As published by Stereo Stories, 11 February 2015
Melbourne, August 2013 – June 2014
It’s mildly remarkable that one of the catchiest riffs I’ve heard in contemporary music was composed in 1937.
I say ‘mildly remarkable’, for when the artist is Morrissey, nothing should surprise. Not with his trademark penchant for mining the classic and obscure for inspiration.
A string sample from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (1st Movement: Moderato) opens The teachers are afraid of their students in ominous fashion and provides a recurring, menacing backdrop to the 11-minute opus.
Having acquired most of Moz’s back catalogue over recent years, this one residing on his Southpaw Grammar album (1997) somehow slipped by me. But it found me at a particularly pertinent time.
Whilst the song covers a school scenario (an atypical Morrissey take on the English Catholic education system), applying the lyrics to my then work scenario struck too many chords.
There’s too many people
Planning your downfall
Despite runs on the board, my job security had taken several unexpected and unwarranted hits. I wasn’t alone, and countless others would abandon the sinking ship. With staff morale independently measured at an unprecedented low, management’s response was to turn the screws. Those not perceived to be on board Team X had their card marked.
When your spirit’s on trial
These nights can be frightening
A number of incidents took a toll on my physical and mental health. One dark night I had to ‘think’ to breathe, not being able to sleep for fear of not waking up. Oh how I tried to get out of that soul destroying place with my own manager working alongside (no) People & (no) Culture to push me over the cliff. Alas, free falling with no parachute wasn’t an option.
Sleep transports sadness
To some other mid-brain
And somebody here
Will not be here next year
Several employees did lump for unemployment over the pervading bullying culture. Others mysteriously vanished without warning or farewell. ‘Everyone is replaceable’ was the mantra known to have been espoused by certain executives. Survival meant playing the game or playing the drone.
Of course listening to this song on repeat did nothing to help my mindset, but I found its bleak parallels impossible to ignore.
After sleep deprivation and heart palpitations lead to anxiety issues, Christmas Eve 2013 was spent on an ECG treadmill to test for a possible heart defect. Prognosis negative.
When I returned to work in the new year I was called in to discuss my employee assistance counselling and weeklong sick leave certificate which cited a stress related condition.
So you stand by the board
Full of fear and intention
And, if you think that they’re listening
Well, you’ve got to be joking
One surreal meeting lead to another, their tone lurching from faux concern to gobsmacking disrespect and upping the ante. I circled my wagons and they circled theirs.
Oh, you understand change
And you think it’s essential
But when your profession
I asked for a package since technically my original department and position had been made obsolete, and the WorkCover or legal road would be a lose-lose for both parties. Their unattractive proposition and my inability / unwillingness to make good on my proposition left me in limbo.
Say the wrong word to our children…
We’ll have you, oh yes, we’ll have you
The cross to which I was nailed in the first instance dated back to a team meeting where I dared to question the new strategic plan, in particular its laughable vision statement (later expunged). My newish manager had already switched sides and unfortunately I’d missed the memo. Cue farcical performance review. Truth be told, my role as ‘pupil’ was untenable from the get-go. In this toxic environment I was another barnacle that needed scraping.
To be finished would be a relief
In my darkest hours the hypnotic chorus line would send a shiver down my spine. Feeling interminably trapped, exactly what kind of ‘finished’ was Morrissey alluding to? What kind of finished was I alluding to?
Like the song’s Kashmir-esque ascending scale, I push on regardless. The end is in sight but remains elusive. Finally, after 18 months / 10 minutes of near drowning, a lifeline is thrown.
I’m very glad the spring has come
The sun shines outside bright
The little birds that are on the trees
Are singing for delight
The child’s spoken recitation near the song’s conclusion echoed that of my own beautiful kids, who’d kept me going and celebrated along with my weary wife.
My only cause for complaint is that The teachers are afraid of their pupils will forever be the soundtrack to a most painful and challenging time of my life.
Now I think I hate this song.