Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REM, "Life And How To Live It"

World events got me down to begin with, and I witnessed something today personally that's got me down much that much more. (Being cryptic, but don't worry, it doesn't directly effect me.) I've been leaning a lot on why I would call "comfort music" these past few weeks, and none has been as comforting as early REM.

REM was the first artist I really obsessed over, the first group whose whole back catalog I consumed. Their music has become almost elemental to my being. I have a special love of their first three albums, perhaps especially Fables of the Reconstruction, an album the band itself used to poo-poo due to its difficult recording in England. It was meant to evoke their native Georgia, and it does have a feeling of Southern Gothic weirdness mixed with London fog. I've used it for 25 years as a warm musical blanket to help me survive winter.

"Life and How to Live It" is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It is a fast-paced song, reminding me a little of the ravers on their Chronic Town debut EP. There's punk propulsion, but it's been put in the service of something more artistic and less angry. In a lot of ways REM were the most successful postpunk band in America, but their rootiness has seemingly caused people to miss that.

Like a lot of REM songs from this period, the lyrics are hard to make out, much less decipher. Michael Stipe's genius was to use his lyrics as a kind of Dada sound poetry, creating moods and ambiguous meanings that the listener could search for. This song makes me think of driving in a Midwestern snowstorm, the flakes flying around me as I sit in rapt concentration, slightly frazzled but pumped up by the adventure.

It's good to go back to music like this, I need it more than ever.

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