Friday, May 16, 2014

One Year, 100 Albums: #13 R.E.M. "Automatic For the People"

R.E.M. Automatic For the People, 1992

I recently talked on my podcast about how I came to know R.E.M. I was in 6th grade and would listen to the Lion King soundtrack over and over as I did my spelling homework. Eventually, my mom suggested that I might want to listen to something else. Say, for instance, this R.E.M. album Out of Time. I took it under advisement and eventually did start listening to other music. Specifically the first two Kriss Kross albums. Not *exactly* a win in Mom's column, but not a loss either.

It was probably two years later that we were in Crest Books, a musty old used bookstore that is now the headquarters of a limo rental place, and for some reason, I was browsing the books and Mom was browsing the CD's. She bought Automatic For the People for me and gave it to me in the car. I looked it over and it seemed ok, but I wasn't completely sold.

I remember the specific events around which I became sold. It was basically bedtime, but Mom was on the phone with someone so I was listening to this album on my Discman while I waited for her to get off. For whatever reason, maybe the headphones, maybe the silence of a quiet house, this album struck home. I may have read along with the lyrics in the liner notes (I don't recall if the liner notes for this album had the lyrics or not...) or maybe I was just in the right place, cognitively, but it really struck me that these were stories! Narratives in music! Not just silly, "I love you, won't you love me too" stuff, but narratives with emotions and complications!

And, in what I'm realizing is becoming a theme in some of these stories, some of the songs had profanity in them! I found out what the "Star" in "Star Me Kitten" stood for. I heard lyrics like this, from "Ignoreland"

They amplified the autumn, nineteen seventy-nine.
Calculate the capital, up the republic my skinny ass.
TV tells a million lies. The paper's terrified to report
Anything that isn't handed on a presidential spoon,
I'm just profoundly frustrated by all this. So, fuck you, man. (Fuck 'em)

By the time I got to the gorgeous one, two punch of "Nightswimming" and "Find the River," I was hooked. The lyrics and music touched me in a way that was rare at the time and I knew that this was an album for the ages. 

Later, I'd find that this album was somehow linked in my mind to the time in which it was released and I started thinking about what it would have been like to be an adult in 1992 and getting this on cassette tape. In fact, I wrote a poem about listening to "Drive" as a character from that time. I had an epigraph from "Sweetness Follows," so I guess that means the poem is more about listening to the whole album. Anyways, this is super awkward, but here's that poem and then we'll do the video and featured songs.


Yeah, yeah we were altogether
lost in our little lives
R.E.M. “Sweetness Follows”

Driving through Central Illinois
On a cold winter’s day
Michael Stipe’s voice is haunting.
But fitting.
How can this Georgia boy
Strumming an acoustic
Add his own layer of frost to the windshield?

The landscape is the brown of all the leaves of America
That fall

But never hit the ground
They settle on these fields.
The interview is tomorrow.
November 14, 1992
For a job
A life
I don’t know.

R.E.M. - Drive
R.E.M. - Ignoreland

You can buy Automatic For the People at Amazon, Amazon MP3, and iTunes

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