Then It Hit Me: A Wonderful and Frightening Mix Tape
by Frances Reade
Every American should be required to visit Detroit at some point, to take a good, hard look at the failure of our 20th century.
Years ago, I was living in Ann Arbor and commuting to Detroit to spend weekends there with my then-boyfriend. To help ease the bleak wintertime drive down I-96, a friend made me a mixtape of the most depressing and frightening songs he could think of—extended early Wolf Eyes jams, Wire at its most epically menacing, and the Pop Group, whose chaotic, evil funk puts a bayonet in the eye of anyone in listening distance (e.g., me, alone in my minivan). I loved every second of this tape, except for “Smile,” by the Fall.
For months, I fast-forwarded through the track, always feeling a stab of anger at the boy who’d subjected me to this aggressively absurd crap. From the annoying, simpleton hook, to the idiotic lyrics, to Mark E. Smith’s irritating girlsqueal in the chorus, I fucking hated this song. But one afternoon, I looked out my windshield at the shitty, half-melted piles of snow turning brown in the yards of rotted-out brick mansions, at the flocks of pheasants gathered in the vast empty spaces where homes had stood and then burned, and then in at my own sad little collegiate self, hurtling along in a giant minivan, desperately running to a boy I thought could save me from me, and I realized the anger “Smile” brought out was the most intimate and pertinent connection I’d ever felt to any piece of music ever. The whole situation of living is terrifying, enraging and hilarious, and the Fall is the best band in the wonderful and frightening world.