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"Shiny Happy Voters"
July 28, 2014 8:10 AM   Subscribe


 
Although I bought Out of Time not that long after it came out, I had no recollection of this really cool story. Thanks for this!
posted by hydropsyche at 8:19 AM on July 28


I bought it as a cassette tape and wasn't really paying attention to politics at the time, so I had no idea it was a thing, although thanks to MTV I had seen plenty of stuff about Rock the Vote.
posted by LionIndex at 8:24 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the former members of R.E.M. (who were always politically opinionated and frequently advocated voting rights, human rights, women's rights both from the stage and through activists' booths / kiosks at tour venues) are extremely relieved to have Slate's seal of approval 20-some years after the fact.
posted by aught at 8:25 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I did not know this! Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 8:27 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the former members of R.E.M. (who were always politically opinionated and frequently advocated voting rights, human rights, women's rights both from the stage and through activists' booths / kiosks at tour venues) are extremely relieved to have Slate's seal of approval 20 years after the fact.

Weird comment. Not sure what you are getting at. I enjoyed this because I hadn't really thought about what a big deal it was and it's an interesting story.
posted by josher71 at 8:28 AM on July 28 [20 favorites]


(Why is the first Related Post "Why Sleep Deprivation Can Destroy You"??)
posted by languagehat at 8:28 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


((Oh, REM of course. As you were!))
posted by languagehat at 8:28 AM on July 28 [30 favorites]


I'm sure the former members of R.E.M. (who were always politically opinionated and frequently advocated voting rights, human rights, women's rights both from the stage and through activists' booths / kiosks at tour venues) are extremely relieved to have Slate's seal of approval 20 years after the fact.

If it makes you feel better, it's really indie-public-radio darling 99% Invisible who's approving; this is just a writeup of a recent episode.

If that doesn't make you feel better, it's still true and I'm going to not feel bad about people learning about a thing they might have been ignorant of.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:30 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Forgot the #slatepitch tag.
posted by goethean at 8:32 AM on July 28


rolling through the white sub-divisions
with my friends Rodney and 2Rod
in a burgundy 1979 Caprice
playing NWA at top volume
talking to white girls outside the highschool
so many police so fast
posted by Pudhoho at 8:32 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Ah, Republicans. Is there any demographic (other than old, white people) you haven't tried to disenfranchise?
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:34 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I guess I was pretty late getting into CDs (Tragically Hip, 'Day For Night', August, 1995), but I spent a hell of a lot of time in record stores throughout the 80s and 90s and I have no recollection of ever seeing this 'long box' format.
posted by Flashman at 8:37 AM on July 28


Long boxes went away around 1993 or so.
posted by padraigin at 8:38 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I bought a limited edition that was, I think, a wire bound book, maybe inside a wooden box.
posted by snofoam at 8:39 AM on July 28


I thought there was a bit of a leap from "how many letters are required to a Senator to make a difference" to "they'll send a postcard to Rock the Vote and we'll do *something* with it."
posted by smackfu at 8:40 AM on July 28


In the early 90s they used to have "CD listening parties" at record stores right before midnight of an album's release. Everyone would pack into the store and listen to the album together, then line up to buy it (in the longbox). I did this exactly twice: for U2's Achtung! Baby and R.E.M. Out of Time.

I wasn't aware of the significance of Out of Time with regards to Rock the Vote, it's a cool story.

There were some hidden gems on the album if you could get by Shiny Happy People. Country Feedback and Me in Honey are my favorites.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:40 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]


Long boxes went away around 1993 or so.

And in non-secondhand stores (Sam Goody!) were pretty ubiquitous before that.
posted by inigo2 at 8:40 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Oh, no, it was tied together with ribbon.
posted by snofoam at 8:41 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Out of Time. Where the whole world came together, black and white, Democrat and Republican, Israeli and Palestinian, Protestant and Catholic, left-wing and right wing, and all stood up with one voice and said "Shiny Happy People is such a fucking shitty song".
posted by Talez at 8:42 AM on July 28 [17 favorites]


Yeah, I started college in '91, and remember CD longboxes being standard dorm room decor, along with various cans of shitty beer. I definitely remember having a Violent Femmes longbox up on the wall.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:44 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I like "Shiny Happy People," dammit. I mean, Kate Pierson, hello? It's better than "Radio Song," for chrissake.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:45 AM on July 28 [21 favorites]


99% invisible is a great podcast. I have learned so much there.

(My favourite podcast of theirs was the one where they tried to have people imagine how they would move the steering wheel when they changed lanes, then blindfolded people and had them learn by doing. I also imagined the wrong thing when I moved my hands to change lanes.)
posted by jeather at 8:46 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Out of Time. Where the whole world came together, black and white, Democrat and Republican, Israeli and Palestinian, Protestant and Catholic, left-wing and right wing, and all stood up with one voice and said "Shiny Happy People is such a fucking shitty song".

They hate-bought and hate-played it so much that it made it into the Billboard Top Ten--the last R.E.M. song ever to do so.
posted by yoink at 8:46 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]


I like "Shiny Happy People," dammit. I mean, Kate Pierson, hello? It's better than "Radio Song," for chrissake.

So very true.
posted by josher71 at 8:49 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


The one bit of the Out Of Time artwork I've always remembered and always loved is this single-panel comic about some old steps.

(I had completely forgotten the other cartoon in there, though)
posted by dng at 8:49 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


CD longboxes being standard dorm room decor, along with various cans of shitty beer. I definitely remember having a Violent Femmes longbox up on the wall.

I had that Violent Femmes longbox on my dorm wall, along with Yaz Upstairs at Eric's, R.E.M. Out of Time and Lifes Rich Pageant (the definitive R.E.M. album), and Peter Gabriel Security. The ridiculous artwork of Sire's Just Say Mao compilation may have gotten the most comments though.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:51 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I don't know about longboxes but the first ever U2 album I bought was a digipak version of Achtung Baby at a used CD store. I always thought digipaks were pretty cool.
posted by kmz at 8:52 AM on July 28


I also remember when R.E.M. released Green to coincide exactly with the day of the 1988 presidential election. They even put out an ad, "Don't Get Bushwhacked."
posted by jonp72 at 8:52 AM on July 28


What a cool story, thanks for the link. I'm young enough that I've always assumed that registering to vote at the DMV has always been a thing. Yet I'm old enough that REM is one of my favorite bands (to this day Automatic for the People* and Adventures in Hi-Fi fight for best of in my psyche). What an odd little generational junction to be from- anyway, now I can teach my kids this story when I put on the R.E.M.

*Although radio did play "Everybody Hurts" into the ground to the point where I automatically skip it.
posted by barchan at 8:52 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I think I also remember reading that Out of Time was the album that Kurt Cobain was listening to when he killed himself.
posted by jonp72 at 8:52 AM on July 28


I thought there was a bit of a leap from "how many letters are required to a Senator to make a difference" to "they'll send a postcard to Rock the Vote and we'll do *something* with it."

Yeah. The fatal flaw in the "most politically significant" part of the argument is the complete absence of evidence that the CD longbox form-letter swayed so much as a single congressional vote.
posted by yoink at 8:54 AM on July 28


I think Out of Time was the worst REM record that I actually listened to (i.e. the worst until at least Monster).
posted by snofoam at 8:54 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Where the whole world came together, black and white, Democrat and Republican, Israeli and Palestinian, Protestant and Catholic, left-wing and right wing, and all stood up with one voice and said "Shiny Happy People is such a fucking shitty song".

They hate-bought and hate-played it so much that it made it into the Billboard Top Ten--the last R.E.M. song ever to do so.


Yes, it was an inconceivably huge hit. Which just goes to show, maybe it's not such a hot idea to give young people a say in important national decisions.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:55 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


I think Out of Time was the worst REM record that I actually listened to (i.e. the worst until at least Monster).

*holds up copies of Up, Reveal, Accelerate, Around the Sun, Collapse Into Now*

"We have such sounds to show you...."
posted by entropicamericana at 8:58 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Here's a direct link to the podcast of this episode, which is worth the listen just to hear Roman Mars stand up for Murmur at the end.

[p.s. Furry Happy Monsters.]
posted by Mchelly at 8:58 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


Yes, it was an inconceivably huge hit. Which just goes to show, maybe it's not such a hot idea to give young people a say in important national decisions.

So are we proposing something like a poll test? "Your taste in music must be at least THIS obscure in order to vote"?
posted by happyroach at 8:58 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Yes, it was an inconceivably huge hit. Which just goes to show, maybe it's not such a hot idea to give young people a say in important national decisions.

Hey. At least 90s kids had the sense to buy shitty music from REM. 80s kids bought "We Built This City" by Starship and turned it into a huge hit. And pretty soon they're going to be running the country.
posted by Talez at 8:58 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


..to this day Automatic for the People* and [New] Adventures in Hi-Fi fight for best of in my psyche

This is correct, and in that order. Though I think 'Radio Free Europe' is the best REM song.
posted by Flashman at 8:59 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Lord, I remember those silly, empty cardboard boxes. You wouldn't want to buy a CD where the longbox was bent, even though the nearly indestructible disc inside was certainly unharmed. (Whereas a week after you got it home, there were even odds that the hinge tab would be broken off the case. Grrrr...)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:59 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I just got beaten to the Furry Happy Monsters link.

Have a bonus writeup by Stephanie D'Abruzzo, the Muppeteer who did the female vocals, perhaps best known for her later work as Kate Monster in Avenue Q.
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:00 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


snofoam: "I think Out of Time was the worst REM record that I actually listened to (i.e. the worst until at least Monster)."

YMMV and all, but I think it's a pretty great album. Near Wild Heaven, Texarkana, Country Feedback - those are some of my favorite R.E.M. songs.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:00 AM on July 28 [10 favorites]


I like "Shiny Happy People," dammit. I mean, Kate Pierson, hello? It's better than "Radio Song," for chrissake.

I hated that song when it came out with my teen snark firing on all cylinders, but one day, someone changed my mind. That person was Beavis, and when I began thinking about why I started liking that song, it actually helped me reexamine and be more open to all sorts of stuff I was offhandedly snakry about at the time.
posted by chambers at 9:02 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


YMMV and all, but I think it's a pretty great album. Near Wild Heaven, Texarkana, Country Feedback - those are some of my favorite R.E.M. songs.

All I was saying is that it is worse than every REM album before it and Automatic for the People. To be fair, all of those records are pretty awesome, so it doesn't mean that Out of Time actually sucks. It was just disappointing in retrospect.
posted by snofoam at 9:04 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Although I always had a vague feeling that the old guy on the bike "powering" the scenery was some sort of captive, condemned for an eternity of forced labor keeping the party going for those people. Perhaps my mind could not take such a concentrated level of 'happy' all at once, and my brain tried to find something a little dark in there to even things out a bit.
posted by chambers at 9:09 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Yeah. The fatal flaw in the "most politically significant" part of the argument is the complete absence of evidence that the CD longbox form-letter swayed so much as a single congressional vote.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1989 passed in the House and stalled in the Senate. The National Voter Registration Act of 1991 was vetoed by George HW Bush.

I dunno. Something happened. There is little reason to think this didn't have an effect.
posted by maxsparber at 9:18 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


The one bit of the Out Of Time artwork I've always remembered and always loved is this single-panel comic about some old steps.

Enjoy
posted by LionIndex at 9:30 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


The National Voter Registration Act of 1991 was vetoed by George HW Bush.

I dunno. Something happened.


Yeah, "something." I wonder what it could have been. Hmmmm. Let me see, there was a minor thing involving a new Democratic President called Bill Clinton, but that couldn't have played any part. Must have been a cardboard form-letter petition. I mean, duh.
posted by yoink at 9:32 AM on July 28


All right. I guess, instead of actually determining whether the letter writing campaign had an effect, we'll just turn this thread over to inchoate political cynicism.
posted by maxsparber at 9:39 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]


Welcome to MetaFilter.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:42 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]


We'll have to analyze the ratio of new voter registrations vs. mandolin sales in 1991.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:45 AM on July 28


The longbox for CDs was a brief moment in packaging--I remember the B-52s had an album that talked about how not to waste it.

And as mentioned above, without Out of Time, there's no "Furry Happy Monsters." I'm not sure I can accept a world like that, or one without "Half A World Away."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:47 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


As one of the engineers on this piece, I'd like to give some love and props to Whitney A. Jones and Pitch, the show that actually originated this piece. It was licensed by 99% Invisible later on.
posted by mykescipark at 9:49 AM on July 28 [10 favorites]


I guess, instead of actually determining whether the letter writing campaign had an effect, we'll just turn this thread over to inchoate political cynicism.

Well, it is the 90s we're talking about...
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:49 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Man, we sure saved the Earth, back in the 90's. Sumbitch would be covered in long boxes by now. But do we get any thanks for it?
posted by thelonius at 9:53 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


[Folks, this needs to not become a general political rant thread. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:59 AM on July 28


I remember MTV promoting the MTV motor voter campaign like crazy, both in the initial stages and again for the '94 presidential run. PSAs at almost every commercial break, inserted into almost every news and interview segment they could.

It's weird to think about the fact that MTV devoted such a considerable amount of airtime over the course of a few years that could have been sold as commercials to a political cause. They did it with other causes, but none that I can remember were as long and expansive as this one.
posted by chambers at 10:02 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Out of Time was always a much better album than it was given credit for. Having two massive overplayed singles probably soured a lot of people on the rest of the album, though. Plus, I think many of the Out of Time haters just wanted R.E.M. to stop with the experimentation and go back the proto-mumblecore of Murmur (which admittedly is great stuff).

The first and I think only longbox I ever bought was Vanilla Ice's record. Don't look at me like that, none of you are pure.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:02 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Cool story, I totally agree, but the most politically significant album in US history?

Anyway, "Shiny Happy People" is an all-right song. The fact that it's now a favored method of narcotizing Target shoppers is another matter, but taken on its own merits, it's a good song. But my favorite track on that album by far has always been "Me in Honey," which is criminally underrated.
posted by blucevalo at 10:03 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Here's a direct link to the podcast of this episode, which is worth the listen just to hear Roman Mars stand up for Murmur at the end.

Wait, people have to stand up for Murmur? What's wrong with it? It was rather highly praised at the time, apparently, although I didn't hear it until, like, 1994, but really - what's not to like? "Radio Free Europe" is overplayed, but what about "Moral Kiosk" and "Catapault"? And maybe "Talk About The Passion" is facile, but it's certainly much better than, like, everything else REM did after about 1990.
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


I totally had no idea about the Motor Voter petition either; I still remember that just a year later when Automatic for the People came out, REM devoted a whole song (Ignoreland) to rage at the likelihood that the Reagan-Bush era was--as far as anyone knew--going to last for another four years. What a surprise just a month later!

*holds up copies of Up, Reveal, Accelerate, Around the Sun, Collapse Into Now*

You malign Up and we will have words.

posted by psoas at 10:12 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Also, Murmur is mumblecore now? I think I've been understanding the term wrong.

Lifes Rich Pageant is the best REM album, though.
posted by Frowner at 10:12 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


The longbox for CDs was a brief moment in packaging--I remember the B-52s had an album that talked about how not to waste it.

I remember WBCN in Boston used to run commercials advising people to open up the boxes after they bought them and leave the long box on the counter. The thinking was if enough people did this the record stores would eventually give in.

Heh. Record stores.
posted by bondcliff at 10:14 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Not really on topic, but Lifes Rich Pageant is definitely their best album.
posted by snofoam at 10:16 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much the Rock the Vote excitement influenced my 9 year old self to really buy into Out of Time. I got all of my news from MTV and CNN at the time, and really liked the idea of a Democrat in the White House. (I was young and raised to hate all things Reagan.) I do remember being sort of upset we didn't have a CD player because I couldn't buy the CD version, but I was also too young to get involved. If anything, this probably made me more obnoxious with my class mates who weren't as politically conscious. In 1992, Rock the Vote seemed somewhat relevant in ways that I haven't seen since. I'm so happy we're in a place where the Motor Voter Bill is just accepted.

The CD longbox in hindsight is silly and makes sense it went away. I am sure people probably still collector nerds out there who hunt for them (we all have our quirks). Sort of like 8-tracks.

And as far as the REM album side discussion - Out of Time is OK, not the best but not the worst. Then again, I stopped listening after New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Sorry, Up and Reveal are sterile, but all bands age and evolve. Agree that Lifes Rich Pageant is the best album, though anything before that album is solid.)
posted by kendrak at 10:26 AM on July 28


I worked at a record store that year in Madison, and was able to get the album for free. I sent in the post card. I don't drive, but I still would need a state ID, and it wasn't very clear to us students where we could register to vote when I entered college in 1987. It was very important to me as a black woman that I get out there and vote, or else all the people before me who'd fought for our fundamental rights as citizens fought in vain. I still tell my fellow Americans that, when they tell me that they don't vote.

When I moved to NYC a few years later, I could just go down to the DMV for my state ID and register to vote at the same time, so yes, this was, if not the most politically significant act in US history, important nonetheless.

I've got a huge soft spot for Fables of the Reconstruction. "Life and How to Live It" is arguably my favorite song of theirs. Murmur, Fables and Lifes are my top 3.
posted by droplet at 10:32 AM on July 28 [11 favorites]


I'm probably stretching the definition of mumblecore, Frowner--I was mainly trying to capture Murmur's low-fi, indie sound in comparison to the more produced sound of their later records, like Out of Time. Both have their virtues, and it's good for a band to grow and change over time, but I have met folks who think everything after R.E.M. signed to Warner Bros. to be a disaster. That I don't understand.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:39 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I too don't understand why people have to stand up for Murmur. (Also no love for Reckoning here yet?) Lifes great, but as I get older I find they seem so...young on it. (The end of Just a Touch doesn't help.) Reading this thread I realize it's probably not that they seem young, it's probably my own cynicism taking over because their early albums seem more blatantly political - they either learned or began a more subtle and metaphoric way of writing politics into their lyrics as they evolved (mostly). I'm curious if someone here could speak to if they became less on-the-nose in their lyrics while they became more outspoken IRL?

but it's certainly much better than, like, everything else REM did after about 1990.

I will fight you.

(At the very least, I will hit you over the head with In the Attic, which is mostly recordings from the pre-90s but was released in '97. So it's like a compromise!)
posted by barchan at 10:44 AM on July 28


good to see someone sticking up for the mysteriously underrated "Fables"
posted by thelonius at 10:48 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


but I have met folks who think everything after R.E.M. signed to Warner Bros. to be a disaster. That I don't understand.

Just the garden-variety "hipper-than-thou" routine, people who don't want to be tainted by liking music that sold well.

The Green through Automatic for the People era has a lot of the band's best music. Anyone who thinks the band should have turned down tens of millions of dollars to remain somehow "pure" or I.R.S. has probably never faced a big monetary decision themselves and/or has no idea some of the good R.E.M. did with a lot of that money.

Weird comment. Not sure what you are getting at.

Eh, I was cranky because both the Slate article and the FPP text felt the need to insinuate it wasn't the music that made the album worthwhile, Shiny-Happy-People-hahaha. I assume because, you know, R.E.M. is a sad ancient band only for olds or whatever.

good to see someone sticking up for the mysteriously underrated "Fables"

Yes siree. I too will sing its praises any hour of any day. Some of Stipe's best cryptic lyrics too.
posted by aught at 10:59 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Can we all just agree that "Walter's Theme / King Of The Road" is the best REM recording since MTV hates money and never released their Unplugged appearance?

(The best part is Mills shouting "F! F! It's in a different key!" in the background.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:05 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


Long boxes went away around 1993 or so.

The podcast addresses this towards the end of the piece: rather than pay the recurring cost of manufacturing longboxes, the record industry basically paid stores a year's worth of those costs as a subsidy towards refitting for CDs.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:06 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


A close friend of mine used to shush everyone when Losing My Religion played on the monitors at Our Place.
When I enquired, later, he explained that it was the one pop song he could identify with: his final break from the closet and his severance of Catholic guilt.
He didn't much care for REM but that one song represented a small anthem of freedom.
He passed away in 2009 and he is sorely missed by all of us who loved him.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:08 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Eh, I was cranky because both the Slate article and the FPP text felt the need to insinuate it wasn't the music that made the album worthwhile, Shiny-Happy-People-hahaha.

My apologies if the title and note in the link text insinuated I didn't care for the music (which I very much do). Of course, others have their own opinions of "Shiny Happy People".
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 11:09 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I've got a huge soft spot for Fables of the Reconstruction. "Life and How to Live It" is arguably my favorite song of theirs. Murmur, Fables and Lifes are my top 3.

I am in complete agreement. Are you me?

I don't remember the Rock the Vote section of the box at all, probably because I cut off the back cover entirely, threw it away, and put the front cover on my dorm wall along with many others. They were great for filling in spaces around posters so that no speck of wall was showing. Just a bit of a firetrap, in hindsight.
posted by otters walk among us at 11:10 AM on July 28


For a while when they were transitioning from longboxes to bare jewel cases, they used to put jewel cases into these plastic exoskeletons to make them the same size as a longbox. It was a weird time.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:16 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]


I suspect only chains got the one-time kickback mentioned in the podcast. The indie store I worked at kept the plastic keepers until they closed. (They made CDs harder to steal.) Anyway, knowing my boss, if he did get the money, it went straight into his pocket. He wasn't about to put one more penny into the store than absolutely necessary. The interior decor was permanently 1984 until the doors shut around 2001. Just think, if they had managed to last another couple years, they would have been painfully hip again.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:24 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Like they didn't trust us not to shoplift, or something...
Hi, we hate you. Please direct your purchases to the cash register,
And then getting the fucker unwrapped once you got it home.
I used an X-Acto knife.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:24 AM on July 28


The Green through Automatic for the People era has a lot of the band's best music. Anyone who thinks the band should have turned down tens of millions of dollars to remain somehow "pure" or I.R.S. has probably never faced a big monetary decision themselves and/or has no idea some of the good R.E.M. did with a lot of that money.

I just don't like anything from Green onward. I feel like their sound does change (now watch the paucity of my music vocabulary) - it gets bigger somehow, and it seems like a lot of that big nineties "alternative" radio stuff, where it's well produced and reasonably interesting and full of angst but just feels sort of empty and non-specific to me. (There's a lot of knock-off indie around right now that does the same thing in a different style.) I mean, there's certainly IRS-era REM I find posturing and annoying..."I Am Superman", for instance, and indeed big chunks of "Document" generally, and frankly all that "Don't Go Back To Rockville" stuff sounds like it's music made by people I would not actually get on with very well.

I hadn't really heard any REM until I was in college (because I had a weird and deprived and lonely childhood and adolescence, and missed virtually every normal-person social marker). Despite the mockery it earned from my punk-rock social circle, I got super into Document and Lifes Rich Pageant and Fables and Murmur, and then I was going to go on a huge bus trip (as one did in that halcyon age of Aaron Cometbus) and I got a copy of Automatic for the People to listen to on my walkman. And it was just so...flat. So big and sounding and nothing much. By the time I got to "Everybody Hurts" I had a horrible, horrible feeling that I'd wasted my $9.99.

I do adore "How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us", which is a mixtape staple for me, but that's about it.

I never really cared much about REM switching to a major label - I don't think I even knew they had, really, and they'd always seemed like well-meaning older liberals to me anyway. (Whereas I cared, at the time, a great deal about Chumbawamba's ill-advised flirtation with the majors.) They just seemed to evolve into a band that was....I dunno, at the time I bracketed them with late-period U2 in my head.
posted by Frowner at 11:45 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I mean, there's certainly IRS-era REM I find posturing and annoying..."I Am Superman", for instance

"I Am Superman" is a fun cover of an obscure 60s nugget by The Clique. How is that "posturing"?
posted by blucevalo at 12:07 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Last summer, I saw Peter Buck buying two cans of Red Bull at a gas station in Portland. I didn't see the actual transaction take place*, so I'm not sure if he traded unopened Out of Time longboxes for the energy drinks or not.

*come to think of it, he could have shoplifted them
posted by item at 12:09 PM on July 28


"I Am Superman" is a fun cover of an obscure 60s nugget by The Clique. How is that "posturing"?

I think it's kind of a dumb song, honestly. The impression I got (of the REM version! Remember that I was listening to all this stuff back before the internet, and mostly on copies of other people's tapes, so I did not generally have liner notes) was that we're supposed to feel all deep about how the singer is deluding himself/consoling himself, and it's just precisely kind of self-absorbed-teen-boy-level-of-sensitive to me. It would be a dumb song in a different way if it were sung in a straightforward manner.

Also, I feel like there's a lot of musical cues (again, in the REM version) that it's not "fun", precisely.
posted by Frowner at 12:24 PM on July 28


Anyone else like "Belong" as much as I do?
posted by Lucinda at 12:26 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


we're supposed to feel all deep about how the singer is deluding himself/consoling himself, and it's just precisely kind of self-absorbed-teen-boy-level-of-sensitive to me.

Not snarky, I have never thought this.
posted by josher71 at 12:27 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Not snarky, I have never thought this.

I can't listen to the song right this instant - and my musical vocabulary would make a cat laugh - but I feel like the song and the vocals are sort of melancholy, and in particular the way "You don't really love that guy you make it with, now, do you
I know you don't love that guy 'cause I can see right through you" line is contrasted with "I can do anything" - I assume the reading is supposed to be "this guy is consoling or kidding himself that he is "Superman", that he can correctly understand that the girl he's into doesn't really like her boyfriend and would be better off with him; but even though he can "do anything", he still can't get her to date him". It just seems like...well, I mean, like we're supposed to feel bad for him because he has nice guy syndrome, instead of telling him "come on, buddy, you know you're just kidding yourself, go ask someone else out".

The song sung straightforwardly would be unforgivably creepy and stalkerish - "if you go a million miles away I'll track you down girl"? I don't think. "Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart" just sounds like it should be followed up with "and it involves a .22, so you'd better dump that guy you make it with".
posted by Frowner at 12:35 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


(Also no love for Reckoning here yet?)

*raises hand* I love Reckoning, even more so than Murmur.

"Stand" was used as the opening song to Chris Elliot's comedy, "Get a Life!" Apparently, when it was rerun in 2000 on the USA Network, it was replaced it with generic music to avoid paying royalties.

That's neither here nor there. I remember the Rock the Vote thing (there, on topic again).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:37 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I always thought that cover was one of those situations where Mike was singing a song he liked as a little boy in the 60s. For example, if I were in a position to do so, I'd cover Sweet's Love Is Like Oxygen, because when I was 7, that was my jam, you know?

I'm not a fan of I Am Superman itself. I always skip that one when i listen to Lifes, but it sounded "old" to me even as a teenager. Stylistically and lyrically, it strayed so far from the prototypical R.E.M. sound (Mills never sings lead! They never sing about romance! What's with this beat?) that I automatically assumed it was a cover.

Voice of Harold, now that one is terrific, even though Stipe's just reading the back of an album sleeve, and was probably drunk.

"Planning to make a record? We are associated with United Music World Recording Studios, Incorporated, West Columbia, South Carolina. The Finest Sound Available Anywhere."
posted by droplet at 12:41 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


"Voice of Harold" is terrific. I hadn't even listened to that one in years and must immediately upon my return home. I always found it incredibly soothing, like it promises a world that is incomprehensible yet none the less benign.
posted by Frowner at 12:46 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Mills did (later) sing lead on two Out of Time songs - Near Wild Heaven and Texarkana.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:05 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I do adore "How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us", which is a mixtape staple for me Me too!

"Don't Go Back To Rockville" stuff sounds like it's music made by people I would not actually get on with very well. Hahaha - years ago I fell totally in unrequited love and for about a year defaced a number of restroom walls and very dirty pick-up trucks and fire lookout towers all over the American west with lyrics from that song. I don't think I'd get on well with old me now either...but I still love that song.
posted by barchan at 1:08 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


All this talk about REM got me thinking about the amazing, proto-Slacker documentary Athens Ga. Inside Out. I thought by now the film would be so old and forgotten that the whole thing would up on YouTube, but all there is is a 10 minute making of/highlights promo. It's still well worth watching.
posted by Flashman at 1:31 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]


I believe Athens, GA Inside Out is on Netflix. It holds up pretty well. The soundtrack is just amazing. This is what being a cool kid in the 80s sounded like. Flat Duo Jets and Pylon kill it.

Shiny Happy is perhaps the most grating sound ever produced by humans. It starts with a terrible guitar riff and goes off from there. As someone who writes songs for his band, it's an interesting study; it's what can happen when you continue to force a song out of a bad idea instead of just saying fuck it and giving up. I don't begrudge REM anything, but it's terrible and I couldn't listen to them afterward.

Life's Rich Pageant, yo

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:43 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Very cool story, but if that's the most politically significant album then all music's relevance has just been called into question.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:37 PM on July 28


Is Pharrell's "Happy" this generation's "Shiny Happy People"?
posted by josher71 at 3:02 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Is Pharrell's "Happy" this generation's "Shiny Happy People"?

I would say that "Happy" is this generation's "Don't worry, Be Happy" (which means Chuck D should be slamming it any day now).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:22 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Is Pharrell's "Happy" this generation's "Shiny Happy People"?

I thought it was just this generation's "Get Lucky".
posted by straight at 4:00 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I've got a huge soft spot for Fables of the Reconstruction. "Life and How to Live It" is arguably my favorite song of theirs. Murmur, Fables and Lifes are my top 3.

Give me "Can't Get There From Here" or "Driver 8" any day.
posted by 4ster at 5:00 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Fables. By far.
posted by parki at 6:38 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Reckoning is the soundtrack to living at the Y in downtown Sandog as a 21-year-old disillusioned sailor and Kerouac wannabe -- writing bad poetry, manic-romantic letters to Kitty Hawk shipmates on the high seas, lame moonjunespoon ditties for all the beauties I'd see in Balboa Park or Avenida Revolucion...

"So. Central Rain," "Pretty Persuasion," "Rockville" -- ah, such beautiful jangly mystery-mumble memories...
posted by Fuzzypumper at 9:45 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine let me extended-borrow his CD of Bingo Hand Job. Frigging fantastic. I wish now I had my own copy. I still remember they intro'd "Fretless" with, "This is a song by New Order called 'Bizarre Love Triangle'."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:36 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Between "Shiny Happy People" and "Friday I'm in Love", the early '90s were a time in which respectable bands made fools of themselves for money.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:07 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The Cure sang Lovecats. I think the "fools of themselves" ship had already sailed.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:38 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


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