Just A Touch
April 2, 2007
Somewhere on this planet (most likely in Missouri), there is a video cassette titled It Takes a Nation of Midgets to Hold Us Back. I filmed the majority of its contents on a camcorder in 1996, and it was intended to be a gift for an acquaintance of my friend Todd, who filmed everything else, and appears in most of the scenes. The idea was to show her around the Hudson Valley and (hopefully) to make her laugh. It’s a weird tape, full of goofy tangents and jokes that were probably only really funny to the two of us at that moment in time. She never actually received the tape. I held on to it for the longest time, and now Todd has it. He and I are not currently in touch, and I’ll probably never watch it again.
I mention all of this because “Just A Touch” is very prominently featured at the beginning of the tape. We kick off the movie in the same way that we began all our little adventures — riding in Todd’s Suzuki Swift down Main Street in my home town. Normally, this part of Cold Spring is very quaint and bustling with tourists from the city shopping for antiques and whatnot, but on this particular winter day, the town looks miserable, grey, empty, and nearly inhabitable. “Just A Touch” plays over the car stereo — my selection, my tape — and the contrast between its wild, cheerful tone and the bleak imagery is (unintentionally) hilarious.
“Just A Touch” is one of the rowdiest, most joyful numbers in the entire R.E.M. discography, and though it appears on 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant, it actually dates back to their pre-Chronic Town period as a party band in Athens, Georgia. If I recall correctly, it’s got something to do with Michael Stipe’s confused recollection of the day Elvis Presley died, but the lyrics are besides the point — it’s all about the spirit of the performance, and the reckless enthusiasm expressed in every moment of the recording. Stipe sounds especially unhinged, particularly toward the end when he’s totally flipping out before seeming to fall over with his final shout: “I’m so goddamn young!!!” Few songs sound as fully alive as “Just A Touch,” and if the Presley thing is true, the King couldn’t have asked for a more fitting tribute.