R.E.M. – Feeling Gravitys Pull
It is Michael Stipe’s birthday so I figured that was a good reason to finally write this post I’ve been mulling over for more than a month now. That I waited until nearly midnight just goes to show that these things are sometimes hard for me to actually commit to writing. It’s so much easier when it stays up in my head, where I know what I mean and don’t have to try to lay it bare.
Just after Thanksgiving, a friend from Instagram posted a very intriguing picture. Actually, the picture would have meant nothing to me but the caption was, “Michael Shannon and friends perform Fables of the Reconstruction.” Um, what? So many questions. 1) Who is Michael Shannon? 2) Why? 3) Why Fables? As opposed to, say, any of the other I.R.S. albums? 4) Had I known about it, and had I been able to go (no on both counts) would I have? The jury is out.
I have since looked up who Michael Shannon is but that did not answer anything for me. I also looked up the event itself and learned that not only was this happening, but the stage show was accompanied by live drawings of the songs projected behind the performers as they played them. I asked my Instagram friend what the drawings were like and she said she couldn’t see them from her angle. But then the artist himself commented with a link to his Instagram with the drawing(s)! Please go check it out.
So then I was really torn in an after-the-fact dilemma of would I have had the guts to go. I really loved the drawings and the idea of witnessing this illustration on the fly of my favorite album would have been really cool. But other people performing the songs from my favorite album of all time? I’m not sure. A number of years ago A.V. Undercover had “Driver 8” on the docket and it was the last song left in that season, meaning no one else dared to cover it and The Walkmen were reluctantly tasked with it. I didn’t make it through watching the whole video. It’s not their fault, really. I’ve often debated with myself if I were in a band and presented with the A.V. Undercover challenge and an R.E.M. song were on the list, would I say we should do it because I wouldn’t want anyone else to, or avoid it for fear of not doing it justice. I’m not sure why Michael Shannon and Friends picked Fables, unless it’s their favorite too and they are not similarly plagued by these thoughts, but I feel like some of the songs would be really hard to do. To be sure, “Driver 8” and “Maps and Legends” along with most of Another Side (as opposed to A Side) could be pretty straight forward. But where would you even start to try and cover “Feeling Gravitys Pull” or “Life and How to Live It” – songs that, to me, are so endowed by their creators with an other-worldly quality that it’s simply not possible for mere mortals to touch them.
A few weeks later, a different Instagram friend, who is in a band out in San Francisco, posted a video snippet of them at a party doing a little preview of their project to perform Fables. It was just a couple of acoustic guitars and a guy singing “Driver 8” in a living room. Didn’t I sit around with my friends in high school playing guitars and singing songs by bands we liked? Of course. My friend Tom and his band even did “Can’t Get There From Here” at a house party the summer after my freshman year of college. That seemed fine. But that was also before I ever saw R.E.M. myself. [And here I have to just interrupt this story to say that, OMG, it happened again at the office Christmas lunch that people started talking about concerts and someone asked what was the best concert you’ve ever been to and I had to just say, “we already covered this” and shut that conversation down.] It is just that no one, ever, will be able to do what Michael Stipe does with these songs. I know that they aren’t trying to do what he does. I’ll bet that at 59, even Michael can’t just summon that up on demand. After all, isn’t that why they disbanded? I guess I am just having a hard time understanding what would make people take the leap from, hey let’s hang out singing our favorite songs off of Fables, to let’s perform the whole album in a club in front of people.
Clearly, as was already known, I have issues with R.E.M. and me and being out in public. It wasn’t always this way. In college I proudly wore my pink R.E.M. bicycle shirt all the time. I spent over a year searching for shoes just like the ones Michael is wearing in this video (close-up at 1:50) and then wore them every day because “when you meet a stranger, look at his shoes.” Maybe it’s because I spent so much of my 20s trying to emulate Michael and falling woefully short that I find this so perplexing. Maybe people who are not trying so hard to be something they can never be are able to just have some fun with songs they love.
In the end, I wasn’t there, I won’t be there, and in these dark times, I feel like creative people should bring whatever light to the world they can. And I really like those illustrations.
Lay it bare. Yes! Thank you for expressing this so honestly. There is so much beauty and joy and connection to gain by sharing. I feel this, every bit of it, and wish my 19 year old self could have the perspective I have now. When it comes down to it, the reason Michael had such deep impact was because he laid it bare, right? That’s the part we didn’t emulate.
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