September 17, 2007
It’s kind of a strange thing for a band of men in their early 30s to release a rock and roll album that begins with a song that highlights the generation gap between its author and his audience, but it also makes a lot of sense. Even though I am currently four years younger than Michael Stipe at the time Automatic For The People was written and recorded, I’m starting to get that “oh man, I’m old” feeling all the time, especially when I think of all the teenagers and college kids for whom the internet has always been a presence in their life. But really, despite a few self-aware “get off my lawn!” moments, the song is not about feeling old so much as noticing that your own youth is over, and that you no longer have any real connection to the “kids.”
Stipe makes deliberate, ironic references to “youth”-oriented songs of bygone eras — “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and “Rock On” by David Essex — and the effect is both dismissive and self-effacing, underscoring a bitterness and discontent that lacks a proper target. Do you hate the young people for being young, or because they are not you, or because they don’t appreciate what you have to offer them? The song poses a very serious question: Are you obsolete and irrelevant, or are you just being told that you are by people who don’t have a clue, or are seeking to marginalize anyone old enough to know better than insecure, immature teenagers, but not quite old enough to be the establishment?
The tone of “Drive” is as gray and bleak as its video, a stark black and white clip of Michael Stipe awkwardly crowd-surfing over a bunch of “kids” in eerie slow motion. The song feels cold and still, and even its most dramatic moments come across like a stiff, cold wind blowing dead leaves along the frozen ground.
A milestone note: This is song #100.