rants.

Perhaps Brix’s story is not as good as Dave Simpson’s member-by-member account The Fallen: Life In and Out of Britain’s Most Insane Group (Cannongate, 2010) or fellow band member Steve Hanley’s excellent account, The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall (Route, 2014) but certainly worthy of a read by any Fall fan or those interested in women working in eccentric indie rock bands. I enjoyed it.