How I Wrote Elastic Man
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"
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; given the state of mind of MES's protatgonist, this is potentially significant.
A comic strip called "Ping the Elastic Man" by one Hugh McNeill appeared in the English children's magazine The Beano from 1938-1940. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that McNeill was a tortured soul...from Dan: "There are some Fall-world connections worth noting about McNeill that I haven’t seen noted by anyone else. First of all, he was born in Moss Side, Manchester. And secondly, he died on 22 November 1979, just a couple of months before the live debut of How I Wrote Elastic Man."
"Plastic Man" is also a 1969 Kinks song, and before that (1967) there is a Sonny and Cher 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 I can see what he means (although "Psykick Dancehall" might just as plausibly be taken as evidence that the Fall were not unacquainted with the Bee Gees). In one of those late night link clicking sprees, I discovered that MES was once (supposedly) 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? But we should approach this with skepticism anyway: I can't find an official-looking copy of the article that is the original source of MES's quote on this subject, and in any case there is no quote, just a paraphrase. This paraphrase, as it has passed from article to article, has gotten larger and fuzzier with time (see "More Information" below).
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!"'
From "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?'"
Aleister Pook: "There is a science fiction novel, written by a gentleman called Jeremy Brent and published in 1974 by the New English Library, called Plastic Man. It's pretty much an evil brain in a tank pot boiler..."
HoHoHoVisland: "Tenuously re: 'Plastic Man,' MES as a Can fan may have picked up on the sleeve notes to the 1969 pre-Can Holger Czukay record release of Canaxis 5: ‘Plastic man turned himself around on the planet of the moon trying to reach CANAXIS 5.'
The opening riff, and thus the chorus melody, more or less, is taken from the riff of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo.
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 seems to have published fiction up until 1950...on the other hand, this may be a joke about the quality of its journalism.
Surprisingly, "Space Mystery" doesn't seem to be a title that was ever used by an author prior to this recording, 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).
Someone named "Jerry" posted this to ILXOR. Remarkably, it seems to be the only document that exists on the internet where the purported original source of MES's statement that the Scars were his favorite band seems to be mentioned:
(From Careless Talk Costs Lives issue 12, written by Kevin Pearce)
MUSIC THAT TIME FORGOT 1: THE SCARS This column will each issue point you in the direction of unavailable music. This is not an excuse to brag about something we have and you don’t. It is rather a plea to that part of the music industry dedicated to salvage. It is a plea to make this music available.
So, for a start, it is absurd that no music by Scars is available on CD. This is a ridiculous oversight, for in the spring of 1979, Scars released the greatest single ever in the form of “Horrorshow” c/w “Adult/ery”. This extreme pop single was released on Fast, a small label out of Edinburgh, and was even better than its more famous stable-mates’ finest moments: The Gang Of Four’s “Damaged Goods”, the Human League’s “Being Boiled”, The Mekons’ “Where Were You”.
“Horrorshow” was gloriously depraved. Singer Robbie King barked strange “Clockwork Orange” passages in the broadest of Edinburgh brogues. Over a rumbling bass line, guitarist Paul Research came up with the most piercing trebly guitar squall you can ever imagine. The other side was a brave bash at being the first to hit the spot where punk and disco collided. Someone at the time said it was The Fall and the Bee Gees, but that barely hints at its momentum. The song was coincidentally inspired by a night out to see “Saturday Night Fever”.
Scars then were cocky, provocative and brash, and how they never became pop stars remains a mystery to me. Attention to detail was central to their art, and these kids were perfect material for the State Arts design group to produce the best range of pop T-shirts ever. The people involved with State Arts were also involved in setting up the style-mag i-D (a great story for another time and place), and Scars contributed a song for a free flexi with an early edition. The song, “Your Attention Please”, seems curiously apt now, being a setting of a 60s Peter Porter poem about impending nuclear terror.
Scars’ shot at the big time came with the Chrysalis-sponsored Pre label. The imprint briefly had a stable to savour, with Scars, Delta 5, Manicured Noise, Prince Far I and Gregory Isaacs among others, though most if not all Pre-releases are curiously unavailable nowadays.
Scars’ relationship with Pre resulted in a few singles and one LP. It also saw the teenage upstarts adopt a startling new image with a look inspired by Viviene Westwood’s World’s End pirate collection. If this makes Scars seem like comrades of Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants, that’s fine. Mark E Smith said Scars were his favourite group as they were the complete opposite of The Fall.
The LP, “Author! Author!” deserves to be heard, though at the time it sounded as though ex-Penetration guitarist Robert Blamire’s production was a little too lush. Now it would probably sound completely avant garde and rough as you like.
The finest moment was the single, “All About You”, which made that emerging big pop sound (Bunnymen/Wah! Etc) seem just right momentarily. Better still was the earlier, edgier single “Love Song”.
After the LP, Scars seemed to run out of steam. There was talk of Postcard saving the group, but perhaps this was just romantic speculation. It should be noted however Scars were as much an influence on the emerging Postcard groups and attitude as the better documented litany of the velvets, Subway Sect, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. It is coming to something when the Subway Sect is better documented than the Scars, but that’s the way it is.
The closest thing I can find to a statement like the one in question from MES is "The Scars are a great group," from an article he wrote for Vox in summer of 1980 (issue number 3) about the reaction to Ian Curtis and his death (including some critical remarks about McCullough). The article doesn't mention the Scars apart from that one sentence.
A page called "Rock Music Wiki" has an entry on the Scars that quotes Smith, and footnotes it with a link to a Wikipedia entry that doesn't even mention him, although there may be something buried in the page history...eh, let them have it. It's not good enough for us, though!