E-Bow The Letter

October 3, 2007

There is a tendency to directly attribute New Adventures In Hi-Fi‘s relatively lackluster sales to R.E.M.’s decision to release “E-Bow The Letter” as the album’s lead single, but you know what? I think that’s mostly bullshit.


1) It wouldn’t have been the first R.E.M. album to be heralded by a song that was either unconventional or relatively uncommercial in comparison to the planned second single.

2) It’s really key to understand that despite Monster‘s enormous sales, that record was already piling up in used cd shops before Hi-Fi was even announced. The backlash was well underway, and it’s actually sort of miraculous that it happened so late in the band’s career.

3) Call me a conspiracy theorist all you want, but I don’t believe that it’s entirely a coincidence that several high profile releases by acts with vocal left-leaning political sensibilities all simultaneously flopped just after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed and allowed right wing corporations such as Clear Channel to monopolize the airwaves.

I don’t think that any of the songs on New Adventures In Hi-Fi had a shot at major success in the fall of 1996, especially not when the band was unwilling to tour or participate in very much of the whoring and glad-handing necessary to prop up a record at that moment in time, or really, any time since then.

“E-Bow The Letter” may not be anyone’s idea of a mainstream pop hit, but I think it actually was the most logical formal introduction to the album. For one thing, it’s one of the finest songs on Hi-Fi, and easily one of the most distinct and original compositions of the band’s career. Though it is most certainly a melancholy dirge, it is actually rather catchy, with two strong hooks on the chorus and verses that flow with a subtle, rambling melody that is far more careful and composed than it initially seems. Peter Buck’s contributions to the piece are key, and stand as one of the all-time best examples of his skill for composing elegant, meticulous tracks comprised of rather simple, understated parts. In other hands, “E-Bow” may have come across flat and gloomy, but Buck’s arrangement carries us through the nuances of its emotions rather than settle into an ill-defined moodiness.

True to its title, “E-Bow The Letter” reads like a bit of intimate correspondence taken out of its context, and so we’re left to work out the meaning of a fragment of a conversation that seems as though it is an index to the themes of New Adventures In Hi-Fi as a whole. Most obviously, there’s romantic turbulence, which is played out in a duet with Patti Smith, whose vocal performance on the track is simultaneously seductive and terrifying. There are references to aging, glam androgyny, drugs, religion, and a pronounced ambivalence about living with fame. There are moments of horror and beauty, and a sense of movement through time and space. It’s a heady, potent brew of ideas and emotions, but its tangents do nothing to pull us away from the central drama of the lyrics. If anything, the context only makes the relationship seem more real, and increases the intensity and urgency of the song’s sexual anxiety.

85 Responses to “E-Bow The Letter”

  1. […] single from New Adventures In Hi-Fi — basically, they needed an obvious radio song after “E-Bow The Letter” bricked spectacularly in the marketplace, and “Bittersweet Me” followed the […]

  2. Craigiec Says:

    Possibly my favourite REM song. Beautiful lyrics, and 2 terrific vocal performances, probably the finest singing of Smith’s career. Her voice on this makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, spin round twice, then jump.

    The live versions on which Patti is not present are a pale imitation of the album track.

  3. Mr Cup Says:

    God I love this song. Have been listening to it a lot lately. Wandering around in the clear spring evenings with the almost intoxicating scents of flowers everywhere, listening to this through the headphones. Loverly.

    The lines:
    These corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
    The cuts and dents they catch the light
    are so evocative (oh no hear come the visions!).

    Hate to admit it, but when I was a wee lad, I held some cling wrap over my hand to ‘try to look through it’. Thought I was the only one.

    And the droning. Oh how I love the droning. There is a sort of darkness to this album that really appeals.

  4. Rich Says:

    Mike’s best bass line ever. Brilliant song.

  5. Jared Says:

    Great song, and a perfect video. This song always “sounds” pale green, muted, with sparkly christmas lights to me… This song is: hungover on a Sunday morning in the fall with the blinds closed.

  6. Dark Bob Says:

    I think New Adventures in Hi-Fi is a very underated album. It has so many different styles. It really stands apart from their rest of their catalog. It’s the last record from REM that I really, really liked.

  7. lesterhead Says:

    I have been waiting and waiting for this one. God, one of my favorites, so beautiful and sad and desperate and hopeful, a little, all at once.

  8. Heyberto Says:

    Dark Bob, I’m with you 100%. Might be my favorite REM album. So hard to choose though!

  9. Oh, man…the video! I kinda meant to mention this, but it’s actually my favorite R.E.M. video. Jem Cohen did an amazing job.

  10. Also, I was lucky enough to see the band perform the song on two occasions, once with Patti, and the other with Thom Yorke doing her part. While it’s true that Thom doesn’t do it quite as well, it was still pretty fantastic.

  11. narcizo Says:

    …god, the bass! Rich, you are absolutely right; everyone’s piece in the composition is A-grade, but Mills’ bass is absolutely stunning, kind of a song of its own.
    Maybe the commercial success is just coincidental (?)

  12. xman Says:

    great song. i was 12 when it came out and i used to hear on it the radio all the time. before i became a fan, i loved the song more than any other r.e.m. i knew at the time.

    which records flopped in 96? aside from the country scene, are there really that many artists in the music industry (or the entire entertainment ndustry, for thatmatter) who aren’t left leaning?

  13. xman Says:

    also, i’ve always believed the firing of jefferson holt around the time of the album’s releae had somthing to do with the band’s waning popularity and promotion.

  14. Rich Says:

    The band’s success wasn’t waning when Jefferson resigned — that happened at the same time they were signing that ridiculously huge contract with Warner. Had everything to do with sexual harrassment allegations.

  15. xman Says:

    oh yeah, i know why he was fired- but the effects thereafter are weird. maybe jefferson had the right connections as far as putting gigs togeher and getting djs/vjs to play their songs.

    they signed the contract in 1996, same year as naihf. they got paid alright, but there was a huge dip in the band’s promotion and success after.

  16. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    For some reason in my mind this song was always the third part of a triptych containing Losing My Religion, Drive, and E-Bow (kind of the last 3 great “southern gothic” REM tunes). All 3 are incredibly emotionally powerful and have a dark power to them. Easily a top 10 REM song (along with the other two mentioned).

    When I burn a mix REM CD for someone those 3 are almost 3 of the first 4 tracks (along with Orange Crush) after that the songs and order could change depending on my mood and who the disc is for – but these 3 and OC always lead it off.

  17. Paul Alferink Says:

    Really have to disagree with the analyst on this song. Forgive me if I repeat myself, as I talked about this before.

    REM came into NAIHF on the top of the world. Every record had sold better then the last all the way until it culminated in Monster. By Monster, they had bandwagon jumpers, people who only very casually liked REM. These are the people that got sick of the album enough to sell it at Used CD store, just like every other album that sells too. Much. I remeber around 1997ish seeing 7 copies of Nevermind used in a store. I wouldn’t call it backlash. I’d call it dumb frat boys bought the album cause it was cool. Got bored with it. Sold it and a couple others to buy beer. But for that to happen, it has to be a hit album. Plus, they sold out shows all across the world. Huge venues. Sold out on the first day. Multiple concerts in the same city, sold out. Dates have to be added. The tour comes back through for a second leg. People staying out overnight for tickets. Huge. So when NAIHF comes out, there is expected to be another huge REM success.

    E-bow Cometh
    So E-bow comes out. I love it to death. I’m the only one. All my friends who were casual REM fans didn’t like it much at all. Really. Pretty much every one. Note, I was a nutso REM fan at the time, so it was the topic of quite a few conversations. This song got decent rotation when it came out. Pretty much what you’d expect from MTV and radio outlets when they expect something to be a reasonable hit, but isn’t. And the initial REM enthusiasm carried it for a bit, but it didn’t catch on with casual fans. They didn’t like it.

    Well, the intro isn’t catchy at all. And really is a bit clumsy coming into the verse. The verse guitar is dissodent. The bass is cool, but doesn’t have a hook. The song itself is basically a spoken word poem. Really the only hook is Patti little “I’ll take you over” and the actually e-bow parts, kind of. And Michael part is almost spoke word. And why I like it, like I like “Belong” not many spoken words songs make good singles. They aren’t catchy. They come across as pretentious, sometimes. (See Shatner’s “Rocketman”) The song also doesn’t build much. Drive may not have screamed hit, but at least it really built to the electric guitar and the strings at the 2:05 really kick it up a notch. Kenneth was born a hit. Losing my Religion kick it up from the bridge through the last verse. All of them were far more accessable singles then “E-Bow”.

    THE AFTERMATH (Now the radio stutters)
    So the album hits, and industry insiders assume it will be #1, huge album. But it comes in at number 2, behind New Editions reunion album (I still don’t believe that) None of which would be a huge problem, buy itself. I mean, Drive, while better then E-bow, wasn’t the most marketable song, either. But they followed it with Man and the Moon, which was. And eventually, Everybody Hurts, which had all those girls you hated in high school trying to look deep and melancholy when it came on the radio. The key is to pick a kick-ass follow up. Like Wake-up Bomb. Insiders said that should be a single. Critics said it would make a great single. Warner Brothers wanted it as a single. The band dug there heels in. Didn’t want it to be a single. Dismiss conventional wisdom when it was brought up (I can’t remember the interview, but it exists). They release blasse (Commercially) follow-ups. Bittersweet Me. Electro-lite.

    REM was trying to be less commercial at this point. I think either fame overwhelmed them, or they decided that it was better to be less commercial. Heck, e-bow lyrics talk about Stipe having fame problems. Buck talks about Be Mine as a top 10 single if cut the right way, so they cut it the wrong way. Maybe calculated. Maybe arrogant. Maybe scared, but it was what they did at that moment. Lead with an arty, difficult song. Tone down the easy hit. Never release the most commercial song on the album as a single.

    Ch-Ch-Ch Changes
    Success changed the band. It changes everybody, and while REM weathered it better then most, it still effected them. This is around the time when Buck started bringing up his lawyers when Holt was brought up in an interview. An interviewer mentions Mills speeding in his new sports car, cutting off the reporter, and being a jerk in the interview. Not too much after this is the embarrassment on the plane with Buck, and the high priced legal help that help get him off on a charge the same way so many rich people avoid legal consequences.

    Not to say that there wasn’t a backlash following Monster. I remember vividly a Chris Heath interview for Rolling Stone, maybe, where he basically bashes the band for most of the story. So entirely odd for a cover story about the biggest band in the world. But there it was. He can’t even really say why he hates them. Just that he does. (Part of it, I think, is that all press got either Berry and Stipe or Mills and Buck to interview. He drew Mills and Buck, when Michael is who press really want to talk to. Plus Mike Mills and him didn’t get along real well, it would seem).

    Meanwhile, you rarely get second chance in pop, and the missteps of NA lingered to make them a second tier band from then on. (UP didn’t help, I suppose). I think they tried to win people back with Reveal (Imitation of Life should be called “Imitation of Life is bigger, is bigger then you and you are not me” it really sounds like they wrote a song to try and sound like REM used to sound with that song.) But it’s too late. The days of them being magazine cover boys and artist of the month are over. C’est la Vie.

    Forgive my rant. I thought about it long and hard as I stood in the rain with nobody to buy a copy of “UP” at midnight and wondered what had happened.

  18. Paul Alferink Says:

    By the way, all that is not to say I don’t like the song. I do. Lyrically, it is Stipe at the top of his game. Really. I can’t even pick out the best lyric, because it’s a disservice to the rest of them. So here we go.

    The Best Lyric:

    Look up. What do you see?
    All of you and all of me,
    fluorescent and starry,
    some of them they surprise

    busride. I went to write this, 4:00 a.m.
    this letter.
    fields of poppies, little pearls.
    All the boys and all the girls
    sweet-toothed, each and every one a little scary.
    I said your name.

    I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars,
    hash bars, cherry mash and tin foil tiaras.
    Dreaming of Maria Callas,
    whoever she is.
    This fame thing, I don’t get it.
    I wrapped my hand in plastic to try to look through it.
    Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves.
    I can take you far.
    This star thing, I don’t get it.

    [I’ll take you over. I’ll take you there.]
    Aluminum, it tastes like fear.
    Adrenaline, it pulls us near.

    Will you live to 83?
    Will you ever welcome me,
    will you show me something that nobody else has seen?
    Smoke it, drink.
    Here comes the flood,
    anything to thin the blood.
    These corrosives do their magic slowly, and sweet.
    Phone, eat it, drink.
    just another chink,
    cuts and dents they catch the light.
    Aluminum, the weakest link.

    I don’t want to disappoint you.
    I’m not here to annoint you.
    I would lick your feet
    but is that the sickest move,
    I wear my own crown, and sadness, and sorrow,
    and who’d of thought tomorrow could be so strange?
    My loss. And here we go again.

    [I’ll take you over. I’ll take you there.]
    Aluminum, it tastes like fear.
    Adrenaline, it pulls us near.

    It tastes like fear.
    It pulls us near.

    Look up, what do you see?
    All of you and all of me,
    fluorescent and starry
    some of them they surprise.

    I can’t look it in the eyes.
    Seconal, spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene,
    cherry-flavored neck and collar.
    I can smell the sorrow on your breath.
    The sweat, the victory and sorrow.
    This smell thing, I got it.

    [I’ll take you over. I’ll take you there.]
    Aluminum, it tastes like fear.
    Adrenaline, it pulls us near.

    It tastes like fear.
    It pulls us near.
    It tastes like fear.
    It pulls us near.

  19. davegassner Says:

    Hey Matthew, this comment might be posted too late to catch your eye but where did you see them sing this song with Yorke? I saw it in Vancouver in August of 03 the night before Radiohead did a show of their own in the same venue (at which point Stipe countered with a Karma Police duet!) and I’d say it was one of the top five sort of transcendent “spiritual” experiences of my life.

    Like the previous commentor, I too have been listening to this song a lot on the headphones on walks at night as the weather grows cooler and it gets dark earlier here.

  20. Eclipse Says:

    I agree with everyone who said NAIHF is the last REM album that really “spoke” to them. When this album came out I had just gotten married and moved across the country, and I played it incessantly; it was some kind of tie for me to the life I’d left behind. I still feel the same way about this album – it’s the last one that really grabbed me in any way, but it grabbed HARD. I love this album, and this haunting song.

  21. jim jos Says:

    I think that there was a backlash against R.E.M. around 1996. R.E.M. had deservedly won the title of being one of the next big things throughout the IRS years. Then things went a step further when they released Green, now they had two top ten songs, and then things hit the roof with LMR/Out Of Time. Then they became the biggest band for a while, a momentum that carried through Monster.
    By 1996, writers and many music fans had sort of a feeling like, okay they are big big stars now, lets see who else we can attach ourselves too.

    Any long career is going to have peaks and valleys. Popularity wise, they had been moving up, up, up, and New Adventures would have probably fared just as well regardless. You would have to assume that with each album prior to Out of Time, they had reached a new audience each time out. Automatic sustained it, and Monster initially did too. By 1996, things were a little different.

    EBOW is a fantastic song, not overtly radio friendly, but I do agree that they probably weren’t concerned about that as much, if they ever were concerned. Stipe has always mentioned he is a big PS fan, and it must have been incredible to have been able to work with him. The playing is inventive and Stipes lyrics are especially good as well. New Adventures has gained some more critical praise now then when it was released, it also benefits as being the last four piece album. Now critics take the view of everything post Berry…write it off.
    But I think the new album will fair well critically, if it is as good as I think it can be.

  22. protimoi86 Says:

    What can I say about this song that hasn’t been said? It’s an R.E.M. classic, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Patti’s haunting vocals.

    For me, this song evokes images of a drained Michael Stipe writing a letter to someone as the Monster Tour is closing. The grainy, minimalist quality video (with shots of hotels, highways, and a whole lot of flatland) was perfect for a song out of an aural travelogue.

  23. maclure Says:

    Great track. I’m a bit surprised it features so highly on some of my illustrious colleagues “Best of…” lists. I suppose it is pretty good, yeah. Patti Smith’s inclusion was good, but I wouldn’t stretch to calling it the best vocal performance of her career, especially as she doesn’t do a whole lot on EbTL until then end (anything on Horses is better, IMHO). If she didn’t come with the gravitas of being Patti Smith would we not consider it a slightly odd inclusion? I saw her sing this with REM live at Hyde Park in 2005. Sadly, it was disappointing – she seemed to have forgotten the words and sort of hid behind Michael, who ended up with his arm around her as if to save her the embarrassment.

    Video is ace, agreed.

    Agree with MP that REM were already on the way out at the time of Monster. The reason that album sold so well was it was pushed to the hilt, with almost half the album palmed off as singles, but it only spawned one real lasting popular hit – Kenneth. But, again, why does it matter? I admit to feeling pangs of disappointment when I think of an REM decline in the years after 96… but we’re not supporting a football team here. It really shouldn’t matter, (even when it feels like it does) how successful they are/were. If (and recently it is a big IF) they continue to produce fantastic records, and I have access to the music and can see them live, I’m happy.

  24. Scott Says:

    The fan-club disc with R.E.M. and Neil Young performing Young’s “Ambulance Blues” puts “Up” in context: It’s the band’s “On the Beach.” Which makes “New Adventures” its “Journey Through the Past.” All of which is to say that what I hear on “E-Bow,” especially in the chorus’ plucked hook, is prime Neil Young. That drone isn’t grunge or postgrunge or Sonic Youth; with Mills’ restless bass under it, it’s Buck’s best sepia-tinted Neil Young riffing–deceptively simple, beat-down, contemplative. It’s the most ’70s R.E.M. has ever sounded, and that turns out to be a pretty great thing.

    I used to think the line was “I work my own crowd.” Guess I’ll use that myself someday.

  25. Brian Says:

    You know, this is one of the few places on the internet where I read through the user comments. I love Matt’s postings but I also love reading what other people have to say about the songs too.

    Personally, I love Hi Fi and I think that “E-Bow the Letter” is right at the heart of that album (in my opinion, along with “Leave”). Gorgeous song.

  26. Flandall Says:

    I have to agree with the majority that NAIHF is the last R.E.M. album that “spoke to me”. I remember first listening to it and being mostly blown away. Hell, they even had a zither on it, which I remember my kindergarten teacher playing in 1972. I listened for a single. This was radio consolidation time (as mentioned here), MTV and VH1 were forgetting what the M and V stood for. I kept listening. I waited to hear one of the four possible singles I had heard on the album.

    Then I read that the band had released E-Bow the Letter. I was shocked. While I agree with people about the album, I’ve always considered E-Bow to be too self-indulgent, a song where they tried too hard to impress people that were disgruntled with Monster.

    I’ve never been enamored with E-Bow. Half the time I just skip it. To each their own.

  27. jim jos Says:

    another point,

    Last time I saw the band live it was in Atlanta just about four years ago. Due to not knowing if I was going to make it to ATL or not, I waited a long time to get tickets and wound up being around some R.E.M. fans (obviously) who were at the show, that weren’t really die hard fans. Fanatics. Of all the songs that were played I remember sort of a “meh” vibe from the crowd when this was played. Stuck me as strange because I have always loved it. I think, to the casual ear, it might come off as flat compared to say, The One I Love. If you spend real time listening to the band, I think this becomes one of the great songs.
    But to hear it on the radio, it might not be as formula to suit the casual palate.

  28. Figgy Says:

    To pick up on something maclure said, we definitely shouldn’t feel upset that the band is not as commercially successful as it used to be. When I first got into REM, I met many people who had never heard of them. But I thought that was cool. In a way, part of the appeal was that I was privvy to some very special music that didn’t require mass approval from the average joe.

    It was like being in some sort of secret society, membership to which was granted if you made the effort to track down good music that wasn’t part of the mainstream. Silly as it now seems, I remember feeling kinda smug when I met people who thought they were into really great music just coz they loved Def Leppard, Guns n Roses, Whitesnake, etc at the time. I’d think “these so-called music fans haven’t got a clue”.

    I’m sure I’m not the only contributor to this blog who actually felt a little disappointed at the time when REM became such a big commercial success. The secret was out and less discerning music listeners were now counting themselves as REM fans!


    But I couldn’t begrudge the band – they deserved their success and, besides, they continued to make some great music. To me, it mattered not that their popularity waned in the mid- to late-nineties… I was more concerned later on by what I saw as a drop in standard with ‘Reveal’ and ‘ATS’.

    So just like maclure, I will be happy if they continue to release new songs – I’m always keen to hear new REM material – and I get the opportunity to see them live.

  29. ScottMalobisky Says:

    jimjos , saw them Oct. 11, ’03 in Alanta, that’s four years ago .
    was that the show ? it was the last show of the tour .
    they did it with Pete Yorn , who opened , as the other voice …right?

  30. Kirsten Says:

    I generally prefer them to be less popular – my little secret. But, as their popularity grew, giant tours and award winners I felt proud of them, as if everyone else woke up and realised how fantastic “my band” really are. Happy for them to sink back to being my little secret, makes me feel privilaged to know of so many great songs that so many others are missing out on. However, they need to be popular enough to spend the money to tour Australia – they’re not going to come out here just for me (and mr cup). And I so desperately want to see them live again….

    E-Bow is a beautiful song. I mistook the word “Aluminum” for “Illuminum”. We pronounce aluminum very differently here, so it never even crossed my mind that that was the word until I saw them written down. Shame, “Illuminum tastes like fear” is actually a really great line. Anyone else with a non-American accent have the same problem?

    Beautiful song for all the same reason everyone else mentioned. One of my (many) favourites.

  31. The show I saw with Yorke singing the part was the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington DC in 1998. Yorke also sang “Be Mine” that day, and Stipe sang “Lucky” with Radiohead.

  32. Figgy Says:

    You’re absolutely right, Kirsten – they do need to be big to travel the world so Aussies (and us lot in New Zealand) can see them play live.

    Thankfully, REM played to big crowds on their two NZ dates a couple of years ago, so that might encourage a return visit. If not, I’ll just have to travel to see them.

    On the subject of aluminum, I was already familiar with the different way Americans spell and pronounce ‘aluminium’ so I was never confused about what word Stipe was singing. However, I WAS confused about what he meant until I read an interview where he explained that adrenaline has a metallic taste. Hence, “Aluminum, it tastes like fear. Adrenaline, it pulls us near”.

  33. tin Says:

    i received two tooth fillings yesterday and i’ve had that aluminum taste in my mouth all day… it was so fitting to come home and find this post on e-bow…

  34. Figgy Says:

    Is that “aluminum, tastes like filling”? Or is it “aluminum, tastes like fear of a dental drill”?

  35. Mr Cup Says:

    I changed the way I pronounce Aluminium Kirsten. Dismiss that second ‘i’, it just gets in the way.

    Purely for selfish reasons…I would dearly love REM to tour the smaller venues again. I hate attending a gig with thousands of people that only get off there arse when they hear a little mandolin intro as though it’s the only song they came to hear (LMR).

    I would happily pay double to reduce the crowds.

    The ATS tour was so frustrating with the people around me sitting and chatting for the whole show, applauding occasionaly – when the mood struck. Hate to think of the quality TV they were missing out on.

  36. ScottMalobisky Says:

    while Scott , they did Ambulance Blues with Neil ??!!
    Far out….Man , what else am I not aware of ?

  37. ScottMalobisky Says:

    The Illuminati –the concept, be they real or not –tastes like fear. And that might be their secret language , “illuminum”

  38. Scott Says:

    Just that it’s an amazing recording, Scott M. Need a copy?

  39. Kirsten Says:

    I couldn’t do that Mr Cup! Aussie through & through, me. 🙂 Not that it matters, it’s not exactly a word I use very often. I do love the taste of metal though…

    I’d love to go to one of those smaller gigs, too. Or something like they did in Dublin. Problem is I’d never get tickets, they’d be picked up by people with internet access at 1am on a Saturday morning. That’s what happened on the last tour – couldn’t get front row seats.

  40. ScottMalobisky Says:

    what else is on this fan club record ? do they release these things like annually or what ?

  41. Figgy Says:

    Mr Cup, it’s interesting to hear you mention that ATS gig you attended. I presume it was the one in Perth. I read a review of that show on the Internet just before REM moved on to NZ. I distinctly remember the reviewer complaining about how bad the audience reaction was. Nothing pisses me off more at a gig – whether it’s a famous band or someone giving their all at an open mic night – than people chattering away during the songs. If you don’t want to be there, go home!

    Just like you, I’d love to see REM play small venues again. As you might remember from one of my previous posts, I very nearly spent thousands of dollars on a trip to Dublin to see one of the recent rehearsal nights (one of my mates had a spare ticket). I’m happy to spend more to reduce the crowds, but obviously I saw sense before spending that much!

  42. Kirsten Says:

    (His wife wouldn’t let him) hehe

  43. Scott Says:

    This isn’t up to date, but it includes most of the best.


  44. Figgy Says:

    Actually, Kirsten, she was very supportive!

    Anyway, the mate with the spare ticket. It turns out he got backstage after the show and had a good chat with Mike Mills. He also met Michael Stipe but could only blurt out some standard line about how big a fan he is, to which Mr Stipe replied “Thanks, I have a very rewarding job”.

  45. Kirsten Says:

    Scott M, you’ve got to get your hands on a copy of Christmas Gripping – hilarious 🙂

  46. Mr Cup Says:

    Yeah Figgy, from this side of the world it’s not so viable.

    And Kirsten I feel for you. there should be a new system for seat allocation, similar to the old smoking/non-smoking. This would be talking and non-talking. The former get to line the periphery and keep there bums warm on the nice plastic seats. And clap if there is nothing else to do. Inbridled hedonism down the front! Slightly bridled….

  47. Kirsten Says:

    Oh Figgy! I bet that made you really regret not going!

    My best friend from Primary School (who I haven’t seen for 10 years) and I entered the same competition to meet the band backstage. Out of all of Victoria – she won. To be honest, I was a more than a little jealous.

  48. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Paul, are you maybe a James fan? Your little song title header made me wonder. If so, isn’t “Out To Get You” absolutely great? Love James, it’s a shame and a blessing that they never caught on in the USA.

  49. Kirsten Says:

    Don’t feel too sorry for me. Even though I didn’t get on-line until Monday Morning I still managed 7th row seats. I was increadably happy with that. We got there early, too, so when Michael came out to introduce the support band there was no-one between him & me. Biggest regret of my life – not taking that opportunity to propose to him!

  50. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Also, I’ve said this before, but E-Bow is not THAT unusual as a lead single as quite regularly bands (especially very successful ones) choose unusual songs to be the lead single. After all, mostly BIG fans are going to buy the single anyway. It is quite common to release something different or unusual as the lead single and save the potential “hit” for the 2nd single. The best example I can think of is U2’s releasing “The Fly” as Achtung Baby’s lead single and aas the follow-up to the massive success of Joshua Tree and Rattle & Hum. It tanked and then “Mysterious Ways” and “One” were released. Sometimes, the strange lead single even becomes a surprise hit. Depeche Mode led Violator with “Personal Jesus” which was quite a departure from anything they had done up to that time – with more obvious singles like “Enjoy The Silence” and “Policy Of Truth” being held. Then, PJ was such a massive smash that they have basically used it as a blueprint for the rest of the career since then. By the way, if any of you are lapsed Depeche Mode fans you really do need to listen to Playing The Angel as it is great.

  51. Paul Alferink Says:

    We talked about James when I mentioned something about “Laid”
    The only album I have is “Laid” and I’m rather fond of it, especial the title track, (which is the reason I bought it) and “Out to get you.” But the album is strong through and through. Skindiving is beautiful.
    It’s the only album I’ve ever heard anything off of. Vastly underrated, though.

  52. 2d Says:

    nothing more to add on “e-bow the letter”. beautiful, haunting, spectral song. it’s very grave, much like a funeral drone, and i mentioned before how annoyed i am that it flunked as a first single. then again, i am constantly surprised by how many people i know find it irritating! whenever i introduce the band to someone, i usually play very different songs, and this one always makes the list. yet i rarely get good feedback from someone! most people say it’s [the worst kind of reaction] boring and monotonous! i can’t remember hearing it for the first time, but it’s hard for me to imagine i never liked this song. it’s nothing short of brilliant. i find it the better song actually, when compared to its [to me] counterpart “country feedback”. the lyrics are top notch, and it actually manages to sound like “monster” r.e.m. and “murmur” r.e.m. at the same time. it’s all over the place and nowhere. it’s old and new. timeless.

    as for james, i love that band, but i have yet to hear all their catalogue. i have their “best of” & “millionaires”, and “pleased to meet you” (but i haven’t warmed up to most of this one yet). my favourite track of theirs is “sometimes”, very cinematic, and monumental in the context of the lyrics. wonderful vocals. james is a great band. i can’t imagine my life now without “destiny calling” [i even used it as the closing credits of a movie i made with some of my friends, the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek] or “crash” or “sit down” or “out to get you”.

  53. ADB Says:

    Some really interesting comments on this one. My sense is that their career followed a slightly different trajectory in the UK than it did in the US – Automatic was absolutely huge over here, it was riding high in the charts for a year basically, and became one of those albums that people who don’t like music very much buy. Like Coldplay or James Blunt. A lot of those casual fans then bought Monster and didn’t like it – too weird / grungey – and I think they decided they weren’t going to get burnt again, so gave New Adventures a miss, and haven’t really returned to the band since. No great loss, I think it was always kind of a fluke that REM got so huge in the early 90s anyway.

    As for James – check out Gold Mother, that’s a great album. Brings 1990 flooding back…

    And re: E-bow itself, I love it but I don’t have much to add – ‘it’s all been said before’.

  54. milesy Says:

    ADB- I think you’re dead right with your analysis of the UK decline in popularity, with fair weather Automatic ‘fans’ hearing Monster and losing interest. Their loss. As several have said, as long as the music keeps coming and we can see them live, fine. I share the annoyance of people forced to stand at concerts next to people who chat through the songs (except LMR etc)- I add here the first night in Johannesburg in 2005- for goodness sake, this is the first time REM went to South Africa, and people went and talked! (My wife was heavily pregnant at that gig, but we had standing tickets- by Man on the Moon she was so tired, she had to go and find somewhere to sit down at the back. Should I have gone with her..?)

    Can’t add much on ebow- I’ve always liked it, but not THAT much- whereas NA is one of my favourite albums overall. Of all the first listens to an REM album, I think that afternoon after work on the day of release made the biggest impact- I just lay there on the sofa with a huge grin on my face, listened to the album… then started again…

  55. Dark Bob Says:

    Neil Young and REM did a version of AMBULANCE BLUES?,
    I never heard anything about this until now. I’ve always hoped that they would work together sometime, I can’t believe I,ve never heard about this!

  56. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , Scott , I would really like to hear the Ambulance Blues thing ..how would I go about getting a copy ?…” I saw today in the entertainment section, there’s room at the top for private detection….”..yeah , I gotta hear this…this take on Neil at his most brilliant , cynical ,darkly gorgeous , rockstar jaded stoned ,mysterious, self-absorbed best (I love those mid-70’s records). I wonder if he ever looks back on these records and thinks , “Damn, it’s almost embarrasing to have these records out there for all to hear, audio testimony to just how self-absorbed a man (an artist thing?) can be at a certain point in life given the right combination of circumstances.”

    Oh yeah , I think I mentioned in a previous post that E-bow was the track that was cranking in my CD player when my formerly alcohol besotted brain go boom ,the sound of Honda Civic on Rangerover , checked out sometime during Undertow (that song gives me an attitude everytime)…but , you know , to this day I swear that she –the teenager driving her rich daddy’s RR in the twilight–did not have her lights on……….But I was over the limt so I was “at fault”. A blessing in retrospect and , oooh , what a lucky man he was. “A day that’ll live in infamy.”-FDR

  57. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Dark Bob , my feelings exactly …

  58. Dark Bob Says:

    You know, alot of people have said that the past few REM records were’nt up to par with their previous ones (Me Included), But alot of people wrote off Neil Young in the 80’s for the same reason and he went on to release some of his best work and still is! I believe this will be the case with REM. Their best is yet to come! (Man, I gotta hear this Ambulance Blues version!)

  59. Scott Says:

    I should be clear that Neil Young does all the singing… But it’s awesome. I’d be glad to send a file to anyone who sends me an e-mail. I recommend using a Gmail account so that I can send the file at a high sampling rate. Send requests to swilson91@kc.rr.com.

  60. ScottMalobisky Says:

    NY singing : “I went to the radio interview, ended up alone at the microphone..” :prelude to New Test Leper ??Hardly :)….Personally , I think that Rust Never Sleeps was NY’s last great album, but what the hey , he’s a crusty old geezer now with a brain aneurysm behind him….I wonder how he feels listening to ‘Old Man’ these days (probably avoids it like the plague)..I wonder how The Who feel hearing , “I hope I die before I get old..”..well , two of the band members decided to do something about it . Actions speak louder than words.

    Hey Paul, nice rant ! Mills had an obnoxious moment ??!
    Stop the press! ____________xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  61. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Hey Paul, did you plagarize that poem ?

  62. ScottMalobisky Says:

    in my junk email this morning – Makeup Special: Sample Extreme Volume Mascara From Maybelline, coincidence or are The Illuminati behind this ? ….it’s all coming together sorta………..

  63. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow! Patti Smith, the Illuminati, mascara, “Ambulance Blues”, and dentists all in one chain of thoughts (inspired by a semi-obscure song by an American rock band). The power of the internet.

  64. jim jos Says:

    Yeah Scott M. That was the show, we’re you there too?

    I also bought On the Beach that same trip, in Athens at Wuxtry. I remember hoping that R.E.M. would go to Athens and I would see them there, went to the 40 Watt Club, I figured, maybe I would get lucky since they were all “home” and the tour was over. But, nope. They were off to do some promo work in the UK instead.

    I would really like to do a hard rock version of Revolution Blues, that would be great. Don’t anyone steal my idea now….

  65. jim jos Says:

    Freedom followed by Ragged Glory was, in my opinion, his last very good albums. I liked Greendale too.

  66. Kirsten Says:

    May I be the first to say “Happy Birthday” to Automatic on this fine Friday morning. Wow, 15 years they’ve been a part of my life – 15 years they’ve been my life. That’s more than half my life. It’s actully kinda sad, wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t walked in to see Drive on TV 15 years ago…

  67. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yes , jimjos , I was , drove down from Knoxville Tennessee where I was living at the time , cool, who knows , maybe I saw you there….

    Scott, gonna send you my email address via normal email channels , couldn’t do it thru your link there…
    “you’re all just pissin’ in the wind
    you don’t know it but you are
    and there ain’t nuthin’ like a friend who can tell
    you you’re just pissin’ in the wind”……

  68. Clive Says:

    This is my first entry in a while and it’s really just to announce I am posting my own R.E.M. cover versions on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/cliveuk25 if anyone is interested. Apologies for using this opportunity for my own benefit rather than commenting on the brilliant ‘E-Bow The Letter’, just thought this might be of interest to some of you. Currently I’ve only posted ‘World Leader Pretend’ but my next few uploads will be ‘Perfect Circle’, ‘Endgame’, ‘Stumble’ and Pylon’s ‘Crazy’.

  69. Clare Says:

    When I heard this song for the 1st time it was the 1st time I really thought Michael Stipe was a lyrical genius, didn’t particularly make a lot of sense to my 18 year old self back then, but I delighted in seeing the confused expressions on the faces of my friends in the 6th form common room after just about being persuaded to the merits of the band after “Kenneth” & “Crush With Eyeliner”!! Could almost hear them going “what the heck?” Brill. Only Michael could put into a song how fear tastes like chewing on tin foil…so right, & so is this song.

  70. corduroy13 Says:

    One of my very favorites. And I concur on the best bassline observation.

  71. popgirlsetc Says:

    I never understood the weird backlash this single suffered. It’s really melodic and hooky, and (in my opinion) miles better than then-recent single Bang & Blame. And I agree with you, it’s a perfect introduction to the record, just like WTF,K? was to Monster. It just boggles my mind.

  72. Bruno Says:

    Just when you think all the love songs were already written here’s this – check out ‘Dark Come Soon’.


  73. Bruno Says:

    i should have said “all the BEST love songs” ^

  74. jim jos Says:

    That is amazing Scotty M. I was up, to the right of the stage. Phillps struck me as being kind of a bland place for a rock and roll show. Funny we were both there. Four years ago seems like just a day. Here the Cubs are again, on the verge of playoff elimination. Had a great time at the show. Went to Athens the next day and hung out at the Georgia Bar, good. good times. No doubt my life has declined since then. Sad, but true.

  75. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah jimjos, kinda sad really , life is funny, so much has happened since then but so little has changed —personally speaking I mean —but then again so much has changed……..if that makes any sense

  76. Ignis Sol Says:

    I remember my then fourteen-year-old niece singing the lines “aluminum tastes like fear….” She was more into the urban and pop music, but this song seemed to resonate to her in some strange way. It also revealed how radio (and MTV) was still playing R.E.M. and that “E-Bow, the Letter” was in at least light rotation. I don’t blame my niece, now married with a beautiful son, for singing it. It is very catchy and a very intriguing song. This makes it perfect. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is perfect, too.

  77. aaroncurtisneil Says:

    New Adventures In Hi-Fi has got to be my favorite post-Automatic R.E.M. album. Monster worked for me very well as a youth, being 13 when it came out. Already an avid R.E.M. fan, Monster sort of served as my own “HA!” to my cohorts who thought they were kind of adult-contemporary.

    But this album, to me, was the full maturity of the sound they started finding in Monster. I love the album beginning to end, and pop it into the stereo more often than “Up” and “Monster” (which is meant as no disrespect to either)

    But this song was such a nice surprise, and a beautiful introduction to the album. I was thrilled when it came out, and it became a staple in my autumn listening. Damn, I’m going to go pop it on right now!

  78. Ebowed Says:

    I hadn’t considered the Telecommunications Act, which is a very interesting theory.

    E-Bow the Letter peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock chart, historically friendly both to R.E.M. and leftwing causes. The fact that it flunked everywhere else is certainly worth considering.

  79. ScottMalobisky Says:

    xman, Ted Nugent leans a little to the right. Just a little.

  80. MikeyBhoy Says:

    I agree with Rich….Mike’s best bass line ever! I love this song, it’s in my top 3 R.E.M. songs of all time. It’s possibly my favourite to sing along to. And the video just sets it all off. It’s one of the most important R.E.M. moments for me…hearing the song and seeing the video….it’ almost perfection.

  81. Deb Says:

    In doing lots of reading about REM this week, I came across Peter mentioning that the highlight of his professional life was when his musical hero Patti Smith came into the studio to sing “a song a wrote.”

  82. thewmatt Says:

    Why re-reading this reasonably post for “E-Bow…” has prompted me to comment for the first time I’m not really sure why, but here it goes.

    I’ve always thought of my journey to becoming a ‘huge R.E.M. fan’ as a bit unconventional. The first CD I bought (which is a bit of a misnomer as I got it from the BMG Music club way back) was “Automatic for the People”. For obvious reasons, I mean I’ve always assumed that everyone in the world between the ages of 12-20 in 1992 bought copies of it.

    Prior to that, with all of the radio play the big hits from “Green” and “Out of Time” got I never felt the need to buy the actual albums. This may also be attributed to the fact I had no real disposable income as a kid, and therefore wasn’t to the point where I was buying music of any kind.

    When “Monster” came out, I had my own personal backlash against the band. Naturally this is because I thought I was too cool to listen to anything so heavily promoted. I was very much in my “if it is on the radio at all it isn’t cool” phase. It was dumb and immature, but it where I was in my musical tastes at the time. I actually pretty much hated “WTF,K?” because it was on MTV and the radio every five minutes (and I’ll thank you for not pointing out that if I hated the radio why was I listening to it? :). This is all the more ironic because the single R.E.M. album I actually owned was by far their most commercial success. I was pretty ridiculous.

    Anyway, I begrudgingly began to come around to the singles off of Monster. I still have a love hate relationship with “Bang and Blame”, but if I’m being honest I loved “Strange Currencies” and “Crush with Eyeliner” right off the bat. It was still the year 2000 before I actually bought the album.

    With this as context, “E-Bow…” is released. In my memory it seemed to me to be promoted nearly as much as “WTF,K?” and “Monster” were, although not quite as much. Again, I hated it. It dripped with pretentiousness (the very same pretentiousness I myself used as the reason the dislike it? Yup.) As some have mentioned it is largely a spoken word piece, which MP expertly describes as a “bit of intimate correspondence taken out of its context, and so we’re left to work out the meaning of a fragment of a conversation…” Who are these guys to release such an unconventional single?

    A few weeks before the release of “New Adventures…” a classmate of mine won a pre-release copy on the radio. I actually heard her win it, it was pretty cool. She brought it to school (Senior year in High School) and let one of my R.E.M. fanatic friends borrow over lunch. I remember thinking “This is freakin’ awesome!”. Even with the unconventional opening track, even with the single I had previously denounced as pretentious, it was incredible. Then I heard “Leave” and it was as if I was hearing R.E.M. for the first time. This album was different, it was smart.

    As you can tell, it was really “New Adventures…” that turned me into the R.E.M. fan that I am today. After buying that, I bought most of the I.R.S. catalog (I admit I’m still lacking one of them), I went on to buy “Up” which I still think is pretty great if a bit depressing from start to finish. I ultimately bought “Monster” and grew to love “WTF,K?”. I felt disappointed with “Reveal”, and initially with “Around the Sun” (but I’ve surprisingly grown really enjoy about half of it, and kinda dislike the other half).

    I’ve always listened to R.E.M. in bunches. Thanks to this website (and now “Accelerate”) I’m in a bit of a prolonged binge. Thanks to MP for the great writing and R.E.M. for keeping me guessing.

    Apologies to everyone for the long-winded, only tertiarily (sp?) related post.

  83. RedParakeet Says:

    The sitar bits, yeah!

  84. Dabiv Dagis Says:

    Hey all, I thank Matthew P for putting me in another well-earned R.E.M. overload phase, and this is the result – me singing over a self-processed sludge karaoke track of this tune! Peace.. http://youtube.com/watch?v=zJQ6sKRvDww

  85. time4timer Says:

    Nobody has mentioned the fact(?) that this song was written for River Phoenix, before he died.

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