‘My life with Mark E. Smith’ – former Fall member Brix Smith Start shares memories of her relationship with the ‘complex, brilliant poet’

The musician talks to NME about the life and legacy of her musical collaborator and ex-husband, who died on January 24, 2018. "From his darkest places is where his spark of creativity was born," she says.

“Mark was absolutely true unto himself. People always say push the envelope, but for Mark E Smith there was no envelope. He was creating from a place of absolute artistic purity – it was a place that was true to him. The thought of having his voice silenced after all these years is so upsetting to me.

He was not formally educated, he was not coming from a muso school – he was the opposite of that. He was a brilliant poet, probably one of the best. He was a real contrast of a person – on one hand he hated it when people ripped off the band but at the same time was frustrated that he wasn’t revered, though I think later in life he was – and definitely now he will be. The Fall was not a mainstream taste and to some people it was an ugly sound but to people like me and to people that know, it was a beautiful, intellectual, multi-dimensional dynamic sound, that could resonate with the deepest cores of each individual.

Photo by Peter Brooker/REX/Shutterstock. The Fall, London, Britain – 1988

[When we met] I was living in Chicago and I was a complete Anglophile, especially about music – my name was Brixton then, from ‘Guns of Brixton’ by The Clash. I bought ‘Slates’ (1981) by The Fall – it was the time of fluffy poodle rock stars with tight crotch showing pants and this was the opposite. I’d never heard anything like it – it wasn’t derivative of anything, it was completely unique. Two weeks later, randomly they were playing in Chicago. It was fate. We had our fake IDs and I remember watching the show and being utterly transfixed and transported. The music seemed to penetrate dimensions – it took me out of my headspace and out of my reality. After the show I decided to venture downstairs to the bar, an insecure teenager on her own, and I literally smacked into Mark Smith. He had a bottle of beer in each hand and white powder coming out of his nose. It was like the universe thrust us together and there was an instant connection. When fate deals me a hand, I follow it if it feels right. He said would you like to go to a party and I was like ‘sure’. We went in my car and I had my demo tape of my band in my bag. I put it in the cassette player and there were three songs. He said ‘who wrote this’ and then turned to me and said ‘you’re a fucking genius’. I was flabbergasted. His brain was already whirling about what was happening. Our love affair and the music was seamlessly put together.

He was super respectful, chivalrous and had great manners. There were all the right flags waving. We went to sleep in the same bed and did nothing but by the next morning when we woke up, we were in love. [Six weeks later] he bought me a one way ticket [to the UK]. My mom bought me the return, “in case he turns out to be a drunk or a wife-beater”, were her words.

We had a deep love and a deep connection that went beyond love because we created stuff together. I feel like the songs we wrote together are actually our children, our gifts to the world. The energetic connection between us did not die – and it probably won’t die with this death. I can still feel him.

He’s left his own legacy, that’s the best thing. You can see his entire life and career in all the records; some are good, some are bad, some are better, some are different, some are more appealing, less appealing, some are commercial, some are not commercial. His legacy is left and he did a fucking good job there. I would urge people to look at his lyrics because he is truly a brilliant poet. He lived the life that he wanted to live, he made his own choices. Yes he was miserable, but he was the cause of his own misery. He wasn’t always miserable – he’s a complex human. From his darkest places is where his spark of creativity was born. He was a very, very, very bright man and I’m very grateful to have had the privilege of him as a writing partner and people should be grateful for his contribution to music, because that can’t be underestimated.”