R.E.M. – Murmur

Where did it all go wrong, Western World? When did we stop being the great society, when did we waste our first world privilege? Oh, wait! I know! It was the goddamned early 80s, when this album came out. It was the Reagan-Thatcher-Mulroney convergence that started, and fast, the obliteration of our common society into a socially Darwinistic bullshit-fest. They’re the ones who turned everything supply-side, who decided it had nothing to do with trying to govern and everything to do with lying to win elections then giving millions to your friends. Their friends and backers who realized that resentment could encourage nearly everyone to accept worse jobs, declining benefits, disappearing pensions, diminished social security. That’s when we were thrown overboard; they knew full well that private railroads wouldn’t work, but they sold them to the gullible. They started the distrust of academia and by extension facts and therefor reality itself. If thy left eye offends thee then cut it out of your face. Then you’ll feel better.

Okay, what do you think should be the next step for a wealthy, advanced country that has conquered the atom and polio and space flight: a stronger social safety net to be compassionate to the weak, or letting the poor starve? Ensuring that women are not openly discriminated against in the workplace, or overturning what equal pay laws do exist? Educating people so that crusade-era hatred of gays and jews eventually ceases to be, or eliminating hate-crime laws? Taking biology’s word for it that fetuses are not cognizant like people, or pretending that they are so that we can punish women for having pre-marital sex?

Yes, yes, I’m a libtard, but fuck. I’m not anti-capitalist here. I like casinos, cleavage, and baseball. But oh, North America, your rich assholes who’re willing to stop the progress of humanity are ruining the chances we have as amazing coincidences of physics. Build the downtown relief line! Replace the Bush tax cuts with bushy-tailed tax cats! Mew mew mew mew mew mew mew mrkgnao mew mew mew! RRRR.

Where was I? Oh yes, the 80s. Well, I know this is a great album because of how it makes me feel. As the saying goes, if you think this album isn’t any good then I’ll just have to respectfully disagree with you. Michael Stipe and his band dropped out of school in 1983-ish in order to jangle-guitar and sing-speak a bunch of mumbles of vaguely meaningful phrases at us and fuck it works.

Here is a picture of me with my mouth open: MEWITHMYMOUTHOPEN.

How does it make me feel, you didn’t axe? Like I remember so much about my life that I’m sure some of it is made up. “Radio Free Europe” is a bus trip through the MIdwest, filled with hope. “Pilgrimage” is a trip to a friend’s cottage at age 17, on some mild hallucinogens, feeling as though I was finally coming of age and ready to understand this world thing they’d been talking about. “Laughing” is that time I was in Atlanta in early June and it – somehow – started snowing at midday and I stood there for over an hour indulging in the panic and patience of the meteorological oddity. “Catapult” is swimming in my dad’s old pond with our old dog, Biggus. She’d see a bird or dragonfly that she wanted to chase for some reason and jump out and run around and around the pond in pursuit, which’d usually end when she’d slip in some mud and fall back in, and my brother and I would laugh.

Not important, but the emotions are both real and shape-changing, a mosiac of matter like a muddy river and these four fucking guys somehow evoking all of it. I’m drunk but you’re gully. It’s a song from a time before we all had specific subcultures allowing us to tap into smaller, more specific, personally relevant cultural narratives. It’s…pretty wonderful.

9 / 10


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