Ignoreland

July 4, 2007

I know that this is vitriol. No solution, spleen-venting, but I feel better having screamed. Don’t you?”

Michael Stipe provides the most basic summary of “Ignoreland” right there in its third verse. I remember this song seeming a bit obscure when I was a young teenager, but now that I’m a bit older and have a better frame of reference, Michael’s lyrics about the media and American politics circa 1992 are extremely bold, straight-forward in their rhetoric, and heartbreakingly prescient. There’s really nothing to be confused about, though he does run through a lot of the lyrics very quickly in the speedy build-up to the chorus.

“Ignoreland” is a bitter protest song that has been blown up into a massive multi-tracked juggernaut, but the irony is that despite being the song on Automatic For The People most obviously suited to the needs of a large scale concert, it has never been performed live. There’s two likely reasons for this. First, the album arrangement is a thick soup of overdubs, and though a streamlined version may have its charm, it would most likely sacrifice its illusion of density. Secondly, I suppose there may be some concern that the lyrics are a bit dated, but um, that argument doesn’t actually make good sense to me since its words only seem more relevant in the era of Fox News. It seems like a waste for them to not give this song a shot in concert — I can imagine a fairly straight adaptation of the album arrangement working out very well as one of the first three songs in a set, or a folky version sitting comfortably in the middle third of a show.

45 Responses to “Ignoreland”

  1. Dark Bob Says:

    This song didn’t really seem to fit with the theme of the album. But I agree, that it seems relevant to what’s going on today.


  2. Yeah, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of Automatic on a lyrical level, but I think it makes sense musically. The album needed it in terms of dynamics, and the arrangement seems rather specific to the tone and textures of that album. When I first got the record as a teenager, it was my favorite track for a long while, and I still have a lot of affection for it.


  3. A lot of people seem to think Ignoreland and Sidewinder were out of place on Automatic for the People…but that’s only really true sonically. I think they fit just fine…and I personally LIKE some tempo-variation in my listening. As much as I love Everybody Hurts and Find the River and all (and I DO love them) Automatic would have lost a lot of its punch to sacrifice these louder powerhouse tunes. They keep the album from getting unintentionally mired in itself…a little burst of energy just where we need it.


  4. Rats, Matthew. Type more slowly next time! 🙂

  5. maclure Says:

    Funny, I was just thinking about Ignoreland this morning following the Politics debates on the Cuyahoga post. Was this an intentional continuation of these themes? I feel the same Matthew, I have a lot of affection for this song. The lyrics you start your post with remind me of the Politics degree I recently took in the UK. In a very liberal dept, I went in with quite leftist views. I came out a lot more moderate… Basically, I saw a lot of spleen-venting but not many solutions at the end of the day. Anyone who presented slightly alternatives was not, in my opinion, always given a fair hearing. I was sometimes “profoundly frustrated by all this, man”. The left has its own forms of censorship too.

    Musical footnote: The high strummed acoustic in the verse (you have to strain to hear it) is a fantastic touch – for a fast Political song, with angry lyrics we might expect chugging overdrived electric guitars only. But the acoustic guitar captures in a different way a feeling of… um… political concern I suppose, while Mike’s bass drives the rhythm. It also provides a sonic link with the rest of the album, in particular Drive (which also mixes acoustic and electric sounding guitars).

    I’m expecting something from Scott M about this song…

  6. maclure Says:

    I hate spotting typos on my own post… that “slightly” between “presented” and “alternatives” shouldn’t be there.

  7. The Goat Says:

    When I was a talk show host at my college radio station back in the mid-90s, I used Ignoreland as my theme song.

    I decided to use the song because I loved R.E.M., and Ignoreland really grabbed you from the start; Back then I never considered the “spleen-venting” lyric, but in retrospect that was a pretty accurate description of my show :]

  8. Scott Malobisky Says:

    you’re funny maclure .really putting the pressure on me :)…All I’ll say now is that I think this song is incredible—JUST INCREDIBLE!—I would have to look back but I think this is the first of my very top REM songs that Matthew has posted .There are so many compelling aspects to this song but the kicker , the cherry on top, is that barbarian -like “WHOOA!” that is suddenly snarled (hurled at the listener like a sonic projectile) in the middle there somewhere around the middle of the second verse–maybe later- just kicks you in the balls (the sound of all the air leaving your gut?, WHO IS THAT?) as you are busy trying to fend off the other layered attacks that are thoroughly and simultaneosly kicking your arse !!!..While also ripping your mind into gear..KILLER! And I do feel better having screamed at you. This might be REM’s most primal utterly visceral song BUT THERE’S SO MUCH MORE GOING ON THAN THAT !!!!!

  9. maclure Says:

    That’s what I’m talkin about… keeping it coming Scott.

  10. Chris Says:

    Yeah, this is absolutely A+ #1-with-a-bullet the song I wish they’d perform live. Here’s hopin’.

  11. Heyberto Says:

    I’ve always been one that didn’t like artists who get political publicly (see the Vote for Change Tour as an example). I think it’s a bit hipocritical and most of the public doesn’t think that famous people with lots of money can identify with them and their concerns. I’d have to cut REM some slack in this area, not because I’m a fan of them, but because they are so ‘un-hollywood’ and seem to be grounded in a reality that few artists seem to retain. Sorry.. I’m digressing slightly, but I essentially feel if artists / actors / etc. want to change something, then run for office. Otherwise, don’t use your celebrity to influence just because you can. Not that I have any problem with what they are saying, but it just seems so hipocritical and forced.

    That being said, I never mind when artists express their feelings on politics, religion, etc. through their art form, whether I agree or not. As ARTISTS… that’s their right. Art is usually best when it reflects the real world, and REM certainly does that… and Ignoreland is another great example.

  12. Scott Malobisky Says:

    ooh my , what’s this coming over the wire……..Al Gore’s son arrested for drug possession after being pulled over for speeding ..in , of course , a Prius……a veritable smorgasborg of candy in there it appears


  13. >I essentially feel if artists / actors / etc. want to change something, then run for office. Otherwise, don’t use your celebrity to influence just because you can.

    What you don’t mention is that knowing that disagreeing with the current administration does not automatically render you capable of running a nation yourself.

    If I break my leg or something, it’s my right to call for a doctor. Nobody expects me to fix it myself just because I was the first one to notice it…

    I see nothing wrong with someone standing up and saying, “You know what? We need to change.” Celebrity just makes it that much easier to hear them when they do speak up, and they have as much right to speak up as anyone else does.

  14. Scott Malobisky Says:

    they have AN OBLIGATION to speak up, act, look at the wonderful Angelina Jolie in action , for example

  15. Paul Alferink Says:

    I didn’t know one COULD speed in a Prius. . .

    Seriously. You know what scares me most in American Politics. The Supreme Court just released a number of decsions, nothing terribly major, but all 5-4 against the liberal side. And all wrong, in my humble, non-legal opinion. A Taxpayer has no standing to sue that his tax dollars are being used in violation of the 1st amendment? A kid gets suspended for holding up a (admittedly juvenile) sign off of school property and can get suspended? Nixing Most of the Fiengold- McCain campaign finance reform? Nixing a Louisville, KY program trying to increase racial diversity amongst its school. Bad times. Wait until something more major comes up.

  16. Kirsten Says:

    I don’t think I have anything really worthwhile to add that hasn’t already been said about the way the layers and mixing of this track make it so powerful. The way Michael’s voice is so calm, yet screaming at the same time about injustices in politics is just so well done.
    I also see a bit of a link to Bad Day with the lines “The papers are terrified to report anything that isn’t handed on a presidential spoon”. Definately a sentiment mirrored in Bad Day.

  17. Paul Alferink Says:

    CBS used this songs to talk about football. Mostly, the “Defense Defense Defense Defense” part came to the forfront. I love it when songs are taken out of context.

    2 favorites:

    Bruce Springstein’s “Born in the USA” as Reagan’s campaign song circa 1984. A through condemnation of US treatment of Vietnam Vets gets glossed over for those not paying attention.

    “Fortune Son” by CCR. Talking about how the rich get out of paying taxes and the poor and young fight the wars of the old and rich. Used as a Jeans commercials. The play the “Some folks are born made to wave the flag,
    Ooh, they’re red, white and blue.” and wave American flags around, then don’t play the next line, “And when the band plays “Hail to the chief”,
    Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord,”

  18. Kindell Says:

    matthew. oh please. (eyes rolling)

  19. Scott Malobisky Says:

    interesting quote from Stipe at the time this song was released, “In America we’re pretty much able to ignore reality. We have this great ability to pretend there’s nothing wrong, that we’re still a superpower and it doesn’t matter if we kill a couple hundred thousand people. Oh and Reagan lowered taxes. In fact, taxes were raised twelve times during his reign. He lowered rich people’s taxes –he and George Bush made me rich , but my mom’s taxes went up. She’s a secretary. Most people are able to ignore all that and vote overwhelmingly for these guys who just out and out lie to you .” …and I thought I made you rich , Michael , by buying all your stuff :)…….Been listening to CSNY lately , 4 Way Street for one a lot—Neil Young one of my all time most revered artists , almost funny if it wasn’t so sad how so much of the rap between songs and the songs themselves sound so totally relevant and poignant to today’s Vietnam, one can interchange Bush for Tricky Dicky and not skip a beat..

  20. Scott Malobisky Says:

    ..that one All In The Family episode when Mike brings his very liberal and very effeminate friend to the house (and Archie thinks he’s gay but he’s not and it turns out that Archie’s big macho football playing friend IS gay which completely blows Archie’s mind) ..Archie says to Mike’s friend, “Hey, sit down and watch the fights.” And Mike’s friend says , “No thanks Mr. Bunker , I don’t care much for pugilism.” And Archie exclaims , “Ah, who said anything about pugi…ah whatever , I’m talking about boxing here !” Hilarious , classic AITF..

  21. protimoi86 Says:

    In a 2001 interview, Michael said this song was supposed to be a (and i’m paraphrasing here) fucking crushing, heavy, Bad Company-meets-Sabbath rock song. I think the song is incredible as is, the slightly pointed but poppy tone of the song contrasting with some of the most caustic lyrics in Stipe’s history. Every time i listen to this song, it always gets me pumped and i find myself singing “so. fuck. you. MAN (fuck ’em).”

    With a heavier, Monster-like guitar sound, the song would probably be bogged down anyway and unable to really take off like it does.

  22. Aerothorn Says:

    I think this is one of three R.E.M. songs to mention throw-up. I know one of the others is on Murmur (we gathered throw-up) and I can’t remember the third one.

  23. Kirsten Says:

    Aerothorn – The words in Sitting Still are “we can gather throw a fit” not throw-up.

  24. Scott Malobisky Says:

    LOL !!!!

  25. ADB Says:

    It’s one of the (many) great things about Automatic, that although the overall tone of the album is sombre and elegaic, there’s room for songs that provide a bit of contrast – this and Sidewinder mainly. Around The Sun could really have used a bit of that variety.

    The guys have said that they are unhappy with Ignoreland – that they never captured on record the spirit of the song when they first played it. Maybe that’s why it’s never been performed live? Tho’ the way the Dublin working rehearsals are going, it might well be played tonight…


  26. >I think this is one of three R.E.M. songs to mention throw-up. I know one of the others is on Murmur (we gathered throw-up) and I can’t remember the third one.

    You’re thinking of the first post-Berry album, which should have been called Throw Up.

  27. maclure Says:

    LOL!!! – morewordsaboutmusic. The album artwork does have a chunky multicoloured feel to it, it’s true. This isn’t fair, I love that record.

    “I threw up when I saw what I’d done” – Wake Up Bomb.

    re: Paul Alferink – songs out of context. When Tony Blair’s New Labour was re-elected in 2005 their anthem was U2’s “Beautiful Day”. If anybody was paying attention to the first verse…

    The heart is a bloom
    Shoots up through the stony ground
    There’s no room
    No space to rent in this town

    You’re out of luck
    And the reason that you had to care
    The traffic is stuck
    And you’re not moving anywhere

    You thought you’d found a friend
    To take you out of this place
    Someone you could lend a hand
    In return for grace

    Or, pointedly later in the song: “see the oil fields at first light”.

  28. maclure Says:

    Speaking of throwing up, I think every Coen Brothers film features somebody throwing up at least once. That was the case a few years back… not sure about their latest films.

  29. Jaymie Says:

    Matthew, I really love your work here.
    Have you ever thought about, at the end of the project, compiling all the entries into a book like Simon Goodard’s “Songs that saved your life”?

  30. Jared Says:

    I really remember the band actually saying they HATE this song and wish it wasn’t on the album. Can anyone point to evidence of this?

    As an aside, I always thought the “defense” part was saying “That’s deep that’s deep that’s deep that’s deep…”

  31. Ignis Sol Says:

    I like how “defense” can be read DEfense or deFENSE.

    “Ignoreland” depicts the early 90’s era of mindless and disposable journalism, which pre-dates this current era of irrelevant and useless journalism. What is the difference? Sadly, there is no difference.

    It is great to hear the layered sonic boom of this tune in contrast to the sweet orchestrations of its fellow songs. I agree with the others who note that it stylistically matches the lyrical tone and emotion of the other songs on AFTP. It beckons us to respond, not with a sigh (“Sweetness Follows”) or a tear (“Everybody Hurts”), but with a growl. But, then what?


  32. You’re thinking of the first post-Berry album, which should have been called Throw Up.

    I respectfully disagree.

    Speaking of throwing up, I think every Coen Brothers film features somebody throwing up at least once.

    You can say that about practically every movie made in the last 25 years. It seems like someone’s always harking at some point, to express extreme emotional distress or that sort of thing. I like to refer to it as “The Obligatory Puking Scene”…

  33. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’ll take REM Throw up songs for $500.

    “What is “The Wake-up Bomb” (“I threw up when I saw what I had done.”)

  34. Scott Malobisky Says:

    just as Kirsten Dunst has the obligatory dancing in her underwear scene , it’s in her contract..just kidding.

    Ignis, DEtroit or deTROIT ?

  35. Scott Malobisky Says:

    Paul , that’s the throw up lyric , although it should be, “threw up it’s all that I done”, you know , from Wake Up Bomb..you puzzle me at times , Man, once again I would think from what you have written in these cyberspaces that you would certainly know that, or am I misreading something ?.you probably have a lot on your mind , huh?

  36. Kirsten Says:

    I thought it was “threw up when I saw what I’d done” until I read the entry on Wake Up Bomb.
    See Matthew, you’re blog is very educational!

  37. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’m sticking with “I threw up when I saw what I’d done” It’s still what it’s sounds like to me. Makes you wish they put them on the CD cover back then😉

  38. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Love this song! Love the anger and spit and directness! REM at their most passionate! Never felt this was out of place on AFTP (kind of think Sidewinder is). To me this song is to AFTP what “Electioneering” is to OK Computer. An angry, politcal song with a different sonic tone than the rest of the CD. A much needed “change of pace”.

  39. Brian Says:

    I love this song – I wrote a paper years ago in my 10th grade Civics class about political themes in R.E.M. songs (got an A+ too!) and “Ignoreland” was at the heart of it. I wish that this song wasn’t so relevant 15 years later but we still live in an “Ignoreland” (I love the JMS quote Scott shared higher up in the comments)

    The “vitriol” lyric is also in the header of my blog too.

    Also, I think that the “fuck ’em” Stipe utters somewhat off-mic is so perfect. I frequently point to that as one of the most necessary, well-executed curses in a song.

  40. David Says:

    I love Sidewinder, and I think it totally fits on Automatic, but I always skip Ignoreland, and I don’t think it fits at all. It just seems like misplaced bombast on a record full of beautiful, intimate hymns.

  41. jft Says:

    finally, it’s been performed.


  42. […] Modest Mouse) at Deer Lake Park. Can you believe that this was the first time R.E.M. ever played Ignoreland live? I guess the election season got to them. Here are 25 reasons I wish I had been […]

  43. Gary Stone Says:

    Well, it’s been performed live now — and it was GREAT! (Jones Beach, June 14, 2008)

  44. Sergei Says:

    Yes it’s really strong song, and it was played LIVE again (Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 14). I think Michael is up to vote for Obama, it was a bit of anti B-U-S-H notes in his speech )

  45. Esteban Says:

    It’s quite good live actually… They performed it last night here in Lima, too.


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