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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, October 08, 2005
    Blind man, have mercy on me
    A disturbing and doubtless enduring image from tonight's Fall gig. It was provided by a support act, name unknown, a guy running a DVD of Queen in concert through some radical distortion software which stretched and crunched both sound and images until they were barely recognisable. What song Freddie Mercury was singing we could not tell, but with this treatment it became a terror to the ears. A rock anthem gutted and smeared, we-will-rock-you become we-will-shock-you, we-are-the-champions become we-are-torn-apart-and-shamed. Primal scream therapy for the unsuspecting.

    And, accompanying this sound terror it was The Scream that I saw - Freddie's face stretched and distorted so that when I looked at the screen image reflected on the low ceiling above me, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, pulled back behind itself, it most resembled Edvard Munch's masterpiece of isolation and despair.

    I think this video-jock creation struck me deeply because I think it tells a truth: that the stadium-rock anthems, the ones we all know, the soundtracks to our lives, are celebrations of certainties and security. But they also carry within them the raw materials of deep doubt, terror, fear, and in that they mimic us. We are uncertain people living in uncertain times; even as we hold our mobile phones above our heads in rock ecstacy we know that we ourselves are distorted and ill-defined. After the gig, the ringing in our ears reminds us.

    The Fall have been onto this for years, of course. That's why they've endured. Though they are truly vibrant creations, each one, their songs are anti-anthems. Mark E. Smith is the master of producing distorted and ill-defined songs for people prepared to recognise their lives' distortion and live through it. Hence, their closing song tonight (twenty minutes past the venue's lights-up deadline), Blindness, a classic Fall groove which builds and builds and builds in intensity, and had the moshers skidding all over the floor this evening.

    'Everywhere I look I see a blind man / I see a blind man / Everywhere I look / I see a...' Smith sings. I'm with the Fall theorists who reckon this is a nightmare involving you, me and David Blunkett, the government minister intent on putting Incapacity Benefit recipients back into work and imprisoning frivolous youngsters in their homes. 'Do you ... work hard?' Smith asks, repeatedly, in the blind man's voice, and in his own continues, '"I said to poster, "When's the curfew over? / I said, "Blind man, have mercy on me." / I said, "Blind man, have mercy on me."'

    Multiple ironies here; many complexities. Makes me wonder about the dubious integrity of my Sunday task - to peddle Freddie-type certainties to an uncertain people. Makes me glad The Fall are on the road with their ripped-up sound and guests who make Munch out of Mercury. They're expressing something truthful for us, even though it's hard to know quite what it is.

    As Blindness finishes and the venue manger puts lights-up quickly we don't see the band walk off because a man is crawling on his hands and knees on the beer-sticky floor beneath us. He was moshing so hard he lost a contact lens. Blind man. We try to help him but he will not find it. Have mercy. We exit with all this in our tinnitus-troubled heads. On me.