Throwback Thursday: R.E.M. – Green


Just shy of its 29th birthday, R.E.M.’s sixth album, GREEN, is the midpoint of the band’s three-album journey into the mainstream.   The band had steadily progressed from a popular college-rock band throughout the early eighties, ever encroaching upon the margins of Pop/Rock, with a sound and style that would lay the foundation for the “alternative” prefix.

“It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love” from 1987’s Document established a shaky foothold in that world, but R.E.M. was still looked upon with more curiosity than acceptance by the millions who were just hearing them for the first time.

It was on this precarious platform that the band stood as GREEN was recorded and released in 1988.   “Orange Crush” and “Stand” stabilized R.E.M.’s position in that mainstream universe.  And when “Losing My Religion” from Out of Time hit the airwaves in 1991, they ruled that universe.

Typical of those who got their music from FM radio, GREEN was the first R.E.M. album that I ever bought, with the aforementioned “Orange Crush” and “Stand” being the catalyst behind that decision.  Beyond those two, most of the other songs on the album needed some time to grow on me.  “Pop Song 89” & “Get Up” & “Turn You Inside Out” are among those that caused me to raise one eyebrow at the time, but eventually became some of my favorites.

But there are two songs on that album that struck me from the very first time I heard them and still increment my play-meter to this day.  Relative to the rest of the album, these two are less familiar to the general public.  In fact, the band didn’t even bother to name one of them.

Why do these songs captivate me so?  Several attempts to answer with description has led me to choose narrative as the better method.  So here we go.

One vivid memory I have from my childhood is talking my dad into driving us outside of town at night to a spot where we could look down at the lights of the city.  The sight of those bright lights against a pitch-black background is rooted firmly in my mind.  But it is the memory of the journey home that truly lives on in my mind and in my soul.

As I sat in the back seat, the late hour combined with the hum of the engine and the spinning tires pulled me toward unconsciousness.  That same engine pushed us with all it’s might, speeding down the highway.  Outside the window, in stark contrast, the moon and stars glided effortlessly, matching our speed precisely, never falling behind, never pushing ahead.  It was mesmerizing.

All this led to a feeling that I can find no name for.  It was a feeling of peace, a feeling of contentment.  But most of all, it was a feeling of security.  I was enveloped in a cocoon of glass and metal, and hidden by the darkness.  My mother was right in front of me, close enough to reach out and touch if I felt the need.  My dad was behind the wheel, in complete control – I had not one thing worthy of concern.

Twenty-five years later, as an adult, I popped GREEN into my CD player and listened to these words from the song “You Are The Everything:”

Here’s a scene
You’re in the backseat laying down, the windows wrap around
To sound of the travel and the engine
All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
Stillness still that doesn’t end
But slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen
And they’re there for you
For you alone, you are the everything

Since those childhood days, nothing has ever come close to matching that feeling. As we grow older, we learn feelings of peace and safety are not to be trusted, and we become incapable of enjoying them.  But at least there is this great song that comes ever so close to describing that feeling, and reminding us that it does exist.

The second of the two songs is both the album closer and unnamed.  These two points of information give cause to believe that the song was an afterthought – and it may well have been.

back cover
The back cover of the CD lists 10 songs
The CD itself lists 11, the 11th having no name and a run time of 3:15

Again, a narrative:

This song always brings back an image in my mind of one night back in the eighties, watching R.E.M. perform on Saturday Night Live.  This was well after I had purchased and listened to GREEN, but it brought new meaning to the song.  Now when I listen, I think of a father singing to his children who “stayed up late to hear me sing.”

(I made a list) I made a list
(Of things to say) of things to say
But all I want to say (but all I want)
All I really want to say is (yes, all I want)

(I made a list) hold her
(Of things to say) and keep him strong
(But all I want) while I’m away
(Yes, all I want) from here

(This world is big) hold her
(And so alone) and keep her strong
(I stayed up late) while I’m away
(To hear your voice) from here

I’ve seen the world and so awake
(Keep him strong)
And stay up late to hear me sing
Just hold her
I’ve seen the world and so awake
(Keep him strong)
And stay up late to hear me sing
Just hold him

It’s a silly thought I guess, but it is so stuck in my head now that I can’t hear the song any other way.

The common link between these two songs and how I perceive them, how I’ve internalized them and grown to love them – is imagery.  It’s hard to say just how much of that imagery is intended by the artist and how much is simply projected upon the song by the listener.  Hard to say too, if the song makes the imagery more powerful or vice versa.   Perhaps it is a symbiotic relationship – song and imagery made stronger by the connection between them.

But in the end, it doesn’t really matter.  Both are there for you, and you are the everything.

Here’s GREEN on Spotify.

Listen.  Enjoy.



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