Like a rolling stone
Steve Farmer decamps for retirement
Steve Farmer, retiring principal lecturer, earned his PhD from the University of Kansas in 1989 and taught at the Art Institute in Kansas City before he ventured west. He and his wife moved here with two young children in 1991 and we are fortunate that he found Myrna Morgan (former H.R. staffer) on the fifth floor of the Language and Literature Building (LL) and asked if “she” needed teachers. She did. Farmer then began his long career here at ASU. Over the years, Farmer has taught many of our undergraduate literature and composition courses along with graduate pedagogy courses (English 598), and he has mentored TAs as they navigated teaching their own literature courses for the first time.
Farmer has been my closest colleague at ASU and the one who has lasted the longest. To date we’ve never fallen out. Farmer and I started out sharing a rather spacious cubicle in the Language and Literature Building as instructors, attained the heady heights of having our own offices in LL when we became lecturers, and then fell to earth when we were required to share an office upon the department’s move to Ross-Blakley Hall (RBHL). When we were told that we should choose an officemate, I knew the only colleague I could share with was Farmer.
When I first met Farmer back in 1991, it was like meeting one of Nick Hornby’s characters from High Fidelity that I would later read about. Here was one of Hornby’s collectors or as he writes, someone who seems “to spend a disproportionate amount of their time looking for deleted Smiths singles AND ‘ORIGINAL NOT RERELEASED’ underlined Frank Zappa albums.” In Farmer’s case, it was not the Smiths or Frank Zappa, although both are in his extensive vinyl collection. Instead, Farmer collected bootlegged Rolling Stones concerts and studio recordings.
Later, I was to discover Farmer also collects antique, all-wood rail pinball machines that he learned to repair and restore. In fact, if you hear a news report about a house in which the floor above has collapsed into the garage, listen carefully: it may be that Farmer’s five pinball machines proved too much for his second floor. His first and fave is probably his 1958 Sunshine, which he bought when he was 16. I also remember him buying World Champ, which was made in the year he was born. I’ve been lucky enough to be allowed to play these machines.
Not surprisingly after sharing an office, we discovered we shared a passion for Dickens, Hardy, and Trollope and we shared a similar, dark sense of humor. Farmer is one my few friends who, like me, can laugh at Old Father Time’s note in Jude the Obscure. And I admired Farmer’s scholarly editions of The Moonstone, Heart and Science, and The Story of a Modern Woman. Of course, I liked his published work on the Rolling Stones and bootlegs more.
Once we were given our own offices in LL, we would still visit each other on the days we taught. When we moved into RBHL, I did not anticipate the extensive library that Farmer would be bringing from his LL office; it easily filled our two allotted bookcases. Fortunately, the department took pity on us and found a third. His collection was mainly what he taught: Victorian novels, Victorian poetry, Romantic Poetry, and some American novels. If I ever got bored waiting for students to arrive, there was always something I could read on his bookshelves.
I learned a great deal about interacting with students from listening to Farmer’s conversations through our cubicle walls. While he might try to pretend he is a curmudgeon, he is not that with students. Instead, he is kind, patient, thoughtful, and inspiring. And it was a joy to come to work and find a copy of a bootleg CD in my desk that I could play in my car on my drive home. My all-time favorite was a bootleg of the Rolling Stones’ The Chess Sessions that Farmer made for me, complete with copies of the original cover artwork. That is a true friend.
Steve: I will miss you in the office and our lunches at the end of term celebrating the fact that we survived one more semester. The department will be a little more boring without you. Have a brilliant retirement. Play with your grandchildren. Go visit the U.K. again. But don’t buy any more CDs. You haven’t got room.
Image 1: Photo of Steve Farmer by Charlie Leight/ASU.
Image 2: Steve Farmer's extensive book and music collections are visible from the doorway of his LL office in this 2015 photo by Charlie Leight/ASU.