January 18, 2008
I wonder if, when the band settled on the name R.E.M. back in their early days, Michael Stipe had any idea that he’d end up spending the rest of his adult life writing a body of work overflowing with references to sleeping and dreams. The topic comes up in a huge number of the band’s songs, and though there’s no clear message to the motif, it’s pretty clear that Stipe finds the dream state to be a source of endless inspiration. I’m right with him on this — dreams may be our only window into the workings of our unconscious minds, and their content is arguably the result of our most intuitive, creative, and deeply mysterious thought processes. We spend a huge chunk of our lives sleeping and dreaming, and it may be foolish to write off all that time. It’s an essential part of our existence, and when we fuck up our sleep patterns, there is a clear physical and mental consequence.
“Daysleeper” is essentially a song about what happens when dreams cease to complement or complicate our lives. The character is listless and emotionally drained, and forced by circumstances to work through the night, and sleep through parts of the day. It’s a forced, artificial sleep — the blinds are pulled down, he’s got a machine to create a comforting sonic ambiance to cancel out the world outside his home. All of his time is spent moving against the nature of his body and the culture around him, and so he feels isolated and lonely. The song’s most poignant line — “I cried the other night, I can’t even say why” — suggests that he’s even become removed from his own emotions. The poor guy is a wreck, but he’s barely got the energy to notice.
The prominent crisp acoustic arpeggios and plaintive lead vocals make “Daysleeper” the most traditional song on Up, but the most essential element of the song’s arrangement is actually the droning keyboards that create the hazy ambiance of the piece, and convey the lethargy and disconnected mental state of its protagonist more effectively than any of the lyrics. The keyboards push what would have been a lovely yet sorta ordinary folk pop song into something more remarkable: A character study that places the listener right into a cramped, fluorescent-lit cubicle in the far corner of its subject’s mind.