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.

13 Responses to “Maps And Legends”

  1. Tony in NYC Says:

    So far so good. Not sure if this will help you any, but I was in a used bookstore in Athens in ’88 and purchased a book called “Life and How to Live It” written by a guy named Brivs Mekis. It’s a self-published rant of a book, really crazy stuff, with everything from farming techniques and hygiene tips to an “interracial breeding” debate. I’d imagine the song is based loosely upon it (and maybe you already knew that.)
    Either way, good luck with this.


  2. Oh wow, so you have the actual book! That’s cool. That song is definitely based on that book, Michael has told that story many times in concert, most notably on the live version of the song that’s on the bonus disc of the new IRS-era anthology.

  3. Tony in NYC Says:

    I don’t have that anthology. But the song really swings, in my opinion.


  4. Oh, it’s one of my three or four favorite R.E.M. songs. It will probably be quite a while before I get to that one.

  5. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    “Maps & Legends” is another of my favorites. As I’ve mentioned in other postings here, I love the southern gothic songs – the dark toned, mysterious songs that tend to be slower and often acoustic. To me this song has always been a great challenge asking “Is what you think you know really true?” After all “maybe the maps are legends?” Could there be a better line to call into question doubt about all that we believe? Not to make us doubt, just to question and be sure we understand. One of my personal favorites both lyrically and musically.

  6. Michael Black, Ph.D. Says:

    “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”

    I think he did. In fact, I find it amazing how Stipe seemed to “be” or become the characters on this record, adopting their eccentricities to fashion the personna that he projected at least until Green. I think it was very well-crafted, genuine, and consistent with the REM’s uncompromising ethos of self-determination.

  7. Bunnia Says:

    I feel blessed to still have my “The One I Love” single (cassette) from back in the day that has a live acoustic version of “Maps and Legends” on the back. It’s an excellent live recording and it sounds even more mysterious and dark toned then the original. Much slower. I love the album version very much, but this is the version I heard first in 1987 before backtracking and buying FOTR.

    The way Michael sings on this version is enchanting and deep from his soul. The music sounds so melodic and beautiful…

  8. 1969 Says:

    Listening to “Fables”, after probably 20 years, I have a quite different perspective. The songs seem boring and Stipe can’t sing… But at the age of 16, this music was magical!

    At the time, the radio was filled with crap. Heavy Metal or Madonna or sappy country… this was a complete breath of fresh air! The songs were introspective and intelligent.. yet southern! You felt like you were the only person listening.

    Despite my views today, this is still my favorite REM album. Reckoning a close second. All others I can care less about.

  9. transformerdog Says:

    dense , plodding , lost in a shrouded fog
    like Faulkner , that other Southern Boy


  10. Thanks for sharing this information. Really is pack with new knowledge. Keep them coming.

  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Stipe sorta mirrors Capote , from Southern Gothic to NYC Glitterati, with more of an altruistic srteak and a stronger sense of self-survival.

  12. Mr Cup Says:

    Not as self obsessed.

  13. MikeyBhoy Says:

    Possibly my 4th favourite R.E.M. song…many of my favourites are the ones with Stipe’s vocal instrument sounds….the whooooaaa after the second chorus is probably his best ever (cf. Old Man Kensey, Life and How to Live It, I Believe, Sweetness Follows, Leaving New York). He doesn’t do that so much now unfortunately.


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