Why I Love UP
"Great opportunity blinks."
UP is my favourite album by legendary outfit R.E.M. It is the first album done without drummer Bill Berry, and you can tell the band was going through a rough time. This does not mean however that the album is in any way lacking. It is a brave, supremely artistic album with perhaps Michael Stipe's best lyrics and vocal performances. Through losing a good friend and band mate, R.E.M. seek out new creative territory. It is an incredibly introspective album about loss, and the search for a new identity. R.E.M. find this identity through assembling an album heavy on concept and a unifying theme that takes the listener inside of themselves and of all the doubts that come from trying to live life. UP is best listened to in one sitting, the songs building an overpowering atmosphere that digs deep. They are tales of the lonely, of the desperate and loveless.
"I feel great. I lied to save your feelings
Truth convened, my head smashed through the ceiling
I lost an arm, no one harmed, you diplomatically alarmed
I sulked away to lick my thin skin
I'm not over you, I'm not over you, I'm not over you."
Love that sticks with you. Love that won't let you go. It is at once a curse and a blessing. When you love without love in return, it can twist you into someone you don't recognize. You become bitter of other's happiness and contentment. At My Most Beautiful is the hope that something will come to you in the night. That you will have the courage to say what you feel. That you will somehow find a way to make them understand. "You always listen carefully to awkward rhymes, you always say your name, like I wouldn't know it's you at your most beautiful." Dreams that end in a desperate promise to say it to the one you love. A voice that raises you up. A desire to just be with them. To be that person for them. Someone who makes bad things disappear into positive affirmation.
The Apologist is me. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. "You think this isn't me?" I have a long list of regrets. I didn't treat people how I should have. I threw love away for a falsehood. Living life in perpetual apology.
"Did you understand me right?
The people here are good.
They tell me what I should have done
And offer what I could.
I'm good all is good
All's well no complaints.
When I feel regret,
I get down on my knees and pray.
I'm sorry, so sorry."
Forgiveness is the most sacred thing a person can do for another. I have talked over what I did wrong with the people I love. They offered me a respite from this state of insecurity and fear. It always comes back though to how you cannot forgive yourself. You try hard and hope that some distance can be put between you and the past. The past exists in you, in the back of your head. Lost fears grip you again and make you feel like you're a child, crying out for Mammy and Daddy to make it go away.
Everyone hates a bore. Everybody hates a drunk. "If we're talking about love, then I have to tell you dear readers, I'm not sure where I'm headed, I've gotten lost before. I've woke up stone drunk, face down in the floor." I hate where I wound up. Regret is a major theme on UP. I relate to it. I relate to the tales of drunken embarrassment, of sending wishes of adoration to people who couldn't care less. I am thirty years old and I have nothing. I don't have a job, I don't have a direction. I don't know what will become of me when my mother dies. I can't see anything ahead of me that fills me with hope or confidence. I am a fuck up. But I know I'm a fuck up, and maybe through that I can become better than I am.
Daysleeper is my favourite song on the album, and my favourite R.E.M. track overall. I used to live the song. I would sleep all day and wake up in the early evening for a long night of lonely thoughts. There was something beautiful in those nights, watching the sun rise over headphones, blocking out the malicious noise of doubts. I wish I could go back to that time and live it again. For as lonely as it was, it was peaceful. I was an independent parasite. I worked by my own clock, and on my own time. Now, I am stuck in a house that is not my home. Don't disturb the precious night sleepers.
"I'm the screen the blinding light
I'm the screen, I work at night.
I see today with a newsprint fray
My night is colored headache gray
Don't wake me with so much.
Walk Unafraid is what Patti Smith said to Michael Stipe when Bill Berry left. It is the battle cry for the album. It is a declaration that as long you have life, you have the possibility of turning it around. "If you will it, it is no dream." Strength through confrontation of weakness. Trip fall, pick myself up and walk unafraid. Get up you lazy bastard, time is moving on.
"The ocean machine is set to 9
I'll squeeze into heaven and valentine.
My bed is pulling me, gravity.
UP is, I'm pretty sure, the best work in the career of R.E.M. It uncovers hidden emotions and brings them into the light. It is a tool for betterment, for the search for acceptance. The album is a feeling of belonging, even if it is belonging with a group of misfits and fuck ups. Together we might be able to do something about the state of things. I hope so.