Can’t Get There From Here

May 23, 2007

When I sing along to this song, and I often do, I always do the Mike Mills half of the chorus. I don’t think I’ve ever once even tried to do the Michael Stipe part — it seems counter-intuitive, like I’d be swimming against a strong tide. Mills’ part sits comfortably in my range, flows nicely along with the forward momentum of its rhythm, and seems to demand group participation by design. As the song charges ahead, Stipe’s charming yokel character moves at his own pace, contradicts conventional wisdom, and stands in the place where he lives. We’re not supposed to relate to him; we’re the ones who got lost in the places in between our destinations.

Peter Buck’s parts on “Can’t Get There From Here” are inspired, and benefit greatly from a guitar tone that emphasizes the fact that’s he’s really just plucking strings made out of metal. The clicka-clicka sound on the verses remind me of the polished chrome of a vintage car, and the arpeggiated section leading up to the chorus always makes me think of power lines passing overhead on a country road.

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36 Responses to “Can’t Get There From Here”

  1. morewordsaboutmusic Says:

    Fantastic guitar on this song…the rhythm through the verses is irresistably danceable, and I don’t think it’s a dance our hillbilly narrator would approve of.

  2. Ignis Sol Says:

    Very nice: >We’re not supposed to relate to him; we’re the ones who got lost in the places in between our destinations

  3. transfersystem Says:

    Great continued work, Matt. You have now listed here, along with “Stand” and “Maps and Legends,” the greater part of the band’s songs from the earlier years that always put me in mind of the poet Wallace Stevens… I’m sure it was just the fact that I was studying poetry in college in the latter mid-80’s that I always immediately connected REM songs with Stevens’ poems that described a “rage for order,” or ways to arrange places, landscapes and directions in correlation with our perceptions. Or as Wiki puts it, “…the tension between the shapes we take as the world acts upon us, and the ideas of order that our imagination imposes upon the world.” So went almost all of my earlier thoughts of what the band might be saying; I’ve never really put that into words until now.

  4. 1969 Says:

    Not sure if I can do this…Maybe the first video I ever saw from REM. On MTV’s “120 minutes”

  5. Alex Ezell Says:

    This may be Philomath, GA’s only claim to fame. I’ve been there. Trust me on this.

  6. 1969 Says:

    Question on the video above: Who is the blond haired dude with the sun glasses? Is that Mitch Easter or Don Dixon (producers)?

  7. drew. Says:

    I bought Murmur the day it came out, and Reckoning within the first week of its release. I saw the video for “Can’t Get There From Here” while eating breakfast one morning before high school. The tune stayed with me for days, and I had to wait almost three weeks for Fables to be released. Talk about torture….

  8. Andy Says:

    I’ve always thought of this as a companion piece to “Little America.” Unless I’ve been hearing the lyric wrong, they even mention Jefferson Holt again: “Loyal Jeff will know the lowdown.”

    Pretty upbeat for Fables.

  9. drew. Says:

    1969

    ….it is Jefferson Holt….


  10. You’re right that he’s referencing Jefferson Holt, but it’s not “loyal Jeff,” it’s “lawyer Jeff.”

  11. Andy Says:

    But Bertis is the lawyer, right? What’s that about?


  12. That I don’t know. I guess Lawyer Bert didn’t sound as good?

  13. Kirsten Says:

    I always found it to be a companion piece more to “Driver 8″ in terms of subject matter. Maybe even a companion to “Stand” in the catchy tune that can sometimes leave the deeper meaning unheard. I love the way Mike and Michael’s words contradict each other in the chorus, almost like an argument – Mike, of course, being more opomistic. One of my all time favourites.


  14. […] Can’t get there from Here […]

  15. Kerry Says:

    While this is certainly not one of my favorite REM songs (it’s good, just not a favorite), it has one of the most exciting bridges in any pop song I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear “Hands down…Caleche bound…” my spine tingles. Who else could write lyrics about a hardpan soil condition, and make it work?

  16. Bunnia Says:

    “This may be Philomath, GA’s only claim to fame. I’ve been there. Trust me on this.”

    Alex, is this the place on ATHENS, GA./INSIDE-OUT where Michael was visiting the elder black reverend, Rev. John D. Ruth and his wife? After they sang a song I think Michael said he was inspired by this place and the people there and was in the process of writing a song about it. I think it’s this song.

    ~Testify~

    This is a great song! I absolutely love the first few lines. Yet another positive number by R.E.M. The music is sort of funky (to me) and I really like the horns at the end. Everything!!!

    Brother Ray sing my song…

  17. bryan charles Says:

    this is one of a few tracks off Fables that just never really worked for me. better than “Old Man Kensey” in my opinion but something about it irks me, i think it’s actually that main guitar part, too funky for my tastes. the chorus improves it but after many, many listens giving it yet another chance i finally started to skip it.

  18. James Says:

    CGTFH has one line I’ve never been able to make sense of. Michael sings something like “Trish is sure to shirr the deers in…” For all of the talk about non-linear Stipean lyrics and inscrutability, I can usually figure out at least what words he’s singing, and add my own meaning. This line, though, gets the big cosmic “What the?!?!” from me!

  19. inverarity Says:

    This used to be fans’ most-hated REM track. Glad to see that’s no longer the case. I love it, anyway, as the leavening to REM’s best album. I love the rhythm of Stipe’s sermon at the end: “Go on ahead, Mr. Citywide, hypnotize, suit and tie / Gentlemen, testify!”

  20. Kirsten Says:

    James,
    I think the line is “Kick the clay that holds the teeth in”. But I’m open to criticism on that…

  21. Matt Desmond Says:

    Guess I’m old school, ’cause I still can’t really like this one. Catchy, but sticks out like a sore thumb on Fables. I guess I love that album for its impenetrable murk; I can’t handle a happy song with horns in the middle of it.

  22. James Says:

    Kristen –

    That line does appear in the first verse. The line I’m referring to appears in the second verse.

  23. Kirsten Says:

    Sorry James. The line I think you’re talking about I always thought was “Just be sure that she is beer bound”. Obviously, I have no idea.

  24. Patrick Says:

    When I bought Fables I played this song over and over. I would get a tingle in the spine at Peter Buck’s guitar work. Still do.

    It’s a piece of R.E.M. magic. It may well not fit in with the mood of the album, but no matter how dark things appear to be, I think R.E.M. always likes to remind us that a little happy dance can help us feel better.

  25. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow! I am surprised how many of you like this song. I have always found it to be near atrocious and a bottom 5 REM song. I hate the vocals and the way that it ruins the tone of the album.

  26. jim jos Says:

    “Can’t Get There From Here” is the “Sidewinder” or “Stand” of Fables. That is, the more light hearted fun, fun, fun song on an the album. They stick out kind of like a Ringo vocal on a Beatles album. Some are really good (“Sidewinder” and “Lotus” are two of my favorites of these, if you don’t count “End of the World”) some are the songs I am more likely to skip “SHP” and “Stand”
    I agree that it sticks out like a thumb in the eye on Fables, but I like it much, much, more amongst the greatest hits.

    But throughout the band’s amazing career they usually have had a song like this on every album. Execept perhaps the last two. Around the Sun could especially
    use something like this.

  27. jim jos Says:

    “Can’t Get There From Here” is the “Sidewinder” or “Stand” of Fables. That is, the more light hearted fun, fun, fun song on an the album. They stick out kind of like a Ringo vocal on a Beatles album. Some are really good (“Sidewinder” and “Lotus” are two of my favorites of these, if you don’t count “End of the World”) some are the songs I am more likely to skip “SHP” and “Stand”
    I agree that it sticks out like a thumb in the eye on Fables, but I like it much, much, more amongst the greatest hits.

    But throughout the band’s amazing career they usually have had a song like this on every album and as this song proves, the IRS years were no different. Except perhaps the last two albums this type of REM song was lacking. Around the Sun could especially use something like this.

  28. 2d Says:

    hmmm i do believe that for instance “wanderlust” is much more light hearted fun than the dark, almost macabre “lotus” (note: i didn’t say better)

    as for “cant get there from here”, i love the funk influences on this one, makes it pretty unique (much like the saxophone on “fireplace”). also the video has got to be one of the most fun and goofy videos, what with the popcorn throwing and birdheads and all :)

    it’s a darn pretty song and i like the fact that it stands out on fables, as thematically it belongs more than, say, “feeling gravitys pull” (again, not better, just that it’s more southern than the photmontage of dadaist images and art references). every time i hear it i just smile and shake it! :D

  29. jim jos Says:

    I see your point, “Wanderlust” is the “this type of song” from Around the Sun. And its also one of my least favorite REM songs. “Lotus” is one of my favorites and despite its subject matter, I would say that easily the most up tempo and lively song on UP, so, to me, its the “Sidewinder” or “CGTFH” or “Wanderlust” or “Stand” from that album.

    Funny, Up and Automatic I would often consider one or the other my favorite cds, so maybe there is a correlation between what I would call the “Ringo” song and how much I like the overall cd.

  30. Michael Black, Ph.D. Says:

    “Loyal Jeffrey knows the low down”, I think. As in Jefferson (Holt; former manager), who is also referenced in LIttle America “Jefferson, I think were lost.”

    Great video.

  31. Scott Malobisky Says:

    The bass is dementedly full of glee.

  32. Scott Malobisky Says:

    like Flea

  33. transformerdog Says:

    reference REM lyrics annotations to the right there.
    you know I have never enjoyed this album more
    the songs have taken on distinct personalites , come alive in a really new way for me, the imagery is really tantalizing and oddball , noticing things about the music that I never noticed before also
    even Kahoutek is blossoming into something….almost………I think…..


  34. […] Gravity’s Pull,” “Life and How To Live It,” “Driver 8,” and “Can’t Get There From Here” that it’s hard not to either notice the way it never quite gels despite containing a bunch of […]

  35. nocatfood Says:

    “Can’t Get There From Here” is, for me, one of those rare pop songs that sends a chill up my spine, yep, every time I hear it. The circular chorus just drives like a m.f., ends too soon leaving you thirsty for more of it and finishes with a heavenly trebly/jangly Byrds-like guitar. I appreciate all the lyric analysis on this site but in the end would rather just sing along in my car….LOUD!


  36. […] Reconstruction, but it’s a happy little gem that serves as a fine complement to the levity of “Can’t Get There From Here.”  The song is carried by Peter Buck’s breezy, cheery chord progressions, which is contrasted […]


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