July 2, 2007
1) Ideally, the post for “Cuyahoga” would be a field trip. I’d gather you all up and we’d go someplace beautiful on the most gorgeous day of the year. The sky would be a perfect baby blue, and it would seem enormous above us. Puffs of white clouds would hang in the air, so perfect and vivid that it would almost seem unreal. We’d be surrounded by green leaves, and water, and plants and birds and rocks and things. Anyway, we’d be there, and not here with our computers, nowhere near each other or the natural world.
2) From my review of R.E.M.’s show at Madison Square Garden on the day after George W Bush was elected to a second term:
Stipe introduced “Cuyahoga” as a song taking place in Ohio, which resulted in loud booing from all over the arena. Still, there was loud applause every time he sang the line “let’s put our heads together and start a new country up,” which was more reassuring. On my way out of the arena, I overheard two guys who looked like ex-frat dudes talk about how great it was that Michael didn’t talk much because they can’t stand “liberal whining.” Sigh. A few minutes later, I saw a cute girl in a bright orange t-shirt with homemade lettering which read “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my Orange Crush,” which kinda sorta cancelled out those goons.
3) “Cuyahoga” may be a lament, but it’s also one of the most optimistic politically themed songs in the R.E.M. songbook. Even better, its optimism is not cheap and facile. The lyrics make a point of acknowledging the fact that we need to collaborate and work hard for change, because without that effort and emphasis on community, we stand to lose so much. This song was released in 1986. Think about how much we’ve lost — in America, around the world — since then, and how much worse it could be in another 21 years if nothing really changes.