A friend, with whom I’ve connected, disconnected and reconnected several times over our 42-or-so years of knowing each other, introduced me to R.E.M. when they were becoming big in North America, particularly on college radio, when we reconnected around 1981-82. He was in community college at the time, and I was working an office job in the private sector. We’d go out to dinner and movies, and listen to music in the car on the trip there and back. I can still picture him rocking out int the passenger seat to R.E.M.’s first hit, “Radio Free Europe.”
By the way, one of his and my favourite films back in the 80s, one which we could recite the script practically verbatim from beginning to end was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, an obscure, amusing little movie with a major cast: Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd. After not seeing each other for many years he and reconnected again about five years ago. We’ve talked a couple of times in the past two years about watching Buckaroo together one winter day.
Despite coming in and going out of each other’s lives, and the differences between our life paths, I think our friendship continues in part because of our many common interests, important times that we’ve been there for each other, and for me, I’ve learned an awful lot from him. When I switched to road cycling at age 59, he coached me on the type of bike to get for what I wanted to do, and has encouraged me in the building up of my fitness. That might be, in part, a reason why I have an R.E.M. CD on display in my winter bike trainer room.
Anyway, back to college radio again for a bit… I remember the Canadian equivalents of college/university radio were where the coolest music was — and still is — being played. And years later, songs by one of our boys have been played on university radio stations… how cool is THAT?! In addition to college radio, I listened to CBC FM late-night programs like Night Lines (Friday and Saturday) and Brave New Waves (other weeknights), shows I loved so much that I taped Night Lines on a couple of occasions with my condominium stereo’s cassette recorder/player, as there was of course no internet radio at the time. (Well, no internet at all, or mobile phones, either, but I digress, again… though I feel it necessary to linger a little longer off the point here to add that the Maxell XLII-S 90 was my go-to blank cassette; it was usually long enough to fit two of my records so I could hear them in the car, and any tape longer than a “90” was susceptible to ripping in the car cassette player of the day, or so I was told. The sound quality with that mode of recording was fair, but it enabled me to hear more of the progressive, late-night radio music I loved but didn’t discover on mainstream radio and would have missed while out on the town with friends late at night (no doubt with music as a focal point of our activities, as well).
So after first hearing R.E.M., I bought the band’s early albums and, from time to time, have waded back into their music over the years. One of my boys bought me their 2008 CD, Accelerate (it’s the one on display in my trainer room). And recently, their 1992 song “Drive” played on KEXP Seattle.
From my first hearing of them, I always found R.E.M. to be a rather unique rock act; mainly because of the sometimes political, sometimes dark, often mysterious tone and depth of many songs, and certainly because of the distinctive and serious sound of lead singer Michael Stipe’s voice.
Bass player Mike Mills describes “Drive” as a call to young people to “take charge of their lives,” which resonates in some of the lyrics. Stipe’s singing sounds even like an urging, to me, albeit a cryptic one.
“What if I ride, what if you walk?
What if you rock around the clock?
(From “Drive,” by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe)
The title, “Drive” is interesting to me in that regard; for the explanation Mills gives, and further, how the title might also be interpreted in terms of driving a car, as it also makes a good road trip song. And the driving analogy relates to the notion of taking charge of one’s life, in terms of the independence associated with being able to drive a car. (Not that the latter is necessary for the former; I didn’t get my licence on my first try at 16, and didn’t feel I wanted to try again until I was 19. In the meantime, I got around just fine; besides, I was still busy spending much of my money on records and clothes and going out with friends… not much left with which to buy and run a vehicle. Anyway…) It’s also interesting and maybe just coincidental that a previously-mentioned album is called Accelerate, and their video for “Everybody Hurts” takes place in and among cars and trucks on a gridlocked freeway.
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here’s the official video (be sure to select 1080p for the best playback) from the R.E.M. YouTube channel: