Good Advices

September 26, 2007

The words of wisdom contained in the lyrics of “Good Advices” are intentionally archaic in tone and turn of phrase, which in turn highlights the strange superstitions, and forces the listener to notice that its narrator may not actually be particularly reliable. The advice in the song boils down to distrusting everyone and keeping them at a distance, both physically and emotionally. The central irony of the song is that even though we may think that the singer is being old fashioned and severe, most of us share his anxieties to some degree, and sometimes that results in the sort of proud loneliness that comes across throughout the song, but most especially in its final bridge and chorus. “Good Advices” is gorgeous but slightly muted, and though the tune could have easily worked with a more grandiose arrangement, its understated sentiment is extremely well suited to its lyrical theme of neurotic self-isolation.


56 Responses to “Good Advices”

  1. David Says:

    Can you imagine REM writing anything this good in 2007? I can’t….

    Gorgeous song,great lyrics, really poignant yet mysterious…..revealing the problems w/ modern REM….too direct,ham fisted,corny,dull……maybe thats harsh I dunno.

  2. maclure Says:

    Briliant song. My favourite from FOTR and certainly in my top ten opening lines to an REM song: “When you greet a stranger look at his shoes. Keep your money in your shoes, leave your troubles behind”.

    I think Matthew put it really well in his post. My mind fills with images of worldly-wise older people passing on their honed wisdom, and of solitary travellers in distant lands. It’s not only archaic, it’s sort of other-wordly – like a fantasy adventure or something. There is a tension between a threat (your money is in your shoes because somebody may try to rob you) and throwing caution to the wind and walking confidently into the future on your own (leave your troubles behind).

  3. Rich Says:

    What David said.

  4. Actually, all of the new songs for the next album that they played in Dublin are very good, and a few of them definitely have the potential for greatness. I really wouldn’t count them out right now, I think 2008 is going to be a good year for the band.

  5. Tim Says:

    Another part of the intricate Southern Gothic/mythic/name-and-place web that was always so engaging to me…

    …something about how simple tools or rules, when left to their own devices or allowed to take the wrong path, escalate into something mythic, overgrown and allegorical. “Put your money in your shoes” is to “put your memories in your shoes” as “sweep the floor into the fireplace” is to “throw the walls into the fireplace” …?

  6. adam Says:

    arrangement and ‘muted’ nature has proved to be part of the charm of everything on Fables over the years – this is very represenative REM… not as negative as your commentary.. more southern fable and whimsy.. then so much distrust

  7. Dude, if you understood this as anything like a negative review, then I’m really really sorry because this is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs from the IRS period.

  8. Dark Bob Says:

    Another great song from my favorite REM album. “I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away” What a great line!

  9. adam Says:

    no, not a negative review.. sorry for confusion.. negative lyrics.. distrust etc.

  10. Dark Bob Says:

    I’ve always thought this song was about the fact that the band was stuck in England while recording Fables.
    I have read where they have said this was a very unhappy time and the guys were Homesick. It comes across that Stipe was leary of people he was meeting and was longing for home, family and friends.

  11. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    This is one of my 2 or 3 faves for FOTR. This is another of my “southern gothic” songs. It has the Faulkner-esque early REM mystique and mystery. I love the lyrics to this song and think that Dark Bob is likely right in that the lyrics were affected by the bands time away in England. REM were unhappy and very much were the outsiders in the song.

    For some reason, in my warped mind, everything about Counting Crows “Augsut & Everything After” CD is a direct descendent of this song. It’s like they wrote a whole album with Good Advices as the blueprint (in my mind even the album cover makes me think of Good Advices – yellow/orange/brown colors with writing (advices) all over it). A great and influenetial song.

  12. Bruno Says:

    Artistic license.

    I don’t see a ‘character’ in this. It’s him. It’s a facet of Michael’s personality. Matthew, you often seem to think that he’s writing from some other perspective – ‘the narrator’ – expressing this or that in the song. I don’t see it that way. Peter or Mike brought in a bit of music and they jammed and Micheal wrote words that he felt worked and he felt good about – they captured the mood right. The song has a flow to it and he just went along with that and these are the words and images he came up with. To me it’s not like he thought “oh, this guy thinks you better keep your hat on your head and, oh, at the end of the day I’ll forget your name’, it just is what it is – what he felt right for it – what he liked and what he thought worked for the mood.

    Am I crazy REM peoples? Isn’t that just an extension of what we like about his early approach – free form, top of his creative head.

    To me it seems like he’s just throwing it out there. How about keeping your money in your shoes if you meet a stranger; how about looking at their hands. Traveling down the road. Wistful, maybe the loner in the next town a long way from home.

    When you try taking a stab at singing for a band and putting that kind of mystery into the song, well (if you are any good – not like I was!) that’s the kind of thing you’ll end up with. It may not be as good as Sir Mike, but it makes you realise that he’s, if you ask me, just stringing lines together. They may be great lines but at the end of the day, he’s still just rhyming and humming and feeling it.

    My two bits.

    Uh huh, Oh yeah

  13. xman Says:

    no, david! brand new r.e.m. dublin/lp14 stuff is good- i swear it! listen to me!

    this is a good song by the way. peter does some nice gtr work on this one.

  14. Bruno Says:

    An example of Michael following the band is in the bit after the second verse. The guitar and bass hit on a driving part for a moment and he comes up with his most direct words… … “When there are no friends. When there are no lovers”. i.e. When you are completely alone.

    To me, the music suggested and he followed suit. He felt that change musically and delivered what was needed. He heard it and went with that.

    Damn, anyone understand?

  15. Dave s Says:

    No, it’s way over my head, but you sound like you were there, so I’ll buy it.

  16. Bruno, my feeling is that Michael certainly writes characters, but he’s often writing about himself or people he knows, but wants/needs some distinction in his mind. I mean, “Good Advices” is clearly a song about social anxiety, and he’s written a lot on that topic, but the voice is the song isn’t necessarily meant to be understood as his own.

  17. Bruno Says:

    Got it a bit wrong. I should have said that when the guitars turn and hit hard for a few bars after the second chorus, that Michael’s ‘at the end of the day when there are no lovers or friends’ grabbed the mood and followed the song – right on the change. The mood led him – not a narrator or character or whatever.

    Really going back to my soup (no, no goat’s head!)

  18. Bruno Says:

    It isn’t necessarily meant to be understood as his own. True. But it can be. I don’t see it necessarily being someone else’s. It’s a character that is careful and likely to follow old tales.

    My point is that I think you can trace these thoughts back to him, not some other, removed persona. He went with this, no? It came from him. My point is that he is not imagining another person’s take on it but it is his own take – influenced by the people and things around him. This is Stipe singing, this not Stipe assuming some role and singing this.

  19. Eclipse Says:

    Ages ago, there was a Rolling Stone article on REM, connecting this song’s line, “I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away,” with 9-9’s line “conversation fear,” as a comment on Michael Stipe and the juxaposition of these neuroses with becoming a rock star. Interesting to think of in the light of today’s more flamboyant audience-engaging Stipe. 🙂

    I love this song – there is something quintessentially southern about it, in my mind, and for me it goes hand in hand with Kohoutek and Green Grow The Rushes. The three of them are a trilogy of time-since-forgotten dreamy crumbling wistful southern memories set to music.

  20. Ignis Sol Says:

    The evocative tone and lyrics near the final verse of “Good Advices” conjure up images of a golden sunset and being on a porch drinking lemonade while reminiscing about a journey, the lessons learned and destiny.

    At the end of the day, when there are no friends. When there are no lovers…

    Beautifully haunting.

  21. jim jos Says:

    One thing that I have had the pleasure of doing is drive through the rural south. Though my trip came almost 20 years after FOTR, and the South has lost a little of its uniqueness, I take great comfort in knowing that it still can be found in several off map places.
    The lyrics of Good Advices, of course, really remind me of that Southern Gothic feel.(a passion that I share with BWD). When you meet strangers in the South, they are normally very friendly and they are full of sayings such as the ones found in this song. Which is why I think it works so brilliantly on R.E.M.s most Southern album. Perhaps because they were in London, I can see how lyrics like “home is a long way away” and maybe you have to get out of your comfort zone to come up with something like “I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away” absence making the heart grow fonder.

    I also agree with those who say that the new songs that the band has have me extremely optimistic. I think they do have another very good album up their sleeves. I don’t want the expectations to become too grand, because part of the albums power will come from the fact that many have written them off. If this is a song about the beginning of journey, maybe a song idea now would be about one when a long journey has come to an end.

  22. jim jos Says:

    speaking of endings for long journeys, the blog is definitely getting closer to the finish line. I will miss it a great deal. When the new songs come out, I hope that everyone will meet up again to talk about the new songs. FOTR/ROTF is almost done, just four more tunes.

    I wonder if Matthew is going to review “I’m Gonna DJ” since I am pretty sure that its inclusion on the live album means that it will be, I think thankfully, off the new album.

  23. milesy Says:

    Not only is Good Advices great in its own right (I’ve never given a moment’s thought to what Michael was thinking about when he wrote ‘When there are no friends/ When there are no lovers’, but the lyric/melody combination hits the spot there), it’s part of one of those classic bits of REM album sequencing : I know not everyone (including PB) loves Wendell Gee, but for me, the timing and flow of the transition is perfect. ‘Home is a long way away’… fade, pause… bass notes, ‘That’s when Wendell Gee…’ Hmm… Close my eyes, sit back, take a sip of whisky, let it wash over me…

  24. Well, the plan is that I’m covering everything up to the forthcoming record, and I guess that would include “I’m Gonna DJ,” though I don’t know, maybe it’s best to wait and see if they record it for the album, and if that is the case, it is omitted.

  25. Paul Alferink Says:

    When I think of Fables, this song is never the one I think of first. Most kind of blends in, I think.

    That said, it is a nice song

    Best Lyrics:
    At the end of the day, when there are no friends
    When there are no lovers, who are you going to call for
    What do you have to change

  26. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ‘Deliverance’ without the wack jobs , psychopaths , forced sodomy , broken bones, black magic imaginations, and primeval terror in a dark wood.

  27. Elliot H. Says:

    If R.E.M. had ended Fables with this song instead of Wendell Gee, it without a doubt would’ve been my favorite album. Alas, ‘s not the case.

    Anyway, I always imagined this song’s speaker as a kind of overprotective southern mom filling her children’s heads with scares and guilt-trips.

  28. Kirsten Says:

    I think it’s a beautiful song about being on tour, far away from home, not knowing anyone, no friends, no family, no lovers. Basically, he’s lonely, sad, afraid and homesick. Brilliantly written. Very touching.

  29. Kirsten Says:

    **Pure speculation from things I’ve read**
    Even though the four of them were on tour together, I always got the impression that the others enjoyed it a bit more than Michael. They liked going out, getting drunk having a good time, whereas Michael did it more out of obligation to the others or simply stayed in the hotel room. Less drunken binges and more quiet alone time. This song captures that loneliness.

  30. Mr Cup Says:

    I’d like it here if I could leave…

    That’s how I felt about London (Sorry guys – the sky is way too low!)
    The ‘good advices’ are the kind my father gave me when I went travelling. Trust No-one. You are a target. Have fun.

    Beautiful, emotive song from a great, great album. If anyone would like to meet me by the swings after school to sort out this Wendell Gee bashing business once and for all…bring yer posse!

  31. Kirsten Says:

    I’ll be there to back you up Mr Cup!


  32. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah Kirsten , I guess Michael used to hang with Natalie Merchant instead of the boyz ??????

  33. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ……….somewhere along the line I mean , later , like not in London ……..

  34. Mr Cup Says:

    Not so loud now are they.

  35. Kirsten Says:

    Wouldn’t you??

  36. Mr Cup Says:

    I like Natalie Merchant but I think if I hung around her for more than 3 minutes I would really offend her somehow.

    I’d go on the benders just so as to not offend.

  37. Paul Alferink Says:

    Gee posse in the hizouse! Don’t mess the O GEE.

    Oh, appearantly Peter Buck is going to meet us by the swing set. He hates that one. But he’s old. We can take him.

  38. Mr Cup Says:

    Bet the sissy wears his jammies as well!

  39. ScottMalobisky Says:

    jimjos, I think this blog might make it to the new record , we just need a few strategically placed High Speed Train style work stoppages/sit-down strikes on MP’s part, plus him covering all those more obscure tracks and such (most of which I have not heard).

  40. ScottMalobisky Says:

    PB: “Michael was a great fan of those Library Of Congress records, old guys in the hills banging away on pots and pans…….it’s pretty much related directly to English folk music. Where it’s recorded the people have been hidden away in the hills for so long they will speak with 18th century English dialects. These songs have been done for thousands of years and that’s where Michael gets his inspiration for a lot of things.”…..commenting on FOTR…..

  41. Bandwagon03 Says:

    Well, I really cant add much of anything that hasnt already been said. I do think this song has a decidely southern feel to it, the whole thing about not trusting strangers thing may not only be a extension of Stipe, but Southern culture as well. Or perhaps, its about purposely trying to stay detached, and trying to just get back home.

    An aside: When I first saw REM in 88 on the Green tour, I had not yet purchased FOTR, and they closed the encore by playing this, I was floored then, and was impressed by what a moving song it was. When I finally “discovered” it on vinyl, i was really thrilled, and appreciated it on a much deeper level.

  42. 2d Says:

    to me, this song is obscured by other tracks from the same album (“feeling gravitys pull”, “driver 8”, “life and how to live it”, “green grow the rushes”, “kohoutek”, “wendell gee” etc.) i find it a nice song, sweet and simple, effective at creating atmosphere, quaint lyrics – still, it’s not a song i consider really special. it has basic r.e.m. tune and harmonies, and that is charming of course, but it doesn’t really stand out. also, the first time i heard it, it felt like a rip-off from “second guessing” 🙂

    i do find it a nice prelude to “wendell gee” though.

  43. Ignis Sol Says:

    Potential missing line for “Good Advices”

    “When you greet a stranger, look at his sleeves, keep your mysteries in your sleeves, put your worry behind”


    Miseries instead of mysteries?

    I like the idea of switching “Wendell Gee” and “Good Advices.” However, it would seem it would need a slightly stronger arrangement (extended end music?) for a proper album-ender. To me, the final lyric, “Home is a long way away” is reminiscent of “Find the River.”

  44. Ignis Sol Says:

    Regarding Natlie Merchant:

    She does seem sort of offendable (I am pretty sure that is NOT a word). She reminds me of some women I knew in college: confident, but sometimes woefully misguided, yet unafraid to speak their minds whenever a whisper of offense was squawked. God, I miss them… 🙂

    I am sure Ms. Merchant is a fine person. I remember her and Stipe’s hangin’ out days. Coincidentally, Murmurs has been viewing her and Michael singing and dancing “Candy Everybody Wants” from the Bill Clinton Inaugural celebration. God, I miss him.

  45. jim jos Says:

    yeah Scott,

    More songs from ATS will put us on target for the new album! This blog is too much of an addiction to simply stop cold turkey. Firmly attached to by R.E.M. life lore.

    Natalie Merchant always reminded me of a couple of people who I have met throughout the years, I would offend her because I would say something 90% politically correct and she would get me on the other ten percent or something.
    Probably unfounded, but I always did get that feeling too. “Candy, Everybody Wants” and “These Are Days” are very pretty folk pop songs, however.

  46. ScottMalobisky Says:

    jimjos, Dylan has some interesing description of the south in Chronicles , don’t know if you read that, talks about when he took a break from recording ‘Oh Mercy’ in New Orleans ,hopped on his motorcycle and rode off into the back country for a few days, his experiences………… I was stationed for a summer in Meridian ,Mississippi in the military…..Mississippi , the most obese and the most poor state in the union I believe (sure about the former)…….

  47. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Actually , Mechant reminds me A LOT of a very close friend/ ex-girlfriend of mine (both in personality and physical aspects)…..She (my friend) is ridiculously psychically sensitve , deals with unbelievable –to the uninitiated– relentless paranormal activity every day and night..It’s because of her (my friend) that I am convinced of certain things that I may have been prone to scoff at otherwise. As a matter of fact she is currently in desperate need of an excorcist , is seeking one (been under attack for quite some time now by various demonic entities).I tell you no lie.

  48. Kirsten Says:

    I only know one Natalie Merchant song (apart from some of the ones she did with Michael), “Carnival”. I really love it. But that’s the extent of my knowledge of her.

  49. ADB Says:

    I finally got into this song years after first hearinng it. Really glad to see it’s getting so much love – I always thought it was a bit of a forgotten song.

    Have nothing more to add — must confess have been drinking heavily at aparty all evening – a good friend got out of hospital today after 5 months, if that isnt’a reasonn tocelebrate, then whatis?

    Loving you all

  50. Ignis Sol Says:

    Her solo career without 10,000 Maniacs produced quite musically sparse productions. Simple music with little production. Compare “Wonder” with anything from Our Time in Eden and you will hear a world of difference. Her unique voice is the unifying element. I was a big fan of the classic masterpiece In My Tribe. “Verdi’s Cry” is exquisite. I heard she actually wrote scores of more verses for that song, but had to edit it down. Of course there is “A Campfire Song” with Michael belting out “something is out of reach…”

    I read that Michael wrote “Me in Honey” as the male response to 10,000 Maniacs’ (or Natalie Merchant’s)”Eat for Two” from their album Blind Mans Zoo. He also cites the “Verdi’s Cry” multi-versed/edit as a lesson he learned from Merchant and applied it to some of his songwriting in that period.

    It is a great to hear how songwriters inspire each other. I know he has also said this of Bono for his inspiration of “Walk Unafraid.” And, likewise, Thom Yorke being inspired to write “To Disappar Completely” from talking with Stipe. There are many more examples involving Morrissey and that Mr. Paltrow dude from Coldplay…..

  51. Kirsten Says:

    ADB, good to hear your friend is doing better. Don’t drive home, you don’t want to be the next one in hospital.

    Hi Ignis, I think Natalie’s voice suits in quite well with Michael’s. I have also heard that about Me In Honey, but I heard it was Patti Smith who told Michael to “Go into it unafraid” when he was worried about how to approch writing their first album without Bill. That’s what inspired him to write “Walk Unafraid”.

  52. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I love the restraint of the guitar solo in Carnival, just the right touch.. the way it builds in intensity (the feel of the song in general is a lot like U2 Carnival, spine tingling melancholy, vaguely otherworldly.. I guess would describe it sorta)… the guitar solo in NM Carnival reminds me of Neil Young, the guitar solo from Words (Between The Lines Of Ages)

  53. ScottMalobisky Says:

    there was a tigerlily commenting a while back, gotta be an NM fan, or maybe it’s NM herself….that’s not so far-fetched I guess……

  54. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Merchant IS known to be hyper-sensative about stuff. Her and Morrissey ended up getting into a public feud a decade or so ago, which inspired his good (but not great) b-side “Have-A-Go Merchant”. Of course, being Morrissey, this b-side has now surfaced on at least 2 (and I think 3) CD’s.

  55. Ignis Sol Says:

    I never heard about the row between Merchant and Morrissey. The funny thing is they are practically next to each other in the CD bins (Merchant smack dab between Madonna and Morrissey, sexy eh?). I would love to be the fly on the wall listening to their cat fight! Meow. I am just guessing Moz is sassy as they come (and that is a good thing). I am sure Natalie has a zinger or two.

    Merchant: “I think I’ve just met the 10,001st maniac…”

    Morrissey: “No one is spendin’ time in your Eden!”

    Oh yeah, I read that he wrote “Found Found Found” about Stipe after strolling together through a London park. Holding hands? 🙂

  56. Mr Cup Says:

    If I had to choose, I would definately hang out with Merchant over Morrissey. I loved the Smiths, but jeez, if I was worried about upsetting Natalie…

    Verdi Cries is one of those songs where you just have to stop and have some quiet time afterwards. I remember walking past a ward in a hospital and seeing this old guy sitting frailly on his bed, facing away from the door in the dimly lit room. This song popped into my head and I just about cried. One of the most intensely sad feelings I have ever had. He just seemed to be the most isolated, lonely person in the world at that instant.

    Lifting the mood now. Can you imagine my joy when I first listened to “In my tribe” and hearing Stipey chime in towards the end there? Oh it was a beautiful thing. Then Verdi cries….

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