Perfect Sound Forever


Elastic Man, Mark E. Smith & Charles Mingus
by Bart Plantenga
(December 2019)

Stan Lee, producer of Elastic Man comics, was alerted in 1982 to Mark E. Smith's song "How I Wrote Elastic Man," presumably referring to Lee with lines like "I'm eternally grateful / To my past influences" about a man who becomes "a creeping wreck, a mental wretch" as a result of the fame gained from having written "Elastic Man." So tortured is he that he quits writing, "keeps bottles and comics stuffed by its head / F**k it, let the beard grow."

Lee decided to go to a Fall gig at Al's Bar in LA in late 1982 to see what the fuss was about. Reviews of the night claim the band ignited the place, causing great jolly, kinetic mayhem.

After the concert, Lee and Smith shared a square foot of soppy bar. Lee described the experience as "a bewitching form of pent-up fandemonium."

Smith grinned, remarking: "Jottin' it down: ‘Fall fandemonium / spontaneous combustion in Club Acrimonium'" (later incorporated verbatim into the song "Achilles Heal a High Street Steal" (Turf War Coiffure, 1999)). Lee recommended the house special, Bats in Your Belfry.

"What's in this devilment?"

"Beer, bourbon, blackberry brandy."

"Four-B, a heady dent..."

Smith, by now floating on four-B #2 chemtrails, recalled a bizarre tale of how he became an elasticband. Not just some ordinary elasticband, but one that had, until a certain moment, held together the maitre d's well-worn logbook of Chocolate Bar reservations, until it suddenly slipped off, shot across the room, landing on a nearby table.

The Chocolate Bar was immortalized by Charles Mingus on an alt. version of "Strollin'": "I don't know where I'm strollin' / lose my loafer, the floor's so sticky / my eyes are trollin' / and the timin's oh-so tricky" [Mingus Among Us, Nippon Columbia, 1987].

Smith [age 19], "not more'n a post-teen larvae" ["The Prime Minister's Camel Hump"], remembers stumbling down Kansas City's avenues on a post-gig bender, when he somehow ends up flopping in through the Chocolate Bar doors, landing right there at... Charles Mingus's feet!

Mingus is introducing "Moanin'," which incites Smith to blurt: "Know it by ROTE! WooHooWooHooWooHoo!" Mingus shoots him a cool, assassinating glare. Smith, oblivious, is distracted by the discovery of the maitre d's reservation logbook elasticband.

Mingus plays "Moanin'" and mid-song snaps a string, with no spares in sight. Maybe it was the illegally-poured absinthe, or imagination run amok, but suddenly Smith's lanky bod morphed [special effects] into a wobbly elasticband, which was launched [slo-mo hurtling] at Mingus on stage, hitting him in the cheek.

Mingus picked it up in a pinch, nodded bewildered and, as he told a tale of oppression, growing up in Watts, restrung his bass with that Smithy elasticband.

All fables go legendary hereafter. Critics to this day are still mystified by the incredibly inventive sound he urged from his bass that night. I've been told to listen to the Impulse recording Mingus Live at the Chocolate Bar, with Eric Dolphy.

And Lee? He published the comic "How I Drew the Man Who Wrote Plastic Man" [1984] featuring Chuck Mango and a Smith-like character named Marquee de Chacha who possesses strange elastic powers including the ability to stretch a metaphor far beyond the boundaries of acceptability. A line credited to Smith: "The Thin Man is naught but a Gumby Melt / achieving his cheaty feats bending his bendy belt."

Charles Mingus died four months after the elasticband transmogrification incident in January 1979.

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Also see PSF's site about The Fall

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