Tuesday, October 30, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Thirty One: These Days by R.E.M.

Do we look like Shiny Happy People
to you?
I'm surprised it took so long for another R.E.M. song to pop up in this series...the last time--the only time--I discussed the band from Athens, GA was in the very first 30 Songs, 30 Days series in 2009!

This is actually a live recording of this second track of Life's Rich Pageant, taken from a performance at the Olypmia in L.A. prior to the release of what would be their penultimate album, Accelerate. It features some banter by Michael Stipe where he mentions he wrote this song after emerging from a particularly dark time in his life when he was 25. It's interesting hearing him talk about this at that point where he was pretty well-adjusted, a few scant years before he and his mates decided to call it a day.

Life's Rich Pageant, which came fresh off the problematic sophmore album Fables of The Reconstruction, is a very political album, and I think some of this is political--but the true meaning lies in what Stipe tells us at the very beginning of this live recording. This is a song written by a man who was at turns angry and morose, and the lyrics can be seen as both an indictment of the laziness of the youth of the early Reagan era and a call to arms. Stipe is actively upset at the inactivity of his fellows, mocking them ('we have many things in common/name three'), threatening them ('I wish to eat each one of you') while also moving away from the listless masses, urging them to follow him into activity. After all, there is some hope in what he's saying, however dim--like him, his listeners are 'young despite the years' and he wants them to fly metaphorically to take this joy with them. I can't help but think that this is the morose, dark Stipe finding some purpose in activism and asking--nay, berating--his fans to follow him into this brave new proactive world.
It's a great song from a great album, one that I think marks the line between 'indie rock' R.E.M. and the 'mainstream arena pop' R.E.M. of their later years. Of course, the great trick of the band was how it slipped back and forth across this line several times throughout its career, which made them problematic to the mainstream who wanted just endless iterations of 'Shiny Happy People' and 'Stand' instead of the more nuanced, experimental and problematic stuff that made up Up and Automatic For The People and other great albums.

I don't miss R.E.M. now that they're gone; that would be silly given the massive body of music they left behind when they finally called it quits. But hearing songs like that makes me glad they were around.
Here's a video...


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