1. From Reformation:
MES quoted in
The Biggest Library Yet, no. 8 (February 1997); according to
Paintwork: A Portrait of the Fall by Brian Edge, the comments originally appeared in Sounds (thanks Paul G)
"It's about this fellow who's been fucked up by too much misinformation posing as real information. And then it goes into this thing which is an obvious paranoia trip when he thinks the bloke from a soap opera is ripping off his lines and writing them down. But his thoughts are too intense for him to do anything about it. That's why the vocals are doing Burrr! and the song is very untogether. I'm a bit pissed off that people find the song undecipherable. I find it pretty clear.
I enjoy the line about the Sociological Memory Man. Did you ever hear those sports memory men who used to stand up and people would shout at them "Who won the world cup in 1920? How like, you get sociological guys telling you about how many people didn't have houses in 1945."
"I mean does reaching a wider audience mean that the audience is wider between the ears? I think The Man Whose Head Expanded is a compromise in a way, but I think that it fits the song--it's a colourful song and its meant to be flash because it's about a guy who's being ripped off because he got too big-headed. It works too, it's even got synths and things on it."
Some variants include: "The next song features Mr. Sociological Memory - he used to tour the Palladiums in the '40s and '50s. He could give you all the housing numbers and percentages from the 1920s. Sorry this is a bit difficult and sorry this is over anybody's head in the audience..." and "...housing figures from the '30s and '50s..."
The lyrics, with their combination of paranoia and humor, are resonant with the work of Philip K. Dick, an author for whom MES has often expressed appreciation (see also "The Aphid
"). The title echoes Dick titles like The Man Who Japed
, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike
(although the latter, written in 1960, wasn't published until 1984, about a year after the release of "The Man Whose Head Expanded"), The Unteleported Man
, and The Man in the High Castle
. Other similar title phrases are The Man Who Was Thursday
(a novel by G.K. Chesterton) and The Man Who Knew Too Much
(the title of a collection of stories by Chesterton, and subsequently of a movie, unrelated to Chesterton's book, that Alfred Hitchcock made twice). Also, Robert Heinlein has The Man Who Sold The Moon,
which in turn probably inspired David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World (and of course Bowie later starred in The Man Who Fell To Earth,
which was based on the 1963 novel of the same title by Walter Tevis).
And, Dan mentions a 1901 French silent film called L'homme à la Tête de Caoutchouc
(The Man with the Rubber Head
), which is in fact about a man (actually, two men) whose head(s) expanded. From Wikipedia
A chemist in his laboratory places upon a table his own head, alive; then fixing upon his head a rubber tube with a pair of bellows, he begins to blow with all his might. Immediately the head increases in size and continues to enlarge until it becomes truly colossal while making faces. The chemist, fearing to burst it, opens a cock in the tube. The head immediately contracts and resumes its original size. He then calls his assistant and informs him of his discovery. The assistant, wishing to experiment for himself, seizes the bellows and blows into the head with all his might. The head swells until it bursts with a crash, knocking over the two experimenters. The chemist then literally kicks his assistant from the lab in anger.
calls this song "a thinly veiled attack on [Marc] Riley" but this is almost certainly inaccurate or, at the very least, the attack is thickly veiled. I'm aware of no good reason to think this song is directed at Riley, and it adds nothing to our understanding of the character portrayed therein to think that it is. Wikipedia probably appropriated this statement verbatim from another source, but I haven't found it yet. "Jumper Clown
," which began as a Fall instrumental and reëmerged in the hands of Marc Riley's post-Fall group The Creepers as a thinly veiled attack on MES, features the same bass line. It seems likely that this indicates that the songs share a common root in Fall jam sessions, rather than indicating that "Jumper Clown" is a response to "The Man Whose Head Expanded" in particular.
Mark doped out the personnel:
The song is musically similar to "What I Say" from the Miles Davis album Live Evil.
"The Man Whose Head Expanded" is credited to "Mark E. Smith, Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Seaberg [sic]." According to Brix
Sol Seaburg [sic] was a singer in a band called FC Domestos and a part-time van driver for the Fall, and was the "Jew on a motorbike" immortalized in the lyrics to "Garden
Dan has found this on the Perverted by Language sleeve (note that the song was not on the album);
The Man Whose Head Expanded. KNEW :- a)ALTHOUGH the mind grew on revelation of hidden vistas, daily life became a stuttering chore; b)WHO stole cafes collection box; c)THAT Smith applied cut-up technique literally to brain; d)THIS "press release" was well nigh over d.j.'s heads, irrelevant of status; e)NEW art forms hit recession cities and societies best; f)WHY Val Doonican refuses to sing "Paddy McGinty's Goat" on his show; g)REASON colour pop magazines pertaining to cover English sub-culture crapped pants at mere mention of above group's name; h)JOB DEARTH in England caused The Fall to compete with groups comprised of people who'd normally be Civil Tax Collectors, stockbrokers and hairdressers, but were Wrongfully encouraged by Channel 4; i)BEST SOUNDS hide in studio carpets, Mountain Oaf.
2. In the U.K., plastic grocery bags are called "carrier bags" or "carry bags" (see "Carry Bag Man
"). The saying "for love or money," incidentally, dates back to the 1580s.
3. In context these seem to be nonsense syllables, perhaps meant to indicate something like "a load of hooey." Dan has found an instance of MES using it in his daily speech: "MES uses this word in his singles review in Melody Maker, 1 May 1982, p.23: "The only 'American music' in this pile of Wap." And "Mark E. Moan," interview with MES, NME 3 April 1993:
I think Nirvana are a load of wop...
4. Space Invaders is an arcade game that dates from 1978, and was largely responsible for a huge expansion in the popularity of video games. The line here is probably addressed to the repetitive, tinny and distinctly 80s-sounding keyboard riff, which cuts off at this point before returning with a more straightforward piano sound. The keyboards could represent something the "man" is hearing, or this could be MES breaking character and addressing the keyboard player (probably Paul Hanley). However, the line was already present on early live versions of the song, so it is clearly not an ad lib inspired by annoyance at the keyboard sound, even though the way it plays out makes it seem that way (and this may have been what it was originally). On the Peel version the same lyric appears, and it also coincides with the cessation of the space age keyboards.
However, the original source of the riff is a preset beat on the Casio VL tone keyboard
, which was introduced in 1980. The Fall might have gotten the riff from Trio, or they both could have gotten it from the Casio. In the Trio video, an actual Casio seems to be what is used to produce the riff; the keyboard player just pushes a button once, which means he is using the preset. It is not clear whether the Fall are actually using the Casio, or whether the beat is reproduced on another keyboard. It is sped up to what must be about the maximum speed, but it also seems to have been altered slightly.
The Casio preset riff is used, without embellishment, at the very beginning of "Fortress
" on Hex Enduction Hour
. The "Fortress" introduction also appears at the beginning of "Look, Know
" on Hip Priests and Kamerads
The actual sound of Space Invaders is a low and fuzzy keyboard tone initially playing quarter notes that gradually speed up as the aliens descend, in addition to the sound effects made by shooting. "Space Invader[s]" makes sense as a description of the general aesthetic expressed by the keyboards, however, even if it is not descriptively accurate.
5. "Jolly Grapes" may be the name of a (real or fictional) pub; perhaps we are meant to imagine a place where actors and theater people congregate.
6. "Vic actor" probably refers to actors from one of London's Vic theaters. The Old Vic is both a London theater, established in 1818, and the repertory company associated with the theater, established in 1963; the Young Vic, an offshoot of the Old Vic, is a repertory company that was established in 1946 and a theater built to accomodate the company, finished in 1970.
The Peel version has (at the head of the stanza) "The soap opera writer would follow him around..." and "soap opera TV soap opera TV actor fools." Some versions seem to have "bit actor fools..."
7. The Peel version seems to say "John Kennedy's half-assed wryness."
8. A MiG is a Russian fighter plane. However, there are no Mig 20s--they only made odd-numbered MiGs, and it sounds like he says "mick-20," or maybe "Vic-20"--according to Nick D, "The Commodore VIC 20 was a pretty common home computer back then and given MES's reference to wanting to turn that bloody Space Invaders off earlier (plus the computer stuff he references in "Eat Y'Self Fitter
"), this hearing doesn't seem a stretch to me. Maybe he'd seen someone playing about with the primitive sounds it could make."
The sleeve for the single, however, says "mig 20." So, it could be "mig (MiG) 20 crack," which might be meant to sugest a sound effect when the man's head expands very rapidly, and in fact explodes. This is interpretation is reinforced by the following line, which the Lyrics Parade puts at the end of the song: "Sounds like my head, trying to unravel this lot/ I can tell you Sparky!" However, the provenance of this line is currently unknown; it doesn't appear on the single or the Peel session, or in any lyrics book. It may be from a live version, or, as Danny points out, it may be a transcriber's note.