Maps And Legends
April 5, 2007
More than half of the selections on Fables of the Reconstruction are preoccupied with the behavior of mysterious older men. These tracks fall into two major categories — sentimental portraits of obscure eccentrics, or detached observations of unknowable characters. “Maps and Legends,” the band’s tribute to their onetime collaborator the Reverend Howard Finster, belongs in the former category. Finster is portrayed as a somewhat mystical loner, and though Michael Stipe is clearly humbled and awed by his gifts, his fascination seems entwined with a vague sense of alienation. Despite the fact that he is presented as something of a visionary (“he sees what you can’t see, can’t you see that?”), Stipe seems to mainly admire Finster for his status as a self-possessed outsider. Though Michael clearly identifies with Finster on some level, it’s difficult to tell whether or not he intended this meditation on the allure of the enigmatic artist to mirror the way his own fans and critics responded to his work and public persona at the time the song was written.