R.E.M. -Pop Song ’89


It took you long enough.

I mean, I know we don’t keep in touch anymore, but you usually don’t let the other bands, the other artists, push you to the back of the line like this. It’s not like I’m best friends with Billy Idol or Paul McCartney. Plus, the type of sleep necessary for a song to become embedded in my early morning slumber is LITERALLY IN YOUR NAME.

I’m just glad you didn’t choose the next song on your double-platinum selling album Green to torture me with. Cause as much as I really don’t like “Pop Song ’89”–the sing-songy, quasi-dorky melody, the intentionally banal lyrics, (Hello, I saw you, I know you, I knew you/I think I can remember your name/Hello, I’m sorry, I lost myself/I think I thought you were someone else) –it sounds downright thought-provoking and musically complex compared to “Stand.”

I am all for stepping outside the box, for trying new things–I love your use of mandolin for example–but “Stand” sounds like a bad nursery rhyme. Was this really the same band that wrote and recorded Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)?

If you are confused, check with the sun/Carry a compass to help you along/Your feet are going to be on the ground/Your head is there to move you around….

I’m OK with “Pop Song ’89” pop-songing up in my noggin’, but don’t you dare try and force me to internally sing

Stand in the place that you live/Now face north/Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t now..…GODDAMMIT! OK, YOU WIN!

But why do I even know these words? What I loved about you was that I could only pick out a few of your lyrics and just made up the rest by playing the songs over and over and making an educated guess. On Green I can understand every word you sing. Without a lyric sheet! What the fuck? What happened to the mumbling? Did the record company add an enunciation clause to your contract?

I will admit that I wasn’t prepared for your explosive popularity.


Not my actual folder

I had fallen in love with you from the start, at least from your recorded beginnings. I remember listening to the 12-3am underground music show on the local college radio station, KCSN; it was the summer between 10th and 11th grade, right after my family moved from Agoura, CA to our new home in Northridge. Your song “Gardening at Night” came through my headphones as I lay in bed, trying to decide if I was prepared to make new friends. Your music sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Jangly and moody, sorta sad but sorta creepy. When the DJ announced that the band was named R.E.M., I wrote it down on my Pee-Chee folder so I wouldn’t forget. The next day I rode my Schwinn dirt bike to three San Fernando Valley record stores until I finally found your debut EP, Chronic Town, at Tempo. I didn’t take it off my turntable for months. I played it for my new friends and we were all hooked.

And then came the albums: Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life’s Rich Pageant. From 1982-1987, from 11th grade until my Junior year of college, I played your albums religiously. Your popularity was growing, but not so much that you changed your sound to please the masses. And sure, I couldn’t see you perform at The Troubadour anymore, but my favorite of the 5 shows I’d seen R.E.M. play to that point was at the Universal Amphitheater, on the Fables tour, so it appeared you were adjusting to the increasing limelight as well.

But then I moved away, transferred to UC Santa Cruz in ’87. We talked a good game. I proclaimed my love, said I was sure we could maintain a long distant relationship. But like such romantic notions of youth, once I arrived at my new home at UCSC, once I made new friends, was surrounded by like-minded peers, I found myself attracted to new sounds. Funk and Hip-Hop. Heavier alt-rock bands like Jane’s Addiction. I wasn’t wanting to break up, but I felt we needed to have an open relationship.

I tried to discover my true self separate from you, but you were everywhere. You’d just released your new album, Document, and it was your most popular album yet. At first I liked it. It wasn’t too dissimilar from Life’s Rich Pageant; the jangly guitars were there, your moody, murky vibe still permeated. (“Oddfellows Local 151” being a favorite back then, and still today.) You even showed that you had a sense of humor. “It’s the End of the World (As We Know It)” was funny and still maintained a satirical political bite. It seemed that every time I walked across the quad, someone was blasting that song from their dorm room stereo.

But your biggest hit to date ended up being the next song on the album, “The One I Love.”

This one goes out to the one I love/This one goes out to the one I left behind

I don’t know if it was the melody, if it was the lyrics, if it was the fact that you finally jumped from being a college rock band to a large concert hall band, but I could see that our relationship was changing. I was OK with you seeing other people, but did you have to be such a slut? I thought we would grow to appreciate each other’s changes, but even if we were breaking up, did you have to share our dirty laundry with the public?

Was I a simple prop? To occupy your time? Were you using me from the beginning? I couldn’t tell if I should feel taken advantage of, if our relationship was a lie from the start. I mean, maybe I should have paid more attention to the mumblings on your early albums. Were you making fun of me then, too? Was “South Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” just an attempt to get to get in my pants? Well, it worked. I hope you’re proud of yourself. I accepted your apology, snuck you through my upstairs bedroom window, believed you when you said you hadn’t felt this way about anyone else before. I let your music permeate my soul. Your Reckoning was my Reckoning. But I was young and inexperienced. I didn’t see the signs that were flashing in bright neon all over that 2nd album. I was so quick to flip the album over, so quick to ignore that you followed the song “Time After Time” with “Second Guessing.” I never thought to question what you might be second guessing. I just thought you were so mysterious, so poetic, so deep. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I didn’t understand, it must be me: I’m too young, too dumb to follow. You were a Pretty Persuasion; we would lie in bed all night and you would Talk About the Passion, and I felt it too. It was palpable. I never felt it with anyone else. iron-maidenI was afraid to reveal my full self with you. That I used to be a metalhead. That I used to listen to Iron Maiden and Scorpions, that I used to make fun of bands like yours. That was the old me. What’s past is past. You were my here and now and I was excited for the future. Our future. You would help me segue from the awkwardness of high school to the new exciting world of college.

I would be taking a Pilgrimage to UC Santa Cruz, and you would leave your label, IRS for the big- time world of Warner Bros. We were both embarking on big changes, but we promised each other we would still be the same underneath. But that’s just what you say when you can’t say goodbye, when you are afraid to make a clean break.

Document was a transition album. I see now that it was your way of making sense of us. It was your way to let me know that there were no hard feelings, but we were just headed in different directions. You wanted to change the world, and believed that mass appeal was the way to do it. I was just beginning to find my voice. Who was I to stop you?

But I have to admit, I was not ready for Green. I was not ready to be Orange Crushed, to Stand behind songs like Pop Song ‘89. Even my parents knew those songs. I didn’t know who you were anymore. It was too fast. I figured it would take at least 3 albums before I would move on and not care what you did anymore. Before I was completely over you. The world had embraced you. You were selling out stadiums, headlining festivals. I never attended any of those shows, couldn’t stand the thought of watching you on 100 foot monitors above a humongous stage. I should have supported you, should have rejoiced in the glow of your worldwide success. But I didn’t. Sorry.

I think, in your unique, mumbling way, you were saying to me, “It’s not you, it’s me” and for that I thank you. It took me many years to realize that you wanted to break up with me slowly, but we can’t control the speed of our hearts.

We were Out of Time, but at the same time, time heals all wounds, and I found that over time I was able to be friends with you again. Not best friends, not even close friends, but friends with a shared history who would smile when seeing each other at a party. How have you been? we might ask, genuinely hoping that each other is doing well. 


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