Fat Cat Plankton

Nonsense in extensia

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Leaving New York, Next Stop Athens

REM's a subject I haven't yet broached on this blog, which might seem odd since I live and write about music in Athens, GA, but it's not a case of elephant-in-the-room syndrome. With the constant influx of new and younger students to the university, Stipe and co. have increasingly been relegated to the status of historical curiosities and still-extant relics, favorite sons in whom we take a passing pride but more often consider nostalgically rather than as living, thriving members of the local scene. Certainly there's an old-school bloc that fervently tracks their every murmur, but I'm betting most incoming freshman only know them from their father's tape deck, if that. Even though I was admittedly way late to the game, REM was my favorite band in high school and at least one year of college, which was kind of odd considering Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Tool, NIN, or Alice in Chains would have been more generationally appropriate. Like many a self-serious young Southern pseudo-intellectual, I found kindred spirits in REM's moodiness and mystery, its awkwardness of expression, its melodic honesty and even its sense of romance. By the time I got to Athens two years ago, though, I was more excited to be living in the same town as the Drive-By Truckers, which didn't mean I had fallen out with REM or turned my back on them, in fact I love them still to this day, just that they'd become a part of my own past as well.

"Leaving New York" starts off sounding like everything else from the post-Berry Up/Reveal era, Stipe still singing in that guileless, facile, clear-throated voice that's almost a delibertate mockery of his formerly infamous mumble. Sprightly and painfully self-aware, Stipe's cloying surface-level croon gives way to chiming prechorus guitars that tease glory-days flashbacks but they've done that before and we all know better by now. A little E-Bow wordiness rears its head in the second verse, then the second chorus comes and JUSTLIKETHATOUTOFNOWHERE there's background harmonies straight off of Life's Rich Pageant and IT IS 1986 ALL OVER AGAIN, Stipe's moody, clenched-teeth baritone conjuring the likes of "Fall on Me" and "Kohoutek," sounding for all the world like he'd never lost that voice in the first place. It's been ages since we've heard Stipe sing this way, and it's fascinating to hear the so-much-older-then-but-younger-than-that-now Stipe of today accompanied by the ghost of his younger, more evocative self, like one of those Through The Use Of Modern Technology cross-generational duet deals. I'm almost ashamed to get so excited about such an obvious retread, a memory, an echo of the past, but I'll be damned if Stipe manfully intoning "it's pulling me apart" didn't make me totally gay for him all over again.

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