Never meet your heroes is an adage that nobody wants to experience first-hand, however, when it comes to Mark E. Smith, you’d have to be a very naive superfan to think you’d be the exception who escapes his wrath. At best, you’d have to hope for the indifference that Suede received when after playing as The Fall’s support band. For an entire tour, they tuned into a radio interview with Smith only to hear him asked about them and have him reply, “Suede? Never heard of ‘em.”
He was one of music’s true iconoclasts and, for him, that meant having no time for the sentimentality of fanboying. Thus, when James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem described The Fall as his Beatles, it didn’t win him any special favours.
Murphy met his hero at the Apollo in Manchester, and he was spared the rod of Smith’s spleen, by the fact that the “wizened punk elf” as Murphy called him, had not yet heard his music. As Murphy told Vice, “We went out for a pint and got along really nicely. He was very sweet. Very conscientious. I was totally surprised. Because he could have punched me in the face or done anything to me. And he didn’t have to be nice to me, it’s not a requirement, to be honest.”
It wasn’t until later when Smith was down the shops that a fated blow would be dealt to Murphy’s ego. “I went into my local shop a few weeks ago for groceries,” Smith told Wire. “There’s an Irish bloke in there, very nice, and he was playing [‘Losing My Edge’]. I said, ‘This sounds exactly like me, are you trying to take the piss?’ At which point the bloke’s getting a bit paranoid … I mean this bloke [James Murphy], I’ve met him, he doesn’t even talk like that, he’s New York, New Jersey, or whatever. Just some New York arsehole.”
This clearly lingered in the caustic mind of the Manchunian misanthrope as, in 2013, he even took a swipe at him on record, hurling out the lyric “James Murphy is their chief / They show their bollocks when they eat / Commercial rate awaits / For those who join the clique,” in the song ‘Irish’. When asked if it was the aforementioned musician or typified Irish name, Smith replied, “What do you think?” before reconsidering and saying, “I liked him, but he should stop putting on that American accent.” Considering that James Murphy is American, and Mark E. Smith obviously isn’t it’s a relatively confusing final not to strike, but Smith was a confusing man.
The final chapter in the entwining saga came when Smith found out about Murphy’s reportedly reclusive ways. “I don’t like him,” Smith concluded, “He didn’t leave the house for 30 years.” In the end, the beauty of it is that a lambasting from Smith is like a handshake from anyone else. At least for Murphy’s sake, he escaped being one of the faceless modern masses verbally stabbed at when Smith declared: “The standard of music [is] appalling. Every lyric is ‘I’m so sorry I hurt my girlfriend’.”