Let Me In

March 26, 2007

This was originally posted on Fluxblog on March 23, 2007.

This is for Chris, who turned 25 today. Like myself, Chris has a deep and totally unapologetic love for R.E.M.’s Monster, though our favorite songs on the album are a bit different. For me, “Let Me In” has always been the painful (emotionally, not aesthetically) dirge that I flick past in order to get from the creepy “I Took Your Name” to the creepier “Circus Envy,” but for him, it’s the high point of the entire record. As he puts it:

I tend to like songs with a big, romantic, epic longing to them, but who’s expressing that longing matters. It shouldn’t be showy; it needs to come from a voice or narrator who doesn’t always let these things out. Which is definitely Stipe. I just like that the song is so fuzzy and odd, in both sound and lyric, and then that one long keening note just slices through it, followed by that simple, powerful statement.

He’s not wrong. The guitar on the album version is almost too much for me to handle sometimes. The tone, attack, and mixing level is extremely atypical for R.E.M., and though it’s not the weirdest performance you’ll ever hear, it certainly feels like an enormous weight bearing down on the listener and the singer, alternately representing Stipe’s gnawing grief, and the vast chasm separating himself and the person being addressed in the lyrics. The dense, crashing chords are distracting and seem to interrupt or drown out his sincere, understated sentiment, but that’s exactly the point — he needs to sing around, or through, this wall of emotional noise.

“Let Me In” has barely been played live since the end of the Monster tour, though it was reprised with a radically different arrangement during the band’s performance at the Bridge School benefit in the fall of 2001. The new version replaces the heavy electric guitar and distant organ of the original with uneasy acoustic strumming and a subtle melodic counterpoint on a vibraphone, or something rather similar. The effect of the song is altered considerably, implying that time has distanced him from the intense emotions of the studio recording, but that he’s still recovering from the loss eight years later.

15 Responses to “Let Me In”

  1. legislob Says:

    Is that Bridge School version available anywhere? I love that song and I’d be very interested in hearing the different arrangement.

  2. ozon Says:

    Fantastic track. Legislob, the ‘Bridge School version’ (not sure if it was actually recored at Bridge School though)was on the 2001 fanclub single. I can hook you up with a recording, if you contact me at flor.vandereycken@gmail.com

  3. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Many of you probably already know this but “Let Me In” was written for Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Michael and Kurt had become friends of a sort after Nirvana’s rise to superstardom as they respected each other’s music (Cobain famously said he wanted Nirvana’s follow album to In Utero to sound a lot like Automatic For The People) and drive to do it their own way. Kurt would sometimes turn to Michael for advice on handling his newfound star status. So, during Kurt’s spiral into further drug use and depression that led to his suicide, Michael heard rumors of Kurt’s slide and repeatedly tried to get in contact with him, only to repeatedly fail. “Let Me In” is Michael’s plea to Kurt to let him help him through this dark time. The massive wall of distortion that roars throughout this song is a great symbol of the problems, troubles, and distance that were walling Kurt off and keeping him from getting help. So, on that note “Let Me In” is an unqualified success, it captures a mood and situation painfully perfectly in music. That, however, does not make this song an easy one to listen to. The wall of sound buries the melody and simply makes it hard to listen, and the honest and open pain in the lyrics and the way Michael sings them can be difficult as well. A masterpiece of music as art and metaphor, but not neccessarily a pleasant song.

  4. Keith Says:

    I saw REM on the Monster tour in Foxbor way back when and well… Let me In has always gotten to me (for the Kurt thing), but when I looked closely at the stage and saw Mike Mills (they had switched instruments) playing Kurt’s guitar strung upside down, I almost lost it. Holy crap….

  5. Hoainam Says:

    The guitar given to Peter Buck/Mike Mills from Courtney Love was the Fender Jagstang. This was a prototype guitar developed by Fender specifically to respond to Kurt’s request for a guitar that mated the neck of a Fender Jaguar to the body of a Fender Mustang. By most accounts, however, Kurt wasn’t too pleased with the Fender’s efforts and the Jagstang saw little use.

    Peter Buck told Guitar World magazine that the sound on Let Me In is unique in that the guitar was run through several plate reverb units, creating the dissonant and decidedly atypical R.E.M. guitar sound. The original, dry guitar sound was mixed way down which pretty much unmoors the sonic landscape, producing the lonely and angry “floating in a vacuum” sound that defines the song.

    Let Me In is a mover all right, though it doesn’t get much airplay in my house. It certainly provides a fitting coda to the changing of the guard (Republican Congress, corporate radio, dot com bubbles) that occurred in the mid-90s.

  6. iggy Says:

    One of my favorite parts from a documentary on REM about the Monster album and tour is when Peter Buck describes how he’s going for a “roller rink sadness” with the organ sound on “Let Me In.” Cool description.

  7. Xtal Says:

    As much as I love R.E.M., I’ve barely played Monster due to what now appears as a childish resentment against their departure from their previous sound. I didn’t start to warm to it until after seeing R.E.M. tour in 1999 and hearing Crush with Eyeliner played live.

  8. huub Says:

    The great thing about Let me in is that’s it’s not only a song for Cobain, it’s one of the most intense, sad and catching songs (together with radioheads ‘no surprises’) that I know of. Maybe I also love it because I have the strange combination of loving both REM and all kinds of metal music, but it’s just so full of rage and desperate feelings, I personally can’t understand how you couldn’t being touched by it.

    This being sad, I like the other version mentioned earlier to. It helps you to listen better to the original

  9. Jacob Says:

    Man, I haven’t listened to Monster in ages, most likely because I listened almost exclusively to REM for about five years. Regardless, I’ve always felt like it got a bad rap. When I was a kid, though, I sort of lost interest toward the last third of the album and…how, I don’t know, because, while I didn’t much like “Let Me In” at the time, now–Jesus Christ, it could easily be the best song on the entire album. And I noticed for the first time the very Cobain-like “yeah yeah yeah yeah”s near the end…

  10. transformerdog Says:

    the tar lyric is cool, one of a couple of tar references by Stipe in their recording history..thinking that there is a third perhaps ,that I am missng.not sure. Are his feet sopping with tar or is there just a couple of drops between the toes maybe? Combined with the following bird lyric I get a mental image of a sea gull that landed in wet tar up to it’s hyperextened knees , and now it can’t fly, stuck there chirping and crying haplessly but noone hears..VERY SAD AND VERY LONELY feeling to this song—devastatingly distressing and gloomy , another image I get is of a merry go round going round and round with noone on it in a deserted carnival with that organ droning on forever as the unnoticed doll lids of Miss Sylvia click shut behind the cotton candy stand .Brilliant unique and underrated just like this record (when one thinks of it in the right way).. Cool point Iggy, ’bout the roller rink sadness; roller rinks and carnivals and fairs can be sad in a next morning Vegas sorta way. (what , PB PLAYED the organ there ?)

    Another cool tar lyric : Mr.Mojo Risin’: from Run With Me
    “The engine runs on fuel and tar..” Too bad engines don’t run on fuel and tar –huh ?-

  11. transformerdog Says:

    a driverless ice cream truck parked by the side of the road on an empty highway by a desolate field, engine running and bells and music playing as the unattended snow cones melt, suicide note found in the truck by the brake,..”Mere words could not explain the formula men downstairs dredging sun from tinkered wood.” The driver lays dead of a gunshot wound in the field.

  12. Mr Cup Says:

    I love this song.
    It has to played loud.
    Very loud.


  13. […] Birthday Note: This post marks the first anniversary of this blog’s first entry, and also the 20th birthday of my little brother Andrew. This song is for him. Posted by […]

  14. Sergio Says:

    What does define REM music? I’ve always thought of that since I heard “Document”.

    Nowadays, with “Accelerate” and all this ideas: it sounds like “Reckoning”, like “Fables” or even more like “Final straw meets Bad day”, I began to question myself again with “What does define REM?”.

    I think that “Let me in” describes it at its best: the scenes represented in every REM photo or video (they haven’t changed so much). So if you can identify that-kind-of-emotion every image shows us, you should always think “Let me in” as one of REM trademark songs.

    Another trademark songs? Country feedback, Sing for the submarine, Camera, Don’t go back to Rockville, World leader pretend, I believe, and even the Dark globe cover.

    Not trademark songs? Untitled, Electrolite, Tongue, We walk and possibly most of “Reveal”.

  15. Christina Says:

    I heard REM at the Hollywood Bowl last night May 29th and Let Me In was absolutely amazing. Not like you hear it in it’s original version. I hope this new version can be made available. It has such an ethereal quality to it. It is absolutely beautiful. My husband is a big REM fan, I like their music be the performance of Let Me In last night, brought tears to my eyes. It was so beautiful.


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