Beat A Drum

July 22, 2007

“Beat A Drum” seems to hover in the air like a slight breeze on a summer day, and…well, not a lot much more than that. It’s pretty, comfortable, and almost freakishly contented. It was originally titled “All I Want,” which is far more straightforward in terms of conveying the general gist of the song and going with the standard mnemonic device of naming a song after the key line of its chorus, but I get the feeling that the band needed to do something to make the song more interesting. In this case, it means pointing the listener in the direction of a line from the final verse; the bit that seems to invoke the “butterfly effect,” and subtly implies that this moment of calmness will eventually trigger a more troubling event further down the line.

31 Responses to “Beat A Drum”

  1. wolfy Says:

    I LOVE this song! It really reminds me of childhood-just enjoying a nice summer day for what it is. And not wishing for anything else. Just happy to be where I am right now.

  2. transformerdog Says:

    always loved the “half-way from coal half-way to diamond lyric”

    and the “beat a drum for me like a buterfly wing tropical storm across the ocean” is ……..one of those moments …one of those REM tapping into the very core of my being moments…where they find a raw nerve , acknowledge it , then profoundly soothe it

  3. Paul Alferink Says:

    Echoing Trans on the “Half-way from coal line” and wolfy and the childhood memories of this song. The lyrics about “the dragonflies are trying to lecture me” is an excellent, poetic line.

    The song really is kind of a reminder that perhaps the most beautiful and best thing in life are the little moments. Not the constant excitement or adventure, but the little moments laying in the grass by a pond in the summer, the temperature perfect. That really, if that moment would only just never end. If you didn’t have to go to work tommorrow, get that paper in. Attend to a love one. Go to the funeral. Get the corn harvested before winter, if we could just live in that one moment for the rest of our lives, it would have been a good life.
    The senitment is echoed kind of by Ricky in American Beauty with the plastic bag. With Robert Frost in “Stopping in a woods on a snowy evening” Even by Tom Petty in “I got a room at the top of the World.”

    This is pretty much the song that most encapsulate the theme of Reveal, a very underrated album. A lazy, summer vibe. A bit of a Brian Wilson feel. Gold.

  4. transformerdog Says:

    “seahorses if we were in the sea”.so ,if we were in the sea the seahorses would be the ones lecturing us..Or, would we BE seahorses if we were in the sea? the former methinks

  5. Figgy Says:

    I agree with earlier comments that this song seems to be a celebration of the simple pleasures and small moments in life.

    I also think the song hints that if we’re not careful with the environment that our enjoyment of such may be compromised: why else would the dragonflies “lecture me”? And is the reference to coal also a nod to carbon emissions and global warming?

    Avoiding extreme climate change will mean we continue enjoying the kind of day described in the song.

    I really like the refrain “this is all I want, it’s all I need”. It accurately sums up how I feel when a beautiful relaxing day allows me to put into perspective the unimportant stuff in life I get distracted by or fret about.

  6. transformerdog Says:

    always took the “half-way” bit to be a clever comment on how really close we are chemically to being something else, something not human or even animal , I mean , a few carbon molecules here a few carbon atoms not there and what do you got ? or a comment on really how it’s a fine line ain’t too far betwwen shit and shimmering

  7. Figgy Says:

    Absolutely, transformerdog. I totally agree with that take on the coal and diamond metaphor, especially when used early in the song.

    Maybe I’m just looking for a sobering twist: as you’re enjoying the natural world there are things that can ruin it. Actions here can cause “tropical storm across the ocean” and perhaps we don’t want to hear that kind of bad stuff (“don’t explain, I’m sure I’ll want to know”) as it will ruin the current enjoyment.

    These phrases lead up to the other use of the word “coal” in the song. I suppose I linked them all up to find a warning message that may not be there.

  8. Scott Says:

    This song, particularly the demo version included on the “Imitation of Life” single and, later, “In Time,” is my favorite “Reveal” track. No, the music isn’t dynamic. But the key changes in the chorus hint at the eager and tentative feelings that push and pull on romantic yearning. As the voice climbs, halts and descends, so goes the curious journey from why not to why. That moment of content, the long “everything,” would be the resolution of a less clever melody. Here, it’s the moment when escape velocity is denied.

  9. dan Says:

    i hate the chorus of this song. hate hate hate. it’s a black hole, devoid of melody. a hookless, bleak expanse — the worst thing r.e.m. ever committed to tape?

    the verse is ok, though🙂

  10. Ignis Sol Says:

    I imagine this song in color, cartoonesque tones. I picture Michael Stipe riding a seahorse or a dragonfly on wild waves of technicolor prancing around the globe. The seahorse turns and looks at me, smiles and winks.

  11. Clive Says:

    I really wish the demo version had of made it on to the album (incidentally I feel this way about ‘The Lifting’ too). Maybe re-work the middle 8 and add strings for more texture. Listening to the demo I feel the song is heading towards the grandness of ‘Nightswimming’ but the album version does it no favours and makes it sound like just another average track on Reveal. Lines like ‘half way from coal half way to diamond’ had an inspiring effect on me – I interpreted it as ‘the glass is half full/half empty’ theory – in which you may feel like an ugly, worthless person, but you’re still half way to being a great person.

  12. Dave s Says:

    These are the best lyrics of all the songs. No one can touch “A bluejay hectors from a felled catalpa tree.” An amazing song all around.

  13. Adam Says:

    I always saw this song as being about death and the acceptance that we can not control it and that in the end it will be OK. I totally see this as the foil of Hope off Up. In that song the point of view is from someone trying to do everything they possibly can to hold on and in Beat a Drum the perspective is from someone that is OK with it all.

    Hope is focused on animals with long life spans (reptiles) and in Beat a Drum it is the passing (dragon flies and sea horses) that are the ones telling him to chill out. I always thought it was the same guy who just finally dealt with the fact he is not going to make it.

    Is that weird? Maybe I am reading too much into it but that is what I thought it was about.

  14. transformerdog Says:

    interesting take , Adam ;Ignis , that sounds like a cool idea for a T-shirt print, or maybe an idea for a video for this song🙂..with you on the back of Stipe,s Harley flying over the “vast unruly molcajete”🙂

    I never thought of the “tropical storm” line in reference to the “butterfly effect” at all, don’t think it is intended to be that heavy of a lyric(with all the implications of THAT.).Lots of great poetic lyrics in this song,

    an aborted unfinished poem of mine inspired by a pond thing outside of the conservatory in Pittsburgh PA on a hot humid summer day I sorta remember (my hometown) . by the University Of Pittsburgh campus.just found this in an old journal –1996. —

    DWELL

    Third morning
    Curious eye of black
    Water heat bombarded
    Nature in the spotted muck fields.

    Paralyzed species of bug-birds
    Sprawl spread eagle lily
    Bunched on murk.

    Thickly cycled life textured
    Life teeming like mute bees
    Agog the existential realm
    And plane.

    Dragonfly visits the dark pool
    Amphibian hoods the rippled stir
    Stem surface hides in swamp..

    …….just reminds me of this song (though certainly not in the same league –I am not THAT delusional !!–)like I said , it was aborted ,just an idea I had ,a moment of inspiration that resulted in words on the page ..

  15. transformerdog Says:

    shoulda been “Mud teeming like mute bees “..thanx Slyvia for the mute bees BTW…muck murk mud mute

  16. Ignis Sol Says:

    Hey, transformerdog, you ARE in the same league, we are all in the same league. the Human League!

    btw, great poem (great: Agog the existential realm🙂 )and thank you for discovering/quoting mine! I am flattered.

  17. transformerdog Says:

    Ignis , that’s what happens when you use your real name on the blog:) Looking up Paul Alferink now …assuming he has nothing to hide since he’s using his full name. Assuming that is his name.

  18. Paul Alferink Says:

    Let me save you the time. I am a big dork who was president of a mideveal recreation club in college. I am rarely involved now, but they never took my name off the contact list. I published a story in the Lit Mag at Illinois State. And this. That is the extent of my net print, I think.

  19. Ignis Sol Says:

    Well Ignis Sol is my artist name (I must come clean), my real name (Christian name Paul Andrew T.)and is linkable through myspace and then the organization I run if you care to investigate (but don’t bore yourself). If you look up my real name, you will see more of me and more ssssssssssssecretzzzzzzzz.

    Now, I am gonna look up the other Paul……

  20. dan Says:

    i know a paul andrew t.

  21. Kirsten Says:

    This song never really stood out for me. I’m glad everyone else seems to enjoy it, but to me it’s just a nice, quiet sort of song. Don’t usually skip it, but don’t alway pay attention to the fact that it’s playing.

    I agree with Clive’s theory on the Coal/Diamond line being a glass half full/empty comparison.

    Sounds like Ignis has had some “chemical inhancement” to fully enjoy this song, judging by his ideas on a film clip.

    Starting to wish I was interesting enough to be on the internet….

  22. transformerdog Says:

    Oh Kirsten😦 just post some naked photos , that’ll be interesting enough for me :)_______________________________JUST KIDDING !!!!!!all you internet cops and thought police lurkng out there, just kidding , was just trying to make you laugh Kirsten ‘cuz you seem kinda down🙂

  23. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks transformerdog. Searching for beautiful models in mens magazines to post as we speak….

  24. transformerdog Says:

    Ignis,
    Are you a male or a female ?!?! Drag queen , transgender, transsexual , hermaphrodite ???
    What exactly are you?
    Christian name; Paul Andrew. All this time I thought you were a female:)…was associating Ignis with “INGRID” , just assuming…

  25. 32M Says:

    “Labels are for food. Canned Food”
    -Michael Stipe🙂

  26. duplo.it Says:

    “this is all i want … it’s all i need / This is all i am … it’s everything. Guess who i am and what i want, still, at 30yo

    did you guys find the answers ?

    great line, great line

  27. SteveNS Says:

    I always interpreted this song as being about the narrator’s personal evolution — knowing he’s not the person he was once, and acknowledging he isn’t yet the person he will grow to be, but he’s content with the life he has right now, blissful and enjoying the moment.

    Everything around him warns that this moment of peace and complacency is transient, with the final verse hinting of an impending turmoil that will bring an end to the contentedness. Pain catalysing his evolution.

    But that’s just my take.


  28. […] song from descending into potential muzak. Inevitably, I ought to refer to R.E.M.’s “Beat A Drum” as a similar example of such lyrical […]

  29. Joe Says:

    I do like this song, but only when they played it when they were on MTV unplugged for a second time

  30. Wolf Says:

    I love this song, actually is my favourite from Reveal… eh… and I like it for a reason I’d like somebody to confirm to me… is the song really about Bill Berry… I don’t know if it’s true but when I think about it I found that wonderful.

  31. ScottMalobisky Says:

    that intepretation makes sense , Wolfy…
    put yourself in Berry’s head for perspective
    sorta like Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels”


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