The Flowers Of Guatemala
July 24, 2007
There isn’t much in the lyrics of “The Flowers Of Guatemala” to indicate that Michael Stipe is singing about the disappearance of dissidents in Guatemala, or that the flowers in question are covering mass graves. I would never have known that this was the subject of the song if I hadn’t read quotes from Stipe and Peter Buck explaining its context.
Here’s an example from Marcus Gray’s It Crawled From The South:
“Forty people a week disappear in Guatemala,” said Peter, following the album’s release. “Why? Where do they go? Why do we support that?” Of the song itself, he said, “It doesn’t mention political oppression or the death squads, but I think it gets across.”
Hmm. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that I read about this right around the time I bought Lifes Rich Pageant, so I have no way of knowing what I’d get out of it, though Michael sounds rather troubled when he sings “there’s something here I find hard to ignore.”
Musically, “The Flowers Of Guatemala” is a key song in the band’s catalog, at least in the sense that its combination of gentle, sentimental arpeggiation and ambient distortion make it an ancestor of “Everybody Hurts” and “Strange Currencies.” It’s a gorgeous, graceful tune full of little details that give it a strange, spectral glow — the feedback hum is understated and mournful, the metallic percussive accents add a certain sparkle to the piece, and Mike Mills’ backing vocals seem pass through the chords like a pained apparition.