Slates, Slags, Etc.
Here's the definitive rant
Slates drive me bats
Therefore I say hey slates give us a break
And slates, break hard, break hardly
Break the slates for Christ's sake
Male slags, knock over your drink
Pay for correct amount spilt (3)
Remember slates are always outta date
In the fine light of day they have to face
Well I can't give a definition
The consequences of their plagiarisation (4)
With greedy bastard scrubbed hands
Kill jokes join gangs
Kill the safety in our lands
In the cold nearly old ska Jamaican dawn
Dead publisher's sons
Material hardship pawns
The Beat, Wah! Heat (5)
(Dog bites the dicks that feeds it) (6)
Academic male slags
Ream off names of books and bands
Kill cultural interest in our land
With creaky pants and scrubbed hands
Let's get onto the valley of weights
The valley of weights is the valley
Where they cast off the weights
And became trite, uptight (7)
Deaf and bereft
A liberty mess
Make pins of your whims
Break your balls , suck your thoughts
Rip off bands
With stuck up hair and new shitty pants
New beatniks with hoop shirts
Big priest - give us a break
Help me to fight the slates (8)
How would you describe the slates?
Don't start improvising for God's sake
They are the grey ones of the state I relate
Everythings strained by the states
The valley of weights
1. "Slag" is a British slang term that is sometimes used in an equivalent way to "slut" in the U.S., and like the latter term, it almost always describes a woman, hence the modifier "male slags." However, it can also be used to mean "a worthless or insignificant person, a coward, a petty criminal" (according to Jonathan Green's dictionary of slang, which also seems to indicate the sexual usage is less common--thanks to Stephen Parkin for this). "Slate" is a more complicated matter, and its use here has provoked much speculation. It is apparently not a common term, and, in fact, even people from the same general region as MES seem not to recognize it in the sense it used here. It may be a coinage, and if so, there are a few relevant facts to be established. The word may be intended to function as a complementary insult to "slags" but one that is directed at men and, thus, applied to women here--in other words, a reversal of an invented "ordinary" usage already applied at the moment of its invention. I am led to this hypothesis by the circumstance that MES sings "female slates" at one point, as though the ordinary application of "slates" would suggest a male target of opprobrium. Although this is by no means common, "slate" can mean "a slovenly, dirty person," according to the OED. This fits the pattern of sexually demeaning epithets like "slut" and "slattern," and indeed "slag," although again this is rare, is sometimes employed as an adjective to mean "muddy," and a common noun form of the word denotes refuse matter from smelting, whereas "slate" is a word also used for shale by coal miners. Furthermore, in British slang "slate" is used as a verb meaning to harshly criticize, insult, verbally abuse, or dismiss someone, and "slag" is used in the very same way. "Slate" can also be a noun which indicates "a severe criticism, a slating" (again from the OED). Finally, and again in British slang, to "have a slate loose" can mean to be loopy or insane. Reformation quotes the press release for the American summer tour of 1981: "...is about plagiarisation and blackboard type people in this land of ours..."[sic] Blackboards, of course, are made out of slate. I do not take the sexual implications of these terms too literally, as the behavior Smith slags and slates is seemingly not simply sleeping around but being a nuisance in other ways; it is common to use "whore" to mean someone who is shameless and free with their substance and dignity, and I imagine that is probably a clue to the lyrics above. James Marriott below suggests that "slag" may also "relate to slag heaps - the mountain of shit records spilling down on and suffocating the public - as well as to the trend-chasing 'slags' making those records." This would perhaps also provide a clue to the third and most difficult to account for word on the list, "tapes"--I received a suggestion that the lyric is actually "Slags, slates send tapes" but, as convenient as this would be, it sounds to me like MES sings exactly what's written above, "Slags, slates and tapes." I have found no record anywhere of "tape" being used as an epithet to desribe a human being, so here it may acutally mean a recording, presumably one produced by slates, slags, or both, or forming a part of the aforementioned slag heap.
Dr X O'Skeleton: "Another meaning of Slates could be vinyl records, which complements the tapes in the title."
4. MES is often very critical of those he considers plagiarists, which at first blush is odd because he borrows so freely, to say the least, in his own work. I think the key to this is not to take "plagiarization" too literally; the simple act of borrowing is not enough to make one a plagiarist, and originality is a more elusive concept in the world of the Fall than simply an index of where a few words, notes or ideas have their genesis.
5. The Beat and Wah! Heat were British musical acts. Robert submitted a quote from the NME in October 1987:
"... Smith has continued, for a decade, to write lyrics which tower above the short-sighted attempts of his contemporaries, of whom he recognizes only Kevin Rowland [Dexys Midnight Runners] and Pete Wylie [Wah! Heat] as being any good."
6. This throwaway line is an odd image to return to, but some 30 years later MES proclaims "I had to wank off the cat to feed the fucking dog" ("Greenway"). In the latter case, the line is a near-quote from "But I've Got Texas" by Jon Wayne, a "Cowpunk" band formed of session musicians playing under assumed names, in which the relevant lyric is "I had to jack off the dog just to feed the goddamn cat."
7. "The valley of weights" seems like a drug reference at first, but the ensuing lyrics don't lend much support to this view. Mr. Marshall from the Fall Online Forum has identified a probable source for this line in The Gods of the Labyrinth by Colin Wilson (publishes as The Hedonists in the USA). The novel's protagonist, Gerald Sorme, is hired by a publisher to edit a book on one Esmond Donelly, a mysterious 18th century character who seems to be involved in something called "The Order of the Phoenix" (which is taken from a story by Jorge Luis Borges, where it is an esoteric cult which is probably centered around sex, note also the Borgesian (English) title of Wilson's book). "Sorme" writes:
"What most impressed me about Esmond Donelly was the modernness of his mind. The language is the language of Walpole or Grey; the thought was often closer to Goethe, or even William Blake. The central point of his argument against Hume and d'Alembert is very simple: that when man outgrows religious authority, he usually becomes the victim of his own triviality. When does man most frequently experience the sensation of freedom? he asks and answers: When he is bored. "Boredom is to be free, but to experience no particular impulse to make use of the freedom."
And he invents a Swiftian parable to illustrate his points.
In the midst of the high mountains of Tartary, he says, there is a valley in which dwells a race of small but sturdy and healthy people. From the earliest times, it has been part of the religious observance of these people to carry two heavy weights, in the shape of a water-bottle, on either side of the waist. They would no more think of walking abroad without their weights than an Englishman would think of walking naked along Whitehall. They wear them from birth to death, and there are strict penalties for removing them.
But the greatest pleasure of this race is the exercise of walking, and a small band of rebels declare that the weights are intended to make walking uncomfortable. Then even bolder spirits declare that man should be able to fly like a bird or float like a balloon, and that the weights are intended to prevent them from enjoying the freedom for which they were created.
There is a revolution; the king is executed (a remarkable anticipation of the execution of Louis XVI), and the people tear off their weights. To their amazement, nothing happens, except that they find it hard to maintain balance without them. The more timid spirits resume their weights; the bolder ones practise walking without them, and soon declare that it is merely a matter of habit.
They are so delighted with this new accomplishment that at first they walk day and night, striding from one end of the valley to the other, and even attempting to climb the mountains. They soon discover that the mountains are sheer walls of rock that cannot be scaled. And now some of the weightless ones fall into a frenzy and rush frantically from one end of the valley to the other until they collapse with exhaustion. Others attempt to scale the steep walls out of the valley, and either fall down when they are exhausted, or cast themselves down out of terror or despair.
But by far the larger number of the weightless ones simply sit at home, utterly bored, since they know every inch of the valley. They jeer at the people who still wear weights, calling them superstitious hogs. But after a few generations these weightless ones are dead, for their lack of exercise makes them grow immensely fat and die at an early age.
Finally, only those who wear weights continue to survive; they elect a king, and for many generations the Great Revolt is only a terrifying memory. Until a sect arises that declares that man was created to fly like a bird...
The story sounds utterly pessimistic, an allegory of original sin. But I am inclined to reject this view. For Donelly says: 'There were some of those climbers who were never seen again; yet certain shepherds whose flocks fed under the shadow of the great walls affirmed that they heard voices hallooing from far above their heads, where the slopes of the mountain vanished into the clouds.' In other words, perhaps a few of the climbers got beyond the cliffs and over the top of the mountains.
What Donelly is saying - and it is a remarkable perception for a seventeen-year-old boy - is not that 'Men need weights,' but that the men of the valley need weights. They are healthy, sturdy and adventurous (i.e. love walking), and the only way in which to maintain these qualities in their tiny valley is to wear heavy weights. But a few among them, a very few, are born climbers..."
8. The recurring "Hip Priest" or "Big Priest" is here enlisted as a kind of superhero to fight off the slags and slates. I point this out because it's an interesting question to what extent MES identifies with, and to what extent he mocks, this character, and this is another bit of evidence on the positive side (in the end he seems to be just as ambiguous a figure as anyone else in Fall lyrics). The character can be Mark Smith, or someone Mark Smith reviles, or both at once, it seems.
From the back cover of Slates (thanks to Dan):
SLATES, SLAGS ETC.
Full bias content guaranteed.
Plagiarism infests the land.
Academic thingys ream off names of
books and bands