"Amanita is the name..."

>> Saturday, March 05, 2011

A mood. Classic R.E.M., not an actual video but worth a listen in a background tab. "The Flowers Of Guatamala":

Not to be a downer or anything. It's such a sweet, beautiful song--but anyone who was politically aware in the 1980s won't be surprised to learn it's a song about war crimes, much along the lines of U2's gorgeous "Mothers Of The Disappeared".

I always have a hard time deciding if my favorite R.E.M. album is Life's Rich Pageant or Fables Of The Reconstruction. Part of it is that they're both such damn fine albums, the best records (I think) the band ever put out, achieving the promise of their first two albums (Murmur and Reckoning). I understood why they went for rockier, poppier sounds on subsequent albums, starting with the eclectic yet somehow unsatisfying Document, but these two records represented the band at their peak.

Maybe. A confession, or maybe more aptly a disclaimer: Fables and Pageant were the first two R.E.M. records I had. I'm not sure I should say "owned"--like a lot of middle-class kids, I checked these two out of the public library (vinyl, natch) and copied them to a cassette tape and designed my own cover loosely based on a hybridization of the original artwork. Piracy, as is often the case for a music lover, eventually led to purchase: many years later, even before I was really able to afford music purchases without sacrificing something somewhere else (are you the sort of person for whom a CD purchase was maybe more important than having money for food, so as a college student you bought a CD and then purchased dozens of packages of instant ramen? Yeah, me too), I purchased official copies on compact disc.

The original cover artwork for Pageant had clever alternate titles for all of the songs, but the first CD edition mixed them all up for no good reason. This irritated me. I mentioned it to an artist friend and she made the mistake of offering to scan the back cover using the scanner she had hooked up to her then-spiffy computer (it was prolly a 486, remember when) and fixing it for me; she'd go in with whatever art software she was using, probably a now-ancient (then cutting-edge) version of Photoshop and moving things around for me. This was sometime in the 1990s, you know? How could I say no, aside from the fact I maybe should have. A few weeks after I got the CD back I noticed one of the songs had an altered alternate title: "This is a bitch. You owe me." Come to think of it, I probably still do.

I still think of those two albums, Pageant and Reconstruction, as being the perfect driving music, especially driving through the mountains, along with Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session; it's probably an echo of road trips up to the mountains in high school in a friend's ancient VW microbus listening to those records on cassette, or subsequent trips in college (many of them in the same microbus) listening to those albums on CD. The weather's getting warmer again, eventually, and Spring is around the corner and maybe it's time to head into the mountains with a bunch of CDs, or perhaps just an iPod with those CDs ripped to it. Technology changes faster than the mountains do... or one's taste in music, it might seem.


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