R.E.M. – Belong

The 25th anniversary edition of Out of Time came out today.


This is hard. Sometimes I envy people who do not have emotional attachments to music this way. Other times I think I would have died a long time ago if I hadn’t had these songs to sustain me.


Do you know what it feels like to have a friendship that is unlike any you’d had before, that is more intense than any of the crushes or hook-ups of your life to that point, but to be in a precarious position, completely paralyzed with fear of fucking it up and losing everything? Desperate to take it to what seems like the inevitable next step but to feel like it’s too big a risk to act? So you leave words hanging in the air that surely can’t be misconstrued and try to leave the door wide open for something, anything, and yet, things remain … unchanged.

Now, have Out of Time be the album that is the soundtrack for that time. Brutal. It’s just one song of heartache after another.The only song on the album that didn’t make me weak was “Shiny Happy People” and that wasn’t exactly a comfort. But it wasn’t like I could just not listen to the album. I had to listen to it. It was like an addiction, so dangerous for my well being but I couldn’t do without it. Every song was perfectly describing some piece of my life at that moment and I craved it.

As I mentioned the other day, I hated Green when it came out. Eventually I came around but the way that album had exposed the band to the greater public, and consequently put me in a position of having to share them with people I felt didn’t understand or deserve them, was like a punch in the gut. Out of Time took that feeling to a much higher level. Here was an album that felt like a chronicle of my innermost self, playing to millions of people. Millions of people who couldn’t possibly understand the significance of it and how deeply it affected me, were mindlessly, cheerfully, singing along, in public! “Losing My Religion” was word-for-word my life in the summer of 1991 and this was R.E.M. and this was Michael Stipe singing those words and YOU DO NOT SING ALONG IN PUBLIC. No. And it was a huge hit. I can’t tell you how many times I had to just walk out of some place because it came on the radio and I could not take it. But “Country Feedback” was the killer. Absolutely destroyed me. It’s twenty five years later and I still can’t listen to it without getting choked up.

So much of this album for me is rooted in that time and place but somewhere along the way the song that transcended all of that is “Belong.” After a while it spoke to me in a new way and told me, it’s ok, you belong here. You belong with us but there is also more out there for you and don’t be afraid. In that way it even inspired my funeral playlist.

Since getting married and having kids, I feel like now I’m the woman telling her child, “Belong.” Watching and worrying, as parents do, but knowing that she also needs to find her way and feel a part of something bigger. With the world collapsing around our ears, I feel like this is more important than ever.

One comment

  1. Well bloody hell. Leave it to a writer to put it out there for me. Thank you.

    Belong is the song from Out of Time that is that absolute edge of hope and desperation. It is motherhood and fear and anguish and love. So very raw and relevant 25 years later, it is great art and a perfect gift.

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