Saturday, October 01, 2011


I suppose this should be filed under "not-so-secret influences," and, indeed, there is likely no pop band that has influenced my poetics as much as REM. This is probably obvious, even from the first sequence from my first book dyslexicon. In "Circa Diem," my Cubist portraits of pop albums, REM's fourth album makes the cut (although the title was "corrected" by an over-zealous copy editor to read "Life's Rich Pageant"). Here it is in its entirety, and as it was first composed:


Cole Porter allusion speculation. Buck shot on the cover nevertheless. Insurgency discovery. Simian grappling the cost of murder shoes. Could base the project on bios and feedback. The curve produced follows the narrative too closely to be experiential. Nee experimental. Sample the example. Business cards to distribute randomly when the order has fucked up. All so insistent or merely the ignition. The source of John revealed subconsciously.
     Actually bury the initial remarkable. These days speed provides sentience. Name three. Trains of winter reckon a possible live bait. It can be realized. It can achieve mastery. Nod to those who live with the knowledge. Patricide is appropriate wherever you sow.
     Carbon does begin to decrease in momentum. An agreement among several parties. Fear of looking behind oneself. Revelation of certain peculiarities can bring closeness or abjection. Tonsorial narration alacrity. Idle time can sever hands.
     Always the question. Also the statement. Mood shift nightly. Would edit others when wished transcendence is found in failure. Native words announced properly create news nations. Take a picture here. Je me souviens. A proper finding the apocalypse has a lapse in it with the movement of a latter letter.
     Saves more frequently. Time ends when scavengers appear. Give a Roosevelt aphorism. Two sips to the swallow. Knitting factors. Last chance to preserve. It jams and gels.
     Latin and leave it at that.
     Ghost writing assumed. Get to the point at which it shatters. Flowers grow inside the condition. Say no to shrugs. Say it can receive. Fondness despite her politics. Vinyl caught by the speller. Buy memory when it's cheap.
     Possible trio to go. Absolut Georgics. The difference between the key to want and the lack of need. Change is belief. Young honourable and true. Other situations perfection avoidance brutality manifestos. Spirit in which was perceived. Horse gifts provide sport slippage and fertility. Greek was all to me.
     Question to come. Capital neighbour. Winks without intention. Overlook the glass I drop. Rhyme frost too wicked for good. Light strength pioneer. Trailer talk still holding court with those inferior to the shorn scalp the magic loot the quizzical paradox the pavement certitude the confidence that only the lost can exude.
     Assumed when passage was paid days of future passed. Honky tonk without purposity. Curious mammals. Has that smell that excites still. Almost left to the last. Improvident visitations. Amazing works of giants. Despair of classicism frequently. Wolves knew the presence knew whine was need. Cup of rye. Toothpick speck. All free now. An H becomes the cross that the generation bears happily. Price of fans. Three for one dollar.

I listened to REM intensely throughout the 1980s and 1990s until Automatic for the People, after which my interest declined fairly rapidly, although I would still pick up each album as they came out and references to them continued to appear in my writing: "Three Miles of Bad Road" (a nod to "Crush with Eyeliner" from Monster) became a title of a poem in Torontology, and a shout-out to "Sad Professor" (from 1998's Up album) shows up as recently as Double Helix.

Although it was primarily the lyrics of REM that intrigued and inspired me, there was also the whole mystery of the band in its early incarnation (pre-Out of Time): the strange imagery and album covers (which my high school friends and I poured over obsessively), the blurry photos and videos of the band, and the invocation of a southern gothic (which appeared to us as an odd mixture of religiosity and dark sexuality). It seemed the band evoked a whole culture that was somewhat alien, but was also what was really going on in the late 1980s politically and socially for kids in Reagan and Mulroney's North America. They were self-consciously "arty," at least compared to the heavy metal bands that we mostly listened to, but never artsy for art's sake. In fact it does say quite a bit about their common touch that they could appeal to a working class kid from Oshawa (who, for example, at that time found The Cure a little too outre), and motivate him enough to start writing poetry and experiencing "alternative" culture and politics. And, as I noted above, it wasn't just the sensitive outsider-type that REM spoke to, but to a general popular youth zeitgeist at the time. For my peer group, phrases from REM songs even became part of our shared cant. Case in point, "Feeling Gravity's Pull", a stellar track from Fables of the Reconstruction, became our choice term to describe drunkenness, as in "Hey man, are you drunk yet?" "Yeah, I'm feeling gravity's pull." The video also happens to be REM at one of their coolest points, before real fame came, and still making groundbreaking and unique sounds:

R.I.P REM, a band that, to paraphrase D. Boon, "could be [our] life."

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