During a period of some despair, involving a girlfriend with a drug habit, Midwestern winters and the realization that I didn’t really want to write a PhD dissertation, this wee slip of a song came flitting through my radio. Waking up late on cold mornings with condensation from the radiators on the window, I’d listen to the song in bed, unable to figure out who performed it because the radio station, WHPK, a local college station, had a tendency to play fifteen or more songs in a row. At the conclusion of these sets, an undergraduate DJ with a low voice would mumble his way through the playlist for five minutes in no easily discernable pattern.
Many of the DJs clearly felt as I did because the song was in heavy rotation. Determined to find out who sang it, I would count off the songs in one of these long sets and then count the playlist as the DJ went through it. Through trial and error, I discovered that Belle & Sebastian were the artists responsible for “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying.” I later learned that the station also kept reasonably accurate playlists online, but for some reason, I’m glad to have found out who the band through obsessive behavior.
Chicago, where I resided, is blessed with only two seasons, summer and winter, neither of them pleasant. Every day as I walked to the library to spend hours reading academic theory that bore little resemblance to the world around me, something felt oppressive, whether it be the humidity, the cold, the grey skies or the bare trees. The library, a Brutalist concrete and glass affair, appeared designed by the East German civil defense authority, and I sat in the basement every day for at least eight hours at a stretch trying to imagine my life as an academic, mostly to no avail. It made me feel like Stuart Murdoch when he sings, “From where I’m sitting, rain washing against the lonely tenement has set my mind to wander.”
At night, I would walk home to my girlfriend, a lovely woman with many, many problems, not the least of which was her reliance on weed for simple activities such as sleep and eating. At night, she would hold me tightly, like children might a toy, and I felt that if I left her, she might do something rash. Even though I realized after a long time of pretending otherwise that I didn’t love her, I stayed out of fear of provoking something, something I preferred not to think about.
And then I heard Belle & Sebastian sing, “Get me away from here, I’m dying, sing me a song to set me free,” and it gave a voice to my feelings of dread and unease. Not to stretch an analogy but I think that slave-owners frequently tried to prevent slaves from learning to read and write because they were afraid that once their chattel was able to articulate their oppression, they would revolt. Upon hearing the line, “Get me away from here, I’m, dying,” I realized I felt that way too, and that the only solution was to flee.
Leaving Chicago, graduate school, and my girlfriend with the drug habit, I listened to this song. I crossed the state line into Indiana going east on I-80. Amidst the urban decay, fireworks warehouses and miles of mobile home dealers that define Gary, Indiana, I heard them sing, “At the final moment, I cried, I always cry at endings.”