8

Morning. If it is morning when you’re reading this. Hope you’re feeling alright. On January 1st 2010 I published my first post here at Bagging Area. Today, 3441 posts and 9727 comments later, the blog turns 8. Thank you to all of you who read it, thanks especially to those who comment, and here’s to a few more. I never really set a deadline or expiry date when starting out. I’ll keep going as long as there is something to write about I  suppose. Like this…

Songs with 8 in the title aren’t numerous. This is a 1985 R.E.M. song about a passenger train running through the southern states. The chorus goes ”and the train conductor says ‘take a break driver 8, driver 8 take a break, we can reach our destination but we’re still a ways away”. In 2008 Michael Stipe introduced Driver 8 live by saying ‘this is a song that represents great hope and great promise, a song that represents the dream of the United States of America’. So it’s about that too.

Driver 8

This is from 1990’s still stunning 90 album this is a song that pays tribute to a drum machine. An attention grabbing intro followed by rave synths and beats with a great breakdown section.

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In the days when football teams were numbered 1-11 number 8 was always a central midfielder- not the flash captain figure of the number 7 shirt and not the centre forward of number 9 but in between, a gutsy, hard tackling midfielder, someone who did the simple things well and chipped in with the odd goal. In the 90s Paul Ince and Nicky Butt were the number 8 shirt wearers at United. In the 80s the shirt belonged to Gordon Strachan and Remi Moses (and for a season apiece Ashley Grimes and Ray Wilkins). In the picture below Remi is to the left of Diego Maradona in a European Cup Winners Cup second leg at Old Trafford, one of the greatest games I’ve attended. Diego barely got a look-in all night. The first leg had finished 2-0 to Barcelona. The return leg was won 3-0 by United, with goals from Bryan Robson and Frank Stapleton, but the end to end performance of Remi was behind it. In the next round he marked and tackled Michel Platini of Juventus out of the game. Injury forced him to retire in 1988, aged just 28.

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Hey Now Little Sleepyhead

I haven’t deliberately listened to any R.E.M. for ages. I hear them in passing but don’t often make the effort to play their records. Recently I had an overwhelming urge to hear Find The River. The album it finished off, Automatic For The People, came out a quarter of a century ago and for an album that is right up there in their back catalogue, Find The River is quite the ending, heartstrings tugged at for sure, but also optimistic and wide eyed (at the end of a record that was surrounded by rumours of death and illness). Lovely beyond belief.

Stipe’s lyrics were much clearer by this point-

‘The river to the ocean flows
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way’

But he could still chuck in words for their own sake, for the sound of them-

‘Of ginger, lemon, indigo
Coriander stem and rose of hay’

And finish with couplets that seem to mean something-

‘Strength and courage overides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up her and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is going your way’

She’s A Sad Tomato

Watching an R.E.M. documentary the other night reminded me a) what a good band R.E.M. were in the 80s but also b) how they kept that going into the mainstream- such an unlikely band to be stadium size, multi-million selling albums big. After Automatic For The People I always think they tail off very quickly but the fade was delayed longer than that. I didn’t think too much of Monster when it came out but Crush With Eyeliner is really good- it shimmers and throbs and has groove. New Adventures In Hi Fi has several 90s peaks on it too. Being massive and mainstream and still being interesting is a difficult trick to pull off. In retrospect they should have called it a day when Bill Berry left- that would have left everything intact.

Which then led me to this 90s Sonic Youth masterpiece. Sonic Youth crossing over with New York fashion shows and Cara Delevingne in tow. Sonic Youth crossed back pretty quickly.

You Never Called, I Waited For You, But These Rivers Of Suggestion Keep Dragging Me Away

It’s something like that. One of the joys of early R.E.M. is that everyone hears what they think they can hear.

Michael Stipe has just announced that he’s releasing his first post- R.E.M. music, a soundtrack to a friend’s film. Most of the world will probably do little more than shrug. They carried on far too long, almost nothing after New Adventures In Hi-Fi sticks in the memory and they began to have an air of pomposity which became offputting. So it’s funny to watch a clip like this one, live on the David Letterman show in 1983 playing Radio Free Europe and So Central Rain, when they were a frenetic, Wire-y, mumbling, American post-punk band dressed in second hand clothes. And then to shed a little tear.

Michael, Mike, Peter and Bill


It’s been announced tonight that R.E.M. have split up. Not earth shattering news maybe but still… Their music meant a massive amount to me for a long time, particularly the IRS albums and the first few on Warners, not so much in recent years but still…

This is Pretty Persuasion from the semi-legendary bootleg ‘Live at Tyrones’ in 1981, when as Peter Buck says on their website they were ‘four nineteen year olds trying to change the world’.

>I Could Live A Million

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I’ve been listening to a fair bit of early R.E.M. recently, in the car mainly. Their records on IRS and when Stipe had hair struck me deeply at an impressionable age. It’s easy to break the constituent parts down- Michael Stipe’s incoherent vocals and delivery, Peter Buck’s Rickenbackers, Bill Berry’s insistent drumming, Mike Mills’ melodic bass playing and his backing vocals- but it doesn’t explain the magic. A commenter on Youtube reckons it’s their ability to do both melancholy and extreme joy and hope at the same time, which sounds about right. I had a cassette of Chronic Town, never shelling out for the vinyl second hand and all these years later it’s still upwards of twentyfive quid for the five song e.p. but what a great set of songs- Stumble, Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars), Wolves Lower, Gardening At Night and the song here- 1,000,000, which is a stunner. It’s an m4a file I’ve just noticed, which I hope doesn’t cause anyone any problems.

04 1,000,000.m4a

>When You Tire Of One Side The Other Suits You Best

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As far as I’m concerned R.E.M. couldn’t put a foot wrong throughout the five albums they released on I.R.S. in the 1980s, and they more or less kept that strike rate up until Bill Berry left in 1997. Their first three albums- Murmur, Reckoning and Fables Of The Reconstruction- are chock full of mystery, drama, murk, guitars, tunes and wonder, even if you haven’t got a clue what Michael Stipe is on about. In fact his vagueness and slurred, mumbled vocals add massively. This is Life And How To Live It, one of the highlights of Fables. This version was recorded live at a gig in Utrecht, Belgium in 1987. The guitars fizz and chime, the rhythm section’s tight, and the whole band sparkle. As a bonus Stipe gives an introduction to the song for a minute or so, where he explains what it’s about- a man who divided his apartment into two and lived in each half depending on how he was feeling. When he leaves they find a cupboard full of self-published books, all entitled ‘Life and how to live it’.

06 Life and How to Live It [#][-][Live].wma