April 11, 2007

I really like what J. Edward Keyes had to say about this song in his excellent “Playing God” essay about Up for Stylus a few years ago:

Made almost entirely out of neon tubing, “Parakeet” hums and glows like, well, like a mechanical bird. 100% electronic piano, “Parakeet” sounds like the karaoke track to another, bigger song.

That’s a pretty accurate description of its sound, but it doesn’t quite address my favorite thing about the song — i.e., the way it twists a feeling of discomfort and dislocation into an oddly pleasurable sensation. “Parakeet” is essentially about a bird yearning for an escape from confinement and existential dread, and though it seems to find a safe haven by the end of the song, it’s pretty clear from the beginning that it’s all just a fantasy. Though the lyrics are rather bleak and hopeless, the general tone of the piece is that of pensive resignation, not despair or depression. There’s a subtle hint of contentment in both the music and the words, or at least enough to acknowledge the vague comfort of limitations, especially when they are self-imposed.

14 Responses to “Parakeet”

  1. wolfy Says:

    UP is an interesting cd. I confess I like the newer REM cd’s as much as the older ones. I like experimental music.

  2. Ian Mathers Says:

    Up is my favourite R.E.M. record, I even wrote about it the same week as Keyes did (I don’t know him in person, so I’m not sure how to refer to him!).

    What about you, Matthew? Does the album strike you as a success or failure, overall?

    I hate cola, so I’ll take the 7UP comparison as a compliment.

  3. tin Says:

    i think maybe i’ve read michael stipe saying this song is about or inspired by patti smith… he kind of likes to say that about everything though..

  4. Jerad Says:

    I remember loving this song when I heard it the first time they played it at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, DC. It was their first post-Bill show and I had just recently seen an interview with Michael (maybe on Charlie Rose) where he talked about a new song called “Parakeet” that was one of the best things he’s ever written. Of course, he always has that to say about one of the new songs. Unfortunately, I was let down when the Up version came out. The live version was based on a real acoustic piano, and I think it lost too much in the studio processing.

  5. Owen Says:

    I love Parakeet. I feel that the song is about the setting free of a beautiful bird who is tormented by mean cats, has a broken wrist, and is nearly dead. I think the thing that sets the bird free is Buddhism (Buddhas tend to broken wrists). I think Micheal is essentially a Buddhist an that meditation set him free. Now the cats are left powerless with their mouts stuck up with liqourice and have lost the ability to climb trees leaving the Parakeet to live free.

  6. Chris Says:

    Thanks for your nice interpretations. I think “Up” makes a lot of sense, and becomes a much greater album, if you see it as a musical depiction of the stages of grief. It begins with a couple of songs that deal with denial and ends with two songs about acceptance and moving on. In between are songs that deal with anger, sadness, bargaining, etc. Once I noticed that, “Up” became a great album that needs to be heard in one sitting.

  7. zozoe Says:

    I really love Parakeet, Up is still my favourite REM album, what Chris says is a great way of seeing it in its entirity – liquorice is adrenal balancer so it calms anxiety – cats or anyone else on liquorice would be chilled out and not chase anything.

  8. Pala Says:

    I like reading these.
    However it is the melodies that carry the haunting imagery too.The beguiling, dream-interpretations that become Up make it such a loveable record.Bill Berry’s departure was a positive contribution if Up was the result.Parakeet is a framed masterpiece somewhere in the REM hall.

  9. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow! I am the voice of dissent here I guess. I like the Up record and find it the most rewarding of the Pat McCarthy produced CD’s (although maybe not the most consistent set of songs) so I am not a hater, but “Parakeet” is one of the weaker songs on the CD in my opinion. I kind of have always felt it needs more instrumentation to it, that the weird keyboards are not enough to carry the song and don’t really match the songs mood exceptionally well. I haven’t heard it, but the above mention that the live version used a real piano seems to me to fit the song better – sort of a more quirky “Nightswimming”. To me that would make the song better, it needs to be more organic. Maybe the break from the traditional REM sound was just to much for me and I’ve never given the song a fair shake since (although another part of me doubts this as I love “Airportman” and REM probabaly couldn’t depart from their traditional sound more than that!).

  10. Scott Malobisky Says:

    Up ,to me, is comparable to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper in a few ways–let me try to explain–Bill departing the band is almost like the band stopping touring in the sense that there live shows will never be the same (Beatles just completely stopped touring PERIOD for other very pressing reasons ) and they know it but they are totally cool with it..and also just the laws of the universe , you just are not going to be at your prime and as hungry and brilliant as a performer forever (but they still do shows thankfully although at this point they run the risk of almost parodying themselves which is always a danger for great bands at this stage although REM is more vital than your typical great band) –your mind and point of view becomes more down to earth and your body decays; and the band is so ready to move into this new studio centered more eclectic angled and cerebral mode (when trying to imagine them working on this lp in the studio my mind keeps flashing back to scenes of the Beatles recording Sgt. Peppers except the Athens boyz ain’t chain-smoking);ok ,losing my train of thought ……anyway ,what to say about this song ? Oh well, I think this song is nothing short of phenomenal..the effect of escaping ,finding freedom, the quirkiness of the instruments and the arrangement , the “techtonic dispatcher ” lyric ( penned in Australia maybe , Brisbane’s sunny shores ?)..If Up was Sgt. Peppers this song would be For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite..there , I hope these comments aren’t TOO ridiculous. Good Night.

  11. Kirsten Says:

    I’ve never really liked this song, even though there is a reference to Australia (although I don’t live in Brisbane). I did however have a beautiful little Budgie (what American’s call Parakeets) named Billy after the great man himself…..

  12. Jason Campbell Says:

    Michael said this was inspired by an obscure answering machine message. Whoever it was kept repeating ‘Parakeet’ over and over.

    It’s my favourite REM song from my favourite REM album.

  13. JC Mulandi Says:

    REM used to file albums under elements e.g file under Water. Up should be be filed under Air. Many of the songs on the album are on an outward trajectory. Freed from previous constraint. Parakeet travels the arch from surrounding danger to atmospheric freedom. I always imagine myself at the song’s conclusion on a snow capped mountain top on crisp sun washed day.

  14. […] quasi-electronic direction — “Falls To Climb,” “Airportman,” and “Parakeet” come to mind — but “Hope” is the most elaborate and sophisticated by far. The […]

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