Friday, April 26, 2013
Track of the Week: The Fall, "How I Wrote Elastic Man"
Around this time two years ago, I came clandestinely from East Texas to the Big Apple to interview for my current job. My life had become completely intolerable, so much so that I was totally willing to take the plunge and vacate my once cherished place on the tenure track at a university in order to teach at a private high school. I was 1500 miles away from my life in a wretched, isolated town working in a department that contained some of the worst bullying assholes I've ever had the displeasure to know. Each day I came to work afraid of the unpleasant surprises that might be waiting for me.
April and May of 2011 also happened to coincide with my rediscovery of The Fall, a band I really hadn't listened to much since the 1990s. I was listening to their music on a near constant basis, and blasted some of their louder songs on my way to work in the morning as a way to steel my nerves. After all, I might have to see the full professor who would literally turn his back on me when I entered the room (because I was friends with someone he disliked), talk to the medusa assistant prof who was machinating to get one of my friends (who was not tenure track) fired because her competence threatened the mediocre medusa's position, or be forced to make conversation with a chair who had twisted the arms of colleagues to reveal that I was unhappy in my job, and then ambush me in my office, sputtering with rage, when he heard that I was displeased with having to teach a majority of classes outside of my field. I also may well have had to see the guy who ratted me out, and who had also sent an email to several of my colleagues mocking me and my wife in an insulting fashion.
The Fall's controlled chaos seemed fit for what I was going through. Lead singer and impresario Mark E. Smith's sneering, poetically profane putdowns gave me strength, and put me in the right frame of mind for dealing with the absurd. "How I Wrote Elastic Man" is especially interesting, since Smith sings it from the point of view of a popular novelist who is loosing inspiration. I had lost inspiration of a different sort, and could gleefully sing along to lines like "fuck it, let the beard grow." The song surges forward with a kind of crazy intensity, which well reflected my fever-pitch anxiety over leaving academia without knowing where I'd end up.
That intense fever broke in early May, when I received the job offer. I spent a handful of precious days walking around campus with the knowledge that I was about to fly the coop, and barely able to contain that fact. Since graduation was at the end of the week, I did not want to go public just yet, lest I have to deal with some highly awkward situations at the graduation ceremony. That morning I had a Bloody Mary with my breakfast, then hopped in my car wearing my ill-fitting doctoral robes for the last time, blasting "How I Wrote Elastic Man" out of the window, feeling freer than I had in years.