How did I not notice this until just now, 12 years after R.E.M. retired as a band?
The first song on three consecutive R.E.M. albums includes the word “song” in the title. It can’t be a coincidence! It also can’t mean much other than just being a goofy little thing, so probably not worthy of a Dan Brown novel (what happened to him, anyway?)
Finest Worksong (Document, 1987)
Pop Song 89 (Green, 1988)
Radio Song (Out of Time, 1991)
Did the word “song” appear in any of their other song titles?
It’s now been 12 years (!) since R.E.M. packed it in. Their first album, Murmur, was released 40 years ago (!) when vinyl was more than hip, it was one of only two real formats for buying music (the other was cassette tape–the kind that any tape deck eventually ate).
Here is my re-revised list of R.E.M. albums–from #1 to #15.
First, the chronological list of albums as released:
Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985
Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986
Out of Time, 1991
Automatic for the People, 1992
New Adventures in Hi-fi, 1996
Around the Sun, 2004
Collapse Into Now, 2011
My 2023 ranking (numbers indicate position relative to the 2013 ranking):
Automatic for the People, 1992 (-)
Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986 (-)
Murmur, 1983 (+2)
Monster, 1994 (-1)
Out of Time, 1991 (+4)
New Adventures in Hi-fi, 1996 (+1)
Green, 1988 (+6)
Reckoning, 1984 (-2)
Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985 (-1)
Collapse Into Now, 2011 (-6)
Up, 1998 (+3)
Document, 1987 (-1)
Accelerate, 2008 (-3)
Reveal, 2001 (-2)
Around the Sun, 2004 (-)
Only three albums didn’t change positions, and they are at the extremes: #1, 2 and 15.
The gap between #14 (Reveal) and #15 (Around the Sun) is the biggest between any two albums. ATS is easily the worst album R.E.M. put out. It should probably be at #20.
The biggest slide is Collapse Into Now, their final album, dropping from #4 all the way to #10. It’s a fine album and a worthy send-off, but it just doesn’t shine as bright as the others ahead of it, in retrospect.
Four of the bottom five albums are four of their last five–not a good trend for a long-lived band!
Green leaps from #13 to #6. Why? While it may not have been the band’s artistic peak, it captures them in an experimental mood, expanding their sound and–importantly–sounding like they are having a lot of fun while doing it. Especially after Automatic for the People, the band appeared to have sent its collective sense of humour into the universe’s largest black hole.
Murmur and Monster, despite being very different albums, are basically interchangeable, ranking-wise.
Sometimes I like it when R.E.M. rocks out (Monster), and sometimes less so (Accelerate), although to be fair, the latter is an excellent album to jog to.
If the second half of Up (#11) was stronger, it would probably rank near the top five.
In hindsight, Document is a good but not great album. I feel like the band was shifting gears and the album catches them midway through. If you think of it as the first half of Green, it makes more sense, in a way.
Also, when you look at the albums in chronological order, you may ask yourself: Did R.E.M. alienate a large part of its fan base with Monster being the follow-up to Automatic for the People? Yes, yes they did! Observe:
Monster (which I think is one of their most inventive and creative albums–if you like that feedback-laden, wall of sound approach) was the utter opposite of Automatic. It still sold well, probably propelled at least in part by momentum.
New Adventures in Hi-fi probably hit many people as a weird blend of the previous two albums, with loud rockers like on Monster, combined with hushed meditations like on Automatic–and being neither fish nor fowl, it began their first real decline in sales.
Up: With Bill Berry (drummer) leaving the band, they began to experiment more openly, using sequencers, drum machines and noodling around with atmospherics, resulting in an album that was part R.E.M. and part whatever-they-were-turning-into.
Reveal is a weird one, too. It mixes sunny, Beach Boys-style songs with classic R.E.M. (“Imitation of Life”) and goes fully experimental on other songs, like “Saturn Return”. The production is intricate, and the sound is dense. This is not an album designed to hit the top of the pop charts.
Around the Sun: Or “What a band completely uninterested in being a band anymore when they are 3/5ths of the way through a record contract sounds like.” This one managed to put off everyone: the experimentation was replaced by a bunch of limp songs that generated no heat, didn’t sound like classic R.E.M.–or any other version–and featured lyrics by Michael Stipe that were so straightforward they were just bland. An impressively lacklustre outing.
The last two albums turned things around, preventing them from destroying their legacy, but it was pretty obvious after Collapse Into Now that they were done.
Today, Nic and I went birding at Reifel Bird Sanctuary and Boundary Bay (I’ll have a separate post on the outing soon™) and the weather was unusually nice (it got up to 17C in New Westminster, breaking the old record by two degrees). It was lovely and sunny and even though I wore pants and a jacket, I managed to get a mild sunburn on the one part of me that was exposed–the back of my neck. The last time I got a sunburn in March was never, so hooray for climate change!
Still, I’d rather get burned a little now and be reminded to wear sunblock on future sunny days before it gets summer-like, and the potential burn is much more intense. I just didn’t expect that reminder to happen while it was still officially winter.
R.E.M. famously knocked their own song, “Shiny Happy People”, dismissing it as a “children’s song” with the implication that this somehow made it less worthy than their more serious fare.
And R.E.M. got VERY serious with the albums that followed the release that featured this song (1991’s Out of Time). The zany R.E.M. was dead, replaced by the self-important band that was happy (!) to leave behind any sense of playfulness. Instead, we got Around the Sun.
But prior to 1992’s (actually excellent) Automatic for the People, R.E.M. wasn’t afraid of being light and silly, with songs like this or “Stand” (1988) or “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine”) (1987).
That said, while I still find the song an effervescent pop gem, I have to admit the video is a bit cringy. Peter Buck looks vaguely uncomfortable every time you see him. Bill Berry is hamming it up and having a good ol’ time. Mike Mills is earnestly pitching in on a stand-up bass. Kate Pierson (of The B-52s) is slinky and fabulous. Michael Stipe is dressed in clothes that look randomly collected from a thrift store and is wearing a weird backwards cap (his hat phase).
Things get interesting at about the 2:43 mark when a bunch of people appear alongside the band to shimmy and shake their way through the rest of the video. It’s an eclectic mix of people, the clothes have a clear earl;y 90s vibe. and…wait, that mix of people isn’t as eclectic as it first seems. If you look, there are a lot of young college-age guys dancing around. In fact, if you were casting a movie about a bunch of young college guys, you’d have them right here, ready to go. Why do I get the feeling that Michael Stipe hand-picked each one of them? That rascal.
Here’s the video. Judge for yourself!
UPDATE: Nic offered a perfect description: “That video is precisely calibrated to make 90s bisexuals explode”
Here’s what I consider the prime example: Purple t-shirt guy with some sort of beret (?). He seems VERY happy (and look at Bill Berry in the background. He is clearly grooving).
On February 2, 2005 I wrote my first post on this blog. You can read it here (it’s a mere single paragraph): Bloggity blog blog
In fact, why even make you click? Here it is, in its entirely:
I was the last one to get bell bottom jeans in grade 5 and now I’m the last person on the Internet to have a blog. Hooray for me! As you may have guessed, I am using WordPress for my blogging needs. An apparent feature of WordPress is relentless self-promotion as witnessed by the three separate links for the software on this very page. I’ll be culling a few soon and adding some other links that might prove interesting or not.
Me, February 2, 2005
Not exactly a fascinating debut, but actual interesting writing eventually made its way to the site.
Here are some 2005 fun facts:
Facebook didn’t exist
Twitter didn’t exist
Netflix existed but only rented out DVDs
Blockbuster still existed
The current version of Windows was Windows XP
I had hair (I would keep it for six more years)
I was 40 years old, which seems a almost kind of young now (scary)
Today, I came across a story about an even older blog–https://kottke.org/. He has a billion more posts than me, has had an actual impact on the web (he created the permalink!) and has been on TV. It made me wonder what sort of impact my blog and its 4280 posts has had on the world, and whether that matters.
I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as the blog entertains me, or serves some kind of useful function for me (I think it does). But I do sometimes ponder about starting up another blog with a tighter focus (reworking this site would seem to almost go against the chaotic randomness of it). But the problem with going with a tighter focus is…my brain tends to wander all over the place. Imagine it with legs and a cute little suitcase. I write, I draw, I take photos, I run, I ponder, I make lists, I post things I find amusing or stupid. I complain (I have long-struggled to minimize the latter).
And in the end, I never do make that other more focused site, because I am not a focused person. At least not yet. Let’s see if I am for the 25th anniversary of this blog. Only seven years to go!
I have a folder for blog ideas in Obsidian (my latest attempt to unify my note-taking with a platform-agnostic solution) and this is what I wrote for reference:
Jurassic World movies
16 Avatar sequels
Am I suffering blockbuster fatigue? Let’s find out!
One small pandemic changes everything
Another topic I pondered was how the pandemic cured me of going to the theatre to see movies. In early March 2020 a friend and I went to see Onward, which was a perfectly cromulent second-tier Pixar movie. A week or so later, all theatres shut down and by the end of March Onward was already streaming on Disney+. It would be a long time before theatres opened again.
Before that happened, I got a mirrorless camera (January 2021) and Nic and I substituted birding for going to movies. I find the birding a lot more enjoyable:
We get outside
You don’t have to be quiet for multiple hours, which is a weird way to socialize when you think about it
Birds are neat! And real!
I enjoy going out and shooting photos in a general sense
Most stuff ends up on a streaming service or can be rented on-demand just a few months later (or even sooner)
Now that theatres are open again, I have no desire to go back, because birding is better and I’m fine waiting for big releases to come to streaming later (or skipping them entirely). Why is that? Let’s go through my bullet list in order.
Dinosaurs went extinct, dinosaur movies refuse to die
Jurassic World movies
I saw the original Jurassic World in 2015. To me, it felt like a basic retread of the original, albeit with the twist of adding “What if they actually opened the park, THEN everything went wrong?” but with unappealing or uninteresting characters. It also felt a bit mean-spirited and cynical. I had no interest in seeing the sequel Dark Kingdom, and even the usually faithful pull of nostalgia couldn’t convince me to see Dominion, either.
All three movies still made a ton of money. I just didn’t care about them anymore. They felt like product, not actual stories that needed to be told. Maybe I was becoming cynical!
IDK about MCU LOL WTF
The fact that we have an abbreviation–MCU1Marvel Cinematic Universe to the one caveperson reading this and didn’t know.–to describe Marvel movies says a lot about how they are intended to be consumed: fully and completely. I did my part, watching all the movies as soon as they came out, starting with Iron Man in 1899 and going up to Avengers: Endgame in 2019 (I also saw Spider-Man: Far From Home in theatres, but this felt more like a dénouement to everything that came before). Then the pandemic hit, though the MCU movies still released in theatres, starting with Black Widow in July 2021.
With Disney+ arriving just before the pandemic, the MCU became even more of an obligation if you wanted to keep up on all the continuity. Now you had the movies (Phases 3, 4, 5, 297, etc.), plus Disney+ series that sometimes led directly to movie plots, with TV series WandaVision leading to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being a prime example. I kept watching the movies (on streaming) and shows (also on streaming) but started to let things slide. I skipped The Eternals entirely. I have not watched Wakanda Forever, and I don’t give a flying fig about the new Ant-Man movie (which is apparently a not-uncommon sentiment).
At an undefined point, the fun of watching started to feel more like an obligation. I don’t want everything to be connected. I just want separate, entertaining stories. I don’t need Easter eggs, I want a self-contained plot that works without having to reference everything that came before it. I get that some people absolutely adore the continuity, but for me, it now feels more like a burden that gets in the way of simply enjoying the movies and shows. Also, it doesn’t help that a lot of the Marvel stuff has become fairly empty CGI spectacle, the formula well-honed and predictable.
I had to look up what the next film is (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) and it’s another that I will get around to watching eventually. Maybe.
I have a bad feeling about this
You could argue that Disney has cranked out too much Star Wars stuff–and there is merit in that argument–but the biggest issue is that after acquiring the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas, they started with a new trilogy of movies with no vision or purpose for being, other than to be more product and sell more merchandise. The first movie (a monster hit, showing the pent-up demand for more Star Wars) was a retread of A New Hope, but had some engaging new characters and held out some promise. The next two movies undid that promise, the first (The Last Jedi) by trying to deconstruct Star Wars a little too much, and the last (The Rise of Skywalker) by being a relentlessly stupid and inept piece of film-making. After that movie, I had no confidence in what Disney might do with Star Wars, so I’ve only dipped my toes in other efforts:
Rogue One. A standalone (!) story that serves as an immediate prequel to A New Hope. Pretty good.
Solo. Completely unnecessary and a mediocre movie. The first real sign that the Star Wars franchise had no firm creative control at the top.
The Mandalorian. Pretty good, actually! Set in the post-Return of the Jedi era, it riffs on the familiar, but has lapses into shameless fan service.
The Book of Boba Fett. Also known as Mandalorian Season 2.5. Just OK, really, and annoying that they tied the ongoing Mandalorian storyline into it (there’s that continuity thing again).
Obi-Wan Kenobi. Not bad, but a downer, despite the fact that I love Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi.
I’ve yet to watch Andor (which I hear is quite good, but also, understandably, also a downer). Overall, it feels like the TV part of Star Wars has fared better than the vision-free, fan service-heavy movies. Not all hope is lost, here, though I have to admit, I would still be reluctant to see a new Star Wars film in a theatre. I can’t imagine anything at this point that would spark more interest in me than, “hmm, interesting.”
James Cameron’s head in a jar to direct Avatar 17
16 Avatar sequels
I saw an interesting line about how the Avatar sequel, The Way of Water, could gross $2 billion (as of this post it’s just under $2.3 billion worldwide) and still be culturally irrelevant, and I think that’s accurate. People will watch it and its inevitable sequels. They’ll make billions of dollars, but they’ll have no real impact otherwise. They’re just big movies with dazzling effects and technology, telling familiar stories in entertaining and, dare I say–crowd-pleasing–ways. And that’s all fine! But it’s not enough to get me into a theatre because I’m way past “dazzling special effects” being a draw. Good writing may not be something sexy you can market, but it’s a lot more appealing to me now that I’m not a hormone-boosted 15-year-old. But even good writing probably wouldn’t get my butt into a theatre seat.
It might get me to check out a film on streaming, though.
In the meantime, most of my current movie-watching has been a very specific kind of nostalgia, re-watching science fiction movies of varying quality from the 70s through the 90s. I started watching Independence Day again, which in many objective ways, is a bad movie. Heck, the disaster porn doesn’t even start until 45 minutes in (1996 was a simpler time). And yet, I watch because it’s dumb, but easy to digest, with no commitments. It’s anti-MCU.
Actually, it’s probably more than I can’t focus long enough to sit down and write something. In any case, I intend to start cranking up the old writing machine in the next few days, seeing if I can hit a goal of an average of two posts per day for the month (62 total). As of right now, I am 10 posts behind. That’s a lot of McTopics. I need to get cracking.
Here’s a haiku to start. I even wrote it myself instead of outsourcing it to ChatGPT!
Time to Write
Time to get writing
Put fingers on the keyboard
Magic gushes out
First, it would be cool, if somewhat corny, if I could play the actual fiddle musical instrument.
Alas, I cannot. I can barely play a kazoo.
But I do like non-musical fiddling, and this occurred to me while I was adjusting the fonts and icons in Obsidian, two things that have no real effect on how the program works, but make it look nicer or more personal.
I mean, I love these little custom icons I added through a community plugin (certain folder names redacted). They’re cute, and also functional, because I am a visual person. And yet I have probably spent way more time fussing over them than would seem logical:
What does this say about me? That I’m a silly person? Probably. That I care about aesthetics? Almost certainly? That I am a fiddler? Oh yeah.
Yeah, it’s not spring yet, but I feel like my brain could use a good spring cleaning. Lately, I’ve been coming up empty for writing and drawing. Is it the time of year? Is it lack of sleep? Is it some other unpleasant thing in my life, like mismatched socks?
In this case, the question is: How many days until spring?
This also means we have about one more month when snow is possible, after which it becomes exceedingly unlikely through mid and late March and all but impossible by April.
Though we have had snow in April.
Also, it’s only 34 days–just over a month–until accursed Pacific Standard Time gives way to better Pacific Daylight Time. This is all to say that I’ve had my fill of winter, and bring on the warmer weather and longer days.