History Lesson (Songs) #1 – Driver 8 – R.E.M.

A good while back, I created a playlist on my MP3 player called ‘100’.  It was kind of my 100 favorite songs of all time – except I’m fickle – so it was really just 100 songs I really, really like. Over time, I would get another songs I really, really liked and just added to this list.  Eventually, the ‘100’ playlist had grown to about 113.  Occasionally, I would look at the list and make edits add or delete to suit my current fancy.  Just the other day, I whittled down the list back to 100.  Rest assured this is still not a definitive list – it will change, but it’s a good survey of some cool songs that have helped to shape my musical tastes. I would like to begin here in presenting this songs for your infotainment. Many of you will probably at least be aware of most of these songs, but you never know, and I know I sure need a memory jolt every once in awhile.  Shall we begin…

Fables of the Reconstruction (or Reconstruction of the Fables – which I always preferred)  (1985) was R.E.M.’s third album and marked a new era for the band.  They recorded in England with veteran producer Joe Boyd after recording their first two albums with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Boyd had produced Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, Nick Drake and Jimi Hendrix among others. In 1985, he also produced The Wishing Chair by 10,000 Maniacs. Maybe not coincidentally, I saw R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs together in November of 1985.

For some reason, I’ve always connected with Fables more than other R.E.M. album.  Their unique brand of Southern mysticism and Gothic charm somehow coalesced on this release. Songs like Green Grow the Rushes and Wendell Gee and especially Driver 8 felt true and relevant to me. I’ve always believed it was due to my having grown up in the South and yet always having felt like a stranger in my own land.

“And the train conductor said…” Trains have always been powerful symbols for me. At the same time, they are symbols of progress and relics of an earlier time. Train tracks were symbols of the possibility of escape and a tie to the bigger world beyond what I know.

“Fields of wheat are looking thin…”  The imagery of a train passing through fields of wheat… I grew up in a smaller town, but I usually think of myself as a city boy, but and so there is a romantic notion of farms and rural America.

“The power lines have rotors so the airplanes don’t get smashed…”  Despite all of the talk about the negative health impact of those tall, high-tension power lines, I’ve also been drawn to these towers. Like the railroad tracks, the power lines were a connection.  Growing up without the internet, and feeling the need for their to be more to the world than the little piece I knew, I needed reminders of the world outside my window. Books and music and less railroad tracks served that purpose and helped me through my young life (which in retrospect wasn’t so bad after all, but trying telling that to my younger self).

It’s been over 25 years now, and I still haven’t grown tired of this song, and now it takes me back to a world which no longer exists and to a time which is long gone.  As the Gunslinger said, “The world has moved on.”

(The song) 

 (The album)

Next up, Travelin’ Light by Peter Case