Album: Automatic For The People
. . .
File Under Ocean
“Find The River” just might be my favorite R.E.M. song.
At the very least, it’s on the shortlist of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, R.E.M. Division.
That said, unlike the two titans that immediately precede it on the album, I don’t have all of the words memorized, instead, I just really love “Find The River” as an incredibly beautiful piece of music.
A lovely piece of music, that like all of Automatic For The People, was administered in this world, among others, by Unichappel Music.
“Find The River” starts off just an acoustic guitar, accompanied by what I think is a melodica played by Bill Berry, as well as an organ and piano, as Stipe sings to a “little speedyhead” about the responsibilities that accumulate as one grows older — no more nightswimming for you, speedyhead — and then as the drums kick in, the insanely gorgeous chorus kicks in.
Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way
Watch the road and memorize
This life that passed before my eyes
And nothing is going my way
What makes it for me is the wordless backing vocals of Mike Mills and Bill Berry. According to Mills this was a reprise of an experiment that they tried all the way back on “HarborcOat” in which, rather than singing together, they would record their backing vocals with knowing what the other one was doing.
And the result is spectacular: Mills high and keening; Berry low and supporting, together underscoring Michael Stipe as he sings in his most emotional voice.
At the end, they extend the chorus until Stipe runs out of words, and it is almost too fucking beautiful for words, especially with Mills filling in space — but not too much space — on the piano in between nearly every line. It’s not quite the tour de force of his playing on “Nightswimming,” but it’s pretty fucking close.
The river to the ocean goes
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of Ginger, lemon, indigo
Coriander stem and rose of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naiveté
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way
I mean, I have no idea what “of river poet search naivete” means, but I didn’t know what “pilgrimage has gained momentum” meant, either, which didn’t stop me from utterly loving it every time it came around.
“Find The River” has been interpreted as being about death, but I’m going to be optimistic, as I’ve always chosen to think of it as being about finding your path in life, which in 1992. I still hadn’t.
It was also perfect as closing song of Automatic For The People, because in the era of putting CDs on endless repeat, the final hushed acoustic strums actually set up the opening hushed acoustic strums of “Drive,” and before you knew it, I was listening to the whole thing again.
“Find The River”
“Find The River” live in Koln, 2001
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