This is now the second time I’ve had the pleasure of reading an autobiography of someone who’s career I’ve followed and/or admired and finding the story to be refreshingly honest and free of the usual pitfalls of victimization, “woe-is-me”-isms or patting one’s self on the back that autobiographies always tend to do. This very lengthy, strongly detailed and incredibly moving story belongs to Laura Salenger, who is known to most of the world as Brix Smith (or now Smith-Start), the guitarist/songwriter for The Fall, and foil to the maw of the legendary and irascible Mark E. Smith, as well as being his ex-wife. Ms. Smith-Start has done quite a lot; lived many lives in her 53 years and frankly, considering some of the living hell she’s been through, it looks like time has been good to her – she’s as stunning now as she was when we first heard her name and saw her appear with The Fall.
Amongst the shocking and downright painful recollections contained in Ms. Smith-Start’s book begins with her tumultuous childhood in Los Angeles, where her father was not what one could call “a good parent”; she moved, with churning anger, to Chicago with her mother and new stepfather when she was a teen and began her rebellion in full by diving into the punk rock scene. There is also her very matter-of-fact recounting of a horrific, brutal rape that she never told anyone about – her manner in describing these kind of events (of which there are a few), to me, are admirable for the strength of will she had and the way she dealt with trauma. Add to that, her ability to step outside of herself and tell things, very matter-of-fact – some may complain; I feel she is to be lauded for showing pure courage. There are the tales of her meeting and instantaneously running off to England with Mark E. Smith when she sees The Fall for the first time and how up-and-down their marriage was, how controlling Smith is – and how it ended. There are recollections of her time with violinist Nigel Kennedy and his equally controlling nature and her subsequent split with him.
There are also the joyful moments, most notably her meeting and marrying Philip Start, the retail visionary clothier and her reinvention as a television personality and style guru, which has since (and deservedly) made her a household name in the U.K. The story also manages to come full circle as she’s once again picked up the guitar and resumed writing and performing again, after a very lengthy hiatus. Her new band, Brix and The Extricated (a very clever name, if you know the history of The Fall) is sharp and powerful sounding and she seems to be truly in her element again.
I know it’s very easy to dismiss rock bios (or in this case, autobiographies) but this is a person with a serious, meaningful story to tell. At no time did it feel cloying or self-pitying – when you sum it up, Brix Smith-Start’s story is one of guts and hope, survival and balance. It is a sad and painful ride but ultimately endearing as she has triumphed quietly and is happy, secure and successful. It’s something we all strive for and she certainly deserves all the successes she’s currently reaping. And if it wasn’t clear, she’s also – simply put – a damned good writer. Fascinating, heartbreaking, upsetting and completely one that you can’t put down.
The Rise, The Fall & The Rise is available now