Thursday, January 7, 2016

The War

Richard and Linda Thompson's classic album "Shoot Out the Lights" is an extended metaphor for the concurrent dissolution of their marriage. The whole album bristles with the tension and heartbreak of fighting for something they both value as they feel it inexorably slip away. The album closes with its most memorable track "Wall of Death":

Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

The Wall of Death was a notorious carnival attraction where daredevils rode motorcycles around the high interior wall of a cylindrical pit. It was perilous, exhilarating, unforgiving and rewarding. One might reasonably question why someone would do this the first time, much less again, but Thompson attempts to explain. I presume he means to draw a parallel to the emotional dangers of love and marriage. He seems to be looking back at the wreckage of his relationship and saying he'd do it again.

I see parallels with the tenure track. Perilous and unforgiving? You bet. Anybody looking to hire a grantless scientist with P? I didn't think so. So the stakes for me were high. The significance of failure was not just defeat by the assistant professor track, but defeat by P. Once you're on the Wall of Death there's no bailing out, but if I had to ride again to keep my job I would. Even if the outcome might be different. Some things are worth going to war for. 

Richard and Linda Thompson sadly lost their war, but 2015 was the year I won mine.

All these songs I play for you
They tear me up it's not hard to do
Listen to my voice
It's the only weapon I kept from the war


  1. The title and closing lyrics are taken from Bob Mould's song "The War."

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