How I Wrote "Elastic Man"

Lyrics

I'm eternally grateful
To my past influences
But they will not free me
I am not diseased
All the people ask me
How I wrote "Plastic Man" (1)

 

Life should be full of strangeness
Like a rich painting
But it gets worse day by day
I'm a potential DJ (2)
A creeping wreck
A mental wretch
Everybody asks me
How I wrote "Plastic Man"

 

His soul hurts though it's well filled up
The praise received is mentally sent back
Or taken apart
The Observer magazine just about sums him up (3)
E.g. self-satisfied, smug

 

I'm living a fake
People say, "You are entitled to and great."
But I haven't wrote for 90 days
I'll get a good deal and I'll go away
Away from the empty brains that ask
How I wrote "Plastic Man"

 

His last work was "Space Mystery" in the Daily Mail, (4)
An article in Leather Thighs;  (5)
The only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes
So I'm resigned to bed
I keep bottles and comics stuffed by its head
Fuck it, let the beard grow
I'm too tired,
I'll do it tomorrow
The fridge is sparse
But in the town
They'll stop me in the shoppes (6)
Verily they'll track me down
Touch my shoulder and ignore my dumb mission
And sick red faced smile
And they will ask me
And they will ask me
How I wrote "Plastic Man"

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Notes

1. It's not clear why the lyric doesn't match the title. There could have been an anticipated legal difficulty from putting "Plastic Man" in the title, or, as has been suggested elsewhere, it is possible MES means to indicate that fans and journalists get the name wrong. Both names reference DC characters. The creator of "Plastic Man," Jack Cole, killed himself in 1958 for reasons that remain unknown. "Plastic Man" is also a KInks song.

The following remarks probably date from 1980:

TC - What's 'How I wrote Elastic Man' about?

MS - Writers, which is why Dave McCullough didn't like it. It's about a guy who wrote a book called 'Elastic Man' and everybody gets on his back about it, he's a celebrity and it fucks up his art. 


Dave "Angry" McCullough is an Irish music journalist who wrote for Sounds magazine and cofounded the punk fanzine Alternative Ulster. He once described the single "Horrorshow" by the Scars as "the Fall meets the Bee Gees" (meaning the late-70s disco Bee Gees), and remarkably he was right (although "Psyckick Dancehall" might be taken as evidence that the Fall were not unacquainted with the Bee Gees). (In one of those late night link clicking sprees, I discoved that MES was once quoted as saying that Scars were his favorite group; his reason, that they were polar opposites of the Fall, cannot of course be right if McCullough is, but what does it mean for two bands to be opposites anyway?)

McCullough may have been holding a bit of a grudge when he panned "Elastic Man" (if indeed that's what he did):

TC - What do you think of Dave McCullough, 'cos he seems to have turned
against you now?

MS - He's just a failure in life y'know. No, I've known Dave for ages.
This thing about us is a big personal thing though 'cos I wrote a
thing in a Dublin magazine about him. Y'see when he did that thing
about Ian Curtis in Sounds he used a lot of my lyrics and I wrote
this article saying this was fucking typical y'know, and Dave
thought he was like that with us and then that came out. I mean I
had to tell the truth. I mean it doesn't bother me, it doesn't
interest me 'cos all the papers are full of rubbish, but he used
my lyrics in his article and it upset me. Well, it didn't upset me,
but I thought y'know, cross him off the list. He had a page to fill
in a certain amount of time so he just put my lyrics in. Then he
turned against us, which was really great. He gave us a bad review
and all the band went 'hooray!'. It's really funny - he's against
us at last.

And, from Mark:

"Re: Dave McCullough, some altered lyrics from the gig at Queen Mary's College, 5th February 1981: '"Hello, this is Dave McCullough." "Dave? Dave who?" "Hello Sounds, this is Dave." "Oh, hello Dave!" "Well, I've got this wee band I want to interview." "Yeah?" "Oh yeah, well, uh, yeah." "Well, if you can screw the band's mothers for some money for the expenses we could make out what a big deal they are!"'

The opening riff, and thus the chorus melody, more or less, is taken from the riff of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo.

^

2. I initially said that this is a curious remark, which elicited the following response from Philip Cartwright:

RE: note 2 about DJs. It's not so curious if you bear in mind that in the 70s British DJs were mainly a smarmy, vain, vacuous bunch who played anodyne pop with huge, self-satisfied plastic grins on their faces. This was especially true of BBC Radio One DJs (Jimmy Savile, Dave Lee Travis, Noel Edmunds, Tony Blackburn, etc., etc.). And these people were HUGE figures in British popular culture at the time. For American readers, think "gameshow host" and you've just about got it. Mental wretches indeed.

^

3. The Observer is a Sunday newspaper in England which also publishes a weekly magazine of the same name. Also, for many years a subscription to the Observer came each week with a free monthly magazine devoted to a single topic, such as sports or music, but it is unlikely that any of these are intended.

^

4. The Daily Mail is a British tabloid. Unlike the liberal Observer (see note 3), the Mail has had a conservative editorial stance for most of its history. The Mail does not publish fiction, but this may be a joke about the quality of its journalism. 

Amazingly, "Space Mystery" doesn't seem to be title that was ever actually used by an author, perhaps because of how utterly generic it is. David points out, however, that there was an American comic called Mystery In Space (the first series ran from 1951 to 1966 on DC).

^

5. Leather Thighs is the name of a "great prison novel" a Firesign Theater character is writing in a sketch on their 1968 debut album, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him (thanks to William Ham for this). 

^

6. The word is pronounced here with two syllables, so that it almost rhymes with "stop me": "shop-pees."

^

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Comments (28)

John
  • 1. John | 17/10/2013
MES is very good at trolling the audience with words that sound alike when they are recorded. I just heard an early version of Neighbourhood of Infinity when he's talking about "the time of the giant moths" and wondered if he is saying "moss" instead, since he says "the moths became rotten" which sounds more like "the moss became rotten" and I came to the conclusion that he's alternating to screw with us. Glad you put "Plastic" in the lyrics.
Philip Cartwright
  • 2. Philip Cartwright (link) | 10/12/2013
RE: note 2 about DJs. It's not so curious if you bear in mind that in the 70s British DJs were mainly a smarmy, vain, vacuous bunch who played anodyne pop with huge, self-satisfied plastic grins on their faces. This was especially true of BBC Radio One DJs (Jimmy Savile, Dave Lee Travis, Noel Edmunds, Tony Blackburn etc, etc). And these people were HUGE figures in British popular culture at the time. For American readers, think "gameshow host" and you've just about got it. Mental wretches indeed.
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 25/12/2014
"shoppes":

Worth making the point that this is often done for the same effect as "ye olde" - i.e. making out it's quaint and old and historic and whatnot.
russell richardson
  • 4. russell richardson | 04/05/2015
addendum:
'Shoppes" in two syllables - for sure. a plague of cheaply tarted up theme pubs and theme town centres with fake/revival olde age shoppes instead of any actual social or municipal improvements. Annoying, if petty.
and as for the DJs... an obvious undercurrent from the 1970s only now in the open as criminal fact, is that these very sleazy DJs of Radio One and Top of the Pops (all anodyne anti-music) were in fact parts of gangs of shady organized paedophile groups... American readers should look up Jimmy Savile (and Yewtree) and Dave Lee Travis on the internet. That MES and friends were so scornful shows (again) what great instincts they had and have. - you might also track down a Johnny Rotten radio interview from the late 70s where he actually names and shames Savile, and is treated as a kind of irresponsible slanderer.... but he was precisely right.
Simon
  • 5. Simon | 13/08/2015
"It's not clear why the lyric doesn't match the title. "

It was always clear to me.....Everyone is treating the guy like a celebrity and saying how amazing his book is, but in reality, they don't actually understand anything he's saying, not really. It's all superficial celeb-hero worship - they can't even get the name of his book right. You can picture it:

"Oh I really love that book you wrote...'Plastic Man'"
"Actually, it is called 'Elastic Man'"
"Yea, well, whatever, you're really cool"
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 25/08/2015
Yeah, I mention that possibility but it's an interpretation, it could be for one or all of any number of reasons.
Paul
  • 7. Paul | 03/09/2015
Re: "Shoppes"

Definitely making the Olde English reference what with it being followed up with "verily they'll track me down..." "Shoppes" abound here in New Jersey where I am ex-patted to, just saw one the other day in fact: "The Shoppes at Marlboro." Basically a posh strip mall featuring a Gap and a Banana Republic. Very authentic...!

Great site by the way, amazingly only just discovered it today whilst on a Fall binge.
bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt | 05/09/2015
Yeah, I'm from Jersey and there was a place in my town called "The Jigger Shoppe."
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 05/09/2015
And, welcome to the site! Great call with "verily," it's all of a piece...
Sumsiadad
  • 10. Sumsiadad | 30/01/2016
Re: "Shoppes"

See also the Swell Maps' track, "My Lil' Shoppes 'Round the Corner".
Mark
  • 11. Mark | 06/01/2017
Re: Dave McCullough, some altered lyrics from the gig at Queen Mary's College, 5th February 1981: "'Hello, this is Dave McCullough.' 'Dave? Dave who?' 'Hello Sounds, this is Dave.' 'Oh, hello Dave!' 'Well, I've got this wee band I want to interview.' 'Yeah?' 'Oh yeah, well, uh, yeah.' 'Well, if you can screw the band's mothers for some money for the expenses we could make out what a big deal they are!'"
Zack
  • 12. Zack | 11/01/2017
No discussion of "Elastic Man" is complete without mentioning "Pictures of Matchstick Men" (1968) by The Status Quo. Giving the song a similar title may have been MES's attempt to hang a lampshade over the borrowed guitar riff.

In the Grotesque-era self interview MES offers a succinct explanation of the song: it's about "how the public kill off their heroes' creativity."
dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 22/01/2017
Zack, comment #12: similar title?
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt | 28/01/2017
Thanks, Zack, I am very surprised it wasn't in there already, I assumed that it was. An oversight, for sure.
bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Hold on, Dan; they both have a form of the word "man"....writing and making pictures of some kind are both sorts of arts...they both have between four and five words...

Sorry, Zack, your comments are usually very kick ass, I am just fucking with you a little, it's actually good to see you whiff once in a while, otherwise I'm afraid I'll have to turn the site over to you.
Zack
  • 16. Zack | 19/02/2017
The titles rhyme (albeit imperfectly), they both end in a form of the word "man" and the accents land on the same beats:

ONE TWO THREE AND FOUR
PIC TURES of MATCH STICK MEN
HOW i WROTE 'LAS TIC MAN

I really didn't think the resemblance could be more obvious.
David
  • 17. David | 08/03/2017
In note 4 you wrote "..."Space Mystery" doesn't seem to be title that was ever actually used by an author..." There was an American comic called Mystery In Space; given the other references to comics in the song, perhaps Smith was thinking of this, maybe even combining it with such newspaper strip SF characters as Flash Gordon and the very British Jeff Hawke, who appeared in the Mail's rival paper the Daily Express for many years
lloyd
  • 18. lloyd | 22/03/2017
It is "dumb mission" and not "dope mission" (i.e. search to buy dope)?
bzfgt
  • 19. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
It definitely sounds "dope mission" to me. On the other hand Orange book has "dumb mission." I'd appreciate if others would listen and confer.
Lloyd
  • 20. Lloyd | 24/03/2017
It fits in with the earlier line about getting a good deal (i.e. scoring) and going away, I think. Your site is extremely entertaining, by the way.
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 01/04/2017
Thanks, Lloyd!
dannyno
  • 22. dannyno | 13/05/2017
Note #3: "The Oberver"

Typo! Twice! Should be "Observer!!"
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 23. Dr X O'Skeleton | 17/05/2017
I always heard the more prosaic "dog mission", as in he's walking his dog
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 18/05/2017
Yes, especially considerate of you to tell me what it should be--I might have thought it meant "Obersver" or "Obverser."
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 18/05/2017
Actually there were three Obervers, I must have copied it so I didn't have to fiddle with italics every time.
bzfgt
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 18/05/2017
Yeah "dog mission" sounds somewhat plausible, all of them do really except "dumb mission" which might be it but seems like it shouldn't be. I'll give it a few more minutes for people's views and then listen with all suggestions in mind (and when I say "a few more minutes," in practice that might be a few months, or even years if no one reminds me....)
dannyno
  • 27. dannyno | 24/05/2017
Sounds more like "dog" than "dumb" or "dope", but it's very difficult to hear.
dannyno
  • 28. dannyno | 20/10/2017
Interview quote: The Prestwich Horror and Other Strange Stories, by Edwin Pouncey, Sounds, 31 January 1981:

The way people said 'Elastic Man' was about the music business, it wasn't anything to do with it, it was about a writer freaking out it was almost Lovecraftian like somebody I imagine Stephen King to be, everyone saying to him "How did you write The Shining?"

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