Gardening At Night

May 30, 2007

Michael Stipe’s voice on the Chronic Town version of “Gardening At Night” coats the song like a patch of damp, soft moss. The words are there, but he seems more intent on conveying the images of his lyrics through texture and ambiance rather than clean enunciation. The alternate version found on Eponymous trades the soft-focus femininity of the EP mix for a louder, punkier take that comes closer to how Michael sang the song live, but isn’t much of an aesthetic improvement. The change does little to damage the essential appeal of the song — simply put, the melodies are gorgeous — but the more aggressive vocal shakes off a bit of the mystery and the romance.

23 Responses to “Gardening At Night”

  1. Ignis Sol Says:

    I heard the “Eponymous” version first. To me, it is the definitive version. I finally heard the “Chronic Town” original a bit later and I was shocked at how high Michael was singing it. The later cut provides the vocal muscle that strangely compliments the jangle-jangle of Peter Buck’s guitar. Most impressive is the tale of how it was written on a mattress in a yard.

    There is a version of this song on a vinly album I bought in Portland Oregon. The album details the “new wave of rock” or something silly like that. It also features the Pylons and Billy Bragg among others.

    Is it just me or does “Gardening” have similiarites with The Cure’s (or Dinosaur Jr’s version of) “Just Like Heaven.” My ear picks it up.

  2. I don’t know about that, but my friend informed me recently that “Disturbance at the Heron House” has the same chord progression as “Gardening At Night.”

  3. >I heard the “Eponymous” version first. To me, it is the definitive version.

    I’m in the same situation with Finest Worksong.

  4. Ahhhh, I’ll be dealing with that one fairly soon!

  5. Kirsten Says:

    I prefer the Chronic Town version. Michael’s voice is just so intoxicating, the way it just vibrates throught the speakers. His voice is so quiet, withdrawn and pulled into itself, it’s just haunting and sets the mood perfectly for the song.
    Chronic Town mystifies me on how what are essentially just a bunch of inexperienced kids, could write something with such an indescribable, experimental sound. Bands with years of experience would be lucky to come anywhere near the brilliance of Chronic Town….

  6. drew Says:

    it was so strange to hear the band do this one at the recent rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame show, every lyric crystal clear. time distills the ambience, if not exactly the mystery. ditto kristen’s comments: i remember ever so fondly those circa 1983 bootlegs from places like merlins in madison … what a strange strange wonder REM must’ve been.

  7. dan Says:

    Re: the Hall of Fame performance — the lyrics to this song are pretty good, but I sorta hate hearing them.

    I’ve heard variations of that opening riff in an assortment of other artists’ songs over the years, but none pull it off as joyously as R.E.M.

  8. Eclipse Says:

    for a long time, this was my favorite REM song. part of its great appeal to me was the mystery and randomness of the lyrics. for me as well the Eponymous version of this is the definitive version… i need to hear Stipe’s voice rock this one out. the soft version just seems too buried, to me.

    also, there’s something about this song that to me also hearkens to “Sitting Still” – something about the deep-south-ness of it, the turns of phrase and the evocation of old wooden barns and overgrown trees. i’ve listened to both of these songs on repeat many, many times.

  9. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I love the mumbled mystery of the Chronic Town version best myself, although the recut of it for Eponymous with clearer lyrics I’ve always felt was somewhat appropriate as Eponymous is sort of a “greatest hits” of sorts, or more accurately “here’s what you missed so far” for fans who jumped on about the time of “The One I Love”, “It’s The End of the World” or “Stand”. Hence, if you are trying to reach a new more mainstream audience the cleaner vocals while robbing the song of some of its mystery and beauty also makes sense in a way. I always thought that this song would have fit in beautifully on either Murmur or Reckoning. Very good song. I also have to agree that Chronic Town in general is wonderful and haunting and most bands can only achieve such craft after many albums, if ever. It is indeed amazing what REM did so early on.

  10. Bree Says:

    Just the phrase “gardening at night” evokes an image for me that is the epitome of REM: the impossible grace to work the earth, to cultivate and attempt to grow something in the absence of light.

  11. Clive Says:

    A great song. I’ve always felt the ‘Eponymous’ version would have fitted in better on Chronic Town because of the cleaner production, maybe Michael should have done another take on the vocals as, although his voice sounds great, it’s a half hearted effort especially during the ‘the neighbours go to bed at ten’ part.
    In terms of longetivity and mystique the Chronic Town version is far superior, I’m just not too keen on the muddy production of it (although maybe that’s what makes it what it is). I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to have heard a compromise between the two i.e. the ‘Eponymous’ version with more dedicated vocals and more backwards guitars during the break to add a touch more texture to it.

  12. Patrick Says:

    South African author Diane Awerbuck’s debut novel was called “Gardening at Night”. It’s a great book, with the same uneasy grace of the song.

    As an aside, are there any other artistic works titled for R.E.M. songs/lyrics?

    The Amazon link for the book is below if anyone is interested:

  13. Patrick Says:

    I love the acoustic version of Gardening at Night. Raw beauty.

  14. Martijn Says:

    I like the live version that appeared as a bonus track on some versions of Murmurs best, probably for the same reason some others prefer the Eponymous one: it’s the first I heard.
    It’s definitely one of my favourite R.E.M. songs, sweet, mysterious, cinematic (shot on very old film, not digitally).

  15. David Says:

    Oh,come on,your not trying. This is “Gardening at Night”!,both tried and true and holding up strongly for more than 25 years. You start out wonderfully with the talk of moss, but then you fall asleep before the half review is over. The song deserves more.

  16. James Says:

    Martijn –

    Michael Stipe’s vocals are notably softer on that live version, compared to the two studio versions. His performance enhances the song’s melody quite a bit, as a result, at least to my ears. The studio versions are heavy with rhythm, but that acoustic GAN places more emphasis on the melody instead. It shows a different side of what R.E.M. (and Stipe) were capable of.

  17. I can’t promise a huge word count for every song. I gave this one some thought, and I really had little to say about it. It’s got nothing to do with the quality of the song. There’s two big entries coming up soon, and one is a major song that I’m sure some people might expect even more from, and the other is a big personal favorite that I’m sure not too many other people will care about.

  18. David Says:

    I understand. I feel like I could write for days about “New Orleans Instrumental #1,” but I would be at a loss for two words about “Windout, or for that matter, the more popular “Losing My Religion.” After all, what’s not been already said about the latter. The extraordinary “moss” type descriptions are fabulous, and describe the feelings that many, like myself, are unable to put into words. Thanks for the great effort in such a monumental undertaking. I look forward to more of the same.

  19. 2fs Says:

    I get what people are saying about the Eponymous version (by the way: I’m pretty sure the two versions are in the same key – so Stipe’s not singing any higher in the CT version, just that the lighter, falsetto approach gives the effect of being higher-pitched). But for me, the CT version is definitive. Stipe rarely sung that way, a sort of hushed mystery, as if he’s not sure what it is he’s discovered – and he wants to share it, but he’s not sure that sharing it might not ruin it, so he shares it quietly, but enthusiastically.

    The thing about early R.E.M. is that all this was pre-internet…so if you wanted to know the words, you had to figure them out yourself. But by that time, you probably knew the song so well anyway, that even if you’d bothered figuring out actual words for the songs, what they really were were primarily the sounds, including the sounds of Stipe’s singing, and the meaning arose from all of that, rising without effort like mist in the morning (or, sometimes, like smoke from a fire) – even if as vague and ungraspable as the metaphors imply.

    See: dammit, thinking about this music makes me write like that. Can you tell I’m in love?

  20. Bandwagon03 Says:

    I always have loved “Gardening at Night”, to me it embodies what early REM was about: Nice Melodies, catchy hooks, strange lyrics with great imagery (although not making a lot of sense), and mumbles.

    I agree with other posters too, WOW what a album!

  21. Scott Malobisky Says:

    Anybody at the October 11, 2003 Atlanta show ? Did a “special encore ” after the regular encore since it was their “home town” and “the last show of the tour” and “to thank all the fans that have been with us from the beginning back when we were this shitty little band”…Mr.Slinky proceeded to take his shirt off thus further providing further proof of his svelte slinkiness as the fired up gentleman beside me kept exhorting, “Take it all off, take it all off !!!”..(I love Michael but not that much)…….The band then launched into this song followed without hesitation by ‘Wolves Lower’ WHICH WAS GREAT…and then , I think, ‘Radio Free Europe’with the provocative intro of Stipe yelling ,” You all better sing along to this or we’re going to be F#$^&***ING PISSED !!” , or something like that,which almost completely segued into Sitting Still, would have been an official segue if not for Stipe announcing rather matter-of -factly that “this song is for my sister..” All in all a really cool night…

  22. presentense Says:

    Hi, new to write here. Isn’t there 3 versions of Gardening at Night? The live chronic town, Eponymus, and the Best of the IRS version? I think the IRS version is best, the vocals are barely audible and much lower.

  23. DJ Says:

    This is my sisters favorite REM song. When they were taking website requests, this was hers, and when she saw them at MSG they played it in the encore. For that reason it has some value to me. Other than that it is a nice early period song. What it might truly be about
    I have no clue, but that is part of the fun with early REM because I have my own meaning for this song that nobody else would understand

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