Last Friday I wrote a stream of consciousness post that was really fun. From now on, I’ll reserve Friday for writing about whatever I feel like without worrying about rules, conventions, styles, or forms.  It’s a free-for-all!

I intended to make this post a serious, high-concept rant about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare using R.E.M. lyrics. Instead, I’ll make this a reflection on a band whose music I really enjoy with some politics mixed in.

Around my junior year in high school a friend loaned me a copy of the album Document. It was cool enough. The song Oddfellows 151 stands out in my memory, but I was more interested in the music of U2.   As I think back, I remember seeing R.E.M. on a Nickleodeon show called Live Wire.  But I was too young appreciate that Michael Stipe was a poet.

It wasn’t until the fall of 1988 that I really discovered R.E.M.  I had just graduated from high school and was working for my uncle in Provo, Utah.  I happened catch an interview on radio station  KJQ–give me another heaping slab–before their upcoming concert in Salt Lake City.  So I ran out and bought GREEN, their latest album at the time.  I listened to that tape every night that summer and just loved it’s wide-ranging sound.  From the rocking blast of Turn You Inside Out to the hypnotic I Remember California to the fun Stand, the album pleased from start to finish.  I made plans to see their concert, but when my grandparents called asking me to visit them that same weekend I decided to drive down to St. George.

Should we talk about the weather or should we talk about the government?

Yes, please.

The weather. It’s freaking HOT around here. Especially when the A.C. won’t be fixed for two more weeks. But it’s hotter in Afghanistan, and no one is trying to kill me with IEDs here.

It’s all about attitude.

I learned that in Basic Training. Ft. Benning is a very pleasant place to be in August.  It’s so hot outside. It’s raining.  Get over it–could be worse.  That’s the last you’ll hear me talking about the hot weather.  Stay safe, all you service men and women fighting for our right to talk about the government and complain about the weather or vice versa.

The government. Specifically the Supreme Court of the United States.  I was disappointed in their decision. But it’s worse that we had to get to this point. This is what happens when people don’t understand the concept of compromise. When it’s all or nothing. When people get backed into a corner.  It’s going to get uglier if members of congress don’t learn to act like adults.

And compromise.

I revisited R.E.M.’s older stuff when I got to college. One of my roommates was from North Carolina not far from the band’s home town so he was really into R.E.M. He let me borrow his tapes, and I studied the music and the words on Murmur, Document, Life’s Rich Pagent, Fables of the Reconstruction. I always found surprises while I listened:

“You don’t really love that guy you make it with now do you?” Would someone really say that to a girl?

“We are young despite the years . . . we are hope despite the times” YES!

“She is selling faith on the ‘Go Tell Crusade’ Locomotive 8 southern crescent hear the bells ring again” Beautiful!

“Buy the sky, sell the sky, tell the sky don’t fall on me” Incredible!

“Somewhere it’s time for penitence gardening at night is never where” Great stuff!

Those albums defined R.E.M.’s sound.  And those songs helped me define myself–my attitudes, my tastes, my sense of beauty, my sense of the world.  Now they remind me of a time when I was innocent.


About Ben

I'm a father, a husband, an educator, and a soldier. I love the outdoors especially the mountains.

I encourage thoughtful and respectful discussions about anything I write.

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