Low Desert

July 22, 2007

If New Adventures In Hi-Fi is a sort of travelogue, and “Zither” is the sound of aimless downtime between destinations, “Low Desert” is the song about actually being on the road, moving down endless highways. It’s not about being in a traveling band — it’s pretty clearly about a person driving on their own, and finding their way out of something or other. There are hints about what they are leaving behind, but it’s not as important as the fact that they’re moving on to something else. Some albums have title tracks, but “Low Desert” is more like the cover track of Hi-Fi — its title matches the arid expanse of the front sleeve on a literal level, but the photograph also evokes the same feeling of restlessness and wanderlust as the rickety, spacious sound of the song.


31 Responses to “Low Desert”

  1. transformerdog Says:

    reminds me of my three day drive from Knoxville to S.Cal–to, indeed, start a new life whih I’m currently still living — crossing the Colorado River (the official border of AZ and CA)in the late morning of the third day and feeling this tremendous feeling of relief , as if I was almost there , and then the road just went on and on thru the desert and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on ond on and on and on and on and it was about 110 degrees and there were other cars breaking down and other complicating factors and on and on and on and on and on ……But my car performed mightily and I made it . The bass is cool as shit and the guitar solo is like a an eagle taking off , soaring over the sagebrush, articulating those inner cores.

  2. Mr Cup Says:

    I have to agree, this song is a widescreen panorama.

    It’s REM with a packet of ciggys tucked up the sleeve.

  3. Paul Alferink Says:

    I always like how the electric guitar seems to mimick an engine up shifting. “It happens fast, it’s over quick.”(Duurrrr, DUUUURRRRR) Again Peter Buck meanders a bit through the Bridge/ guitar solo.”

    Best line

    “The Mountain yawn, the clouds let out a sigh.”

  4. Figgy Says:

    Spot on, Matthew! I too have always had the album cover picture in mind when listening to this song.

    Some nice details in the lyrics of this one. I particularly like “an eyelash or a little bit of sleep” – such a good description of driving and wondering if you’re too tired to do so. Convincing yourself it’s not tiredness but perhaps just a loose eyelash in the eye.

    Nice comment from Paul about the guitar mimicking the engine. The sound is so apt.

  5. tony Says:

    Always loved how the guitar solo comes out of nowhere. Also, correct me if I am wrong, but I remember reading somewhere the Low Desert was a title-in-consideration for the album.

  6. Mr Cup Says:

    Gravity pulls on the power line…

    always love the use of ‘gravity’ in Stipes lyrics.

  7. transformerdog Says:

    Mr. Cup , what’s your first name , Stanley ?

  8. Mr Cup Says:

    Ha. That took me a while. Im from Oz you see. My first name is Fa, but phonetically it creates problems. Parents can be so cruel.

  9. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Low Desert” is that forever vista that flattens out across the horizon when I travel alone. I set my eyes on distant landmarks like a radio tower or a silo. They beckon me. I am always almost there, so much closer, but nope one more landmark, one more canyon, one more mountain or forest to maneuver through: damn “tricked again.” Traveling alone has an inherit danger, but the risks are worth it once I reach my destination on my own.

  10. maclure Says:

    In France trying to write on blasted French keyboards. Excuse the typos in qdvqnce… I’ve missed 4 songs! Yikes!

    Low Desert – what a tune. Spot on with your thoughts, MP. I think of the albu, cover zhen I hear this tune/ (album cover, that is). I LUV Peter’s solo, stacked with sweat dripping overdrive and chorus. And the bass, piano, organ, drums sort of turn into one big moving machine- like shiting gears on an 18 wheeler.

    For ages I “heard” alternate lyrics in my head for a while:

    Did your hands drift down off the wheel?
    Roll out henchy-wenchy

    (meaningless but how wqs i too know?)

    Broken casino, waterslides,
    Eighteen women, payback time…

    (I like my lyric, as if a night in a road side bar went wrong and eighteen women our out to get our protagonist)

    zhqt q heqdqche typing on this keyboqrd;
    Au revoir for now

  11. maclure Says:

    Did I write “shiting”? I do apologise. That should be shifting obviously…

  12. huub Says:

    indeed, spot on, the “covertrach” of Hifi. Really not my favorite, but maybe that’s just because I never drive great distances (Holland; who needs a car if you have a bike and live in the city).

  13. transformerdog Says:

    Two points:
    1. ain’t nuthin’ like a bike in the city
    2. you guys are all on drugs

  14. transformerdog Says:

    maclure, you’re in France right now ?! a circus envy creepin’ in …Ignis your comment reminds me of the Metallica lyric ‘Wherever I May Roam’:

    And the earth becomes my throne
    I adapt to the unknown
    Under wandering stars I’ve grown
    By myself but not alone
    I ask no one
    Wherever I may roam…….

    Ever roam to San Diego ?

  15. transformerdog Says:

    “tricked again”…….whenever I was driving thru the desert and I would see the road stretching out endlessly to the horizon line and I would think that when I would get to the furthest point I could see that I would see something –some civilization coming –only to see the same thing , a seemingly endless road stretching out as far as the eye could see

  16. dumbek Says:

    This is the song that turned me around on Hi-Fi. I wasn’t initially impressed with the record – already bored with the tracks they previewed on the Monster tour and bored by a few of the others. I put this one away after a few months and forgot about it for a few years. But on a road trip to Raleigh to see REM, my SO threw the cd in the player. I was blown away by this song. Maybe because we were on the road. Maybe because I was listening to it without they hype of the Monster tour surrounding it. I’m not sure, but something definitely kicked-in with this song. I probably listened to Hi-Fi more that following week than I had the previous few years.

  17. torsty Says:

    I think Peter Buck hit it on the head when he wrote in the special edition liner notes that “Low Desert” is easily both the tightest and loosest thing the band has written.

    I’ve never been crazy about the song personally, but I do love how–to paraphrase Jeff Lebowski here–it really ties the album together. It’s that final, ominous roadtrip, having just bitterly walked out on the drug-addled lover in Kill Devil Hills, NC (“So Fast, So Numb”), and now heading for sunny Southern California (“Electrolite”) to have a fresh start at fame and love. It’s the long drive through the expanses of desert before arriving in LA; all the time in the world to reflect on the past…and plenty of chances to get mixed up with some unsavory characters in the dusty towns along the way.

    Having been born and raised in such a dusty town in rural Nevada, I think it really captures the essence of the desert and the American West perfectly.

  18. Ignis Sol Says:

    Transformerdog: I have never been to San Diego. Someday soon, I hope. Metallica?

    Regarding cycling: I love it. I cycled yesterday in some trails near/around Discovery Park in Seattle. They had a vibrant Pow Wow there and I watched the color, culture and beauty. Then I biked some more. We had about a 1/2 inch of rain on Saturday and it was muddy. Believe it or not, for Seattle in July that is a record for a summer season that sees around one inch of rain. I still had fun getting all muddy, sloppy.

    I love bicycle themed t-shirts (I have many). One of my favorites from years ago (I must have left it in Michigan) was for R.E.M./Little America. Damn, I loved that t-shirt. All I have now is a huge Monster era tour t-shirt (w. an upside down band photo) and a Green era t-shirt with something about changing the world with one voice…

  19. Paul Alferink Says:

    Was the Bike REM the one wih the Monkey riding the bike with a parrot on the handlebars, saying, “We are having a heavenly time?” I always wanted that shirt.
    I had the upside down one. It died after too much use, unfortuately.

  20. David T. Says:

    > One of my favorites from years ago (I must have left it in Michigan) was for R.E.M./Little America.

    I had a similar one…it was more or less a doodle of a bicycle with a handwritten-looking “R.E.M.” and “LITTLE AMERICA,” if I remember correctly…and it was an odd color scheme (yellow images on a sort of hot pink background)…one too many times through the washing machine for that one.

    I hadn’t thought about that in years–thanks for the nice memory!

  21. ActionJackson Says:

    I discovered this song years after my purchase of HI-FI. It’s a perfect fit and perhaps underated.

  22. torsty Says:

    I think Peter Buck nailed it on the head when he wrote in the special edition liner notes that “Low Desert” is simultaneously both the tightest and loosest thing the band has ever written.

    I’m not crazy about the song, but I love how–to paraphrase Jeff Lebowski–it really ties the album together. It’s the album’s final, ominous roadtrip, having just left the drug-addled lover at Kill Devil Hill, NC (“So Fast, So Numb”) and now headed for sunny Southern California to attempt a fresh start at fame and love (“Electrolite”). The lonely drive through the seemingly endless deserts on the way to LA allow for times of reflection on the events of the past; the dusty towns between, places where one can find trouble should they go looking for it.

    “Low Desert” captures all of this perfectly…and I say that as someone who grew up in one of those dusty desert towns (in rural Nevada) and has made that drive to LA many a time!

  23. Mr Cup Says:

    I had the “We are having a heavenly time” t-shirt. Wore it to death. If ever there was to be a t-shirt re-issue, that’s the one.

    I just had a month of bombing along singletrack in New Zealand…it was indeed, rather heavenly. That shirt would have been the official uniform.

  24. Ignis Sol Says:

    David T, I think that’s the same t-shirt. Man, I loved that shirt…..

  25. transformerdog Says:

    Lord Stanley Lord Stanley
    Bring me the brandy

    Mr. Cup , what do you mean?
    Bombing along singletrack?

  26. Kirsten Says:

    I love the imagery this song provokes. The endlessness of the desert, the isolation of it all. Makes me want to get out in an 18-wheeler and just drive for days…

  27. Mr Cup Says:

    transformerdog: singletrack is the sort of thin bush tracks mountain bikers ride on. Ideally theres just enough space for the bike between the trees and scrub etc. Bombing…riding with the sort of intensity that makes missiles so scarey in the morning sun.

    Kirsten, nice to see you. Thought you got the sack.

  28. corduroy13 Says:

    Low Desert: Also known as “Swamp” and “Swamp Jam” from the Monster sessions. Right/wrong? Where did I hear this?

  29. Paul Alferink Says:

    That was one of the working titles for songs they working on during the Monster Tour. Wake-up Bomb was originally “Pond Scum”. I remember there being a Swamp, although I never heard swamp jam. I don’t know which one it was. I think at my dates I only heard Revolution, Binky the Doormat, Departure, Wake Up Bomb, and Undertow.

  30. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I live in Utah and this song, Departure, So Fast, So Numb, and How The West Was Won always come into my mind whenever I drive through those endless stretches of desert highway. Thins song, along with So Fast, So Numb, epitomize the feeling of movement and lonely, long car drives. I have always preferred So Fast, So Numb, but this track works well too.

  31. transformerdog Says:

    ……..on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on……..

    ……..there’s Lynyrd Skynyrd, ” swamp swamp swamp swamp music” , those other Southern Boys , so close geographically but so far away in rocknroll aesthetic.I wonder if they ever met ,what would Leon Wilkerson (may he rest in peace) and Mike Mills talk about , baseball, alligators, whiskey ?

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