Half A World Away
December 24, 2007
I did not own a cd player until the Christmas of 1994. When I received a small stereo from my parents that year, I also was given a number of cds, and among those was Out Of Time, which I’d previously only had as a dubbed cassette. (If I recall correctly, this is also how I came to own Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, and a good portion of the Beatles catalog.) For some reason, out of all the songs on Out Of Time, only “Endgame” and “Half A World Away” have been tied in to this memory of Christmas, or more specifically, its immediate aftermath. In regards to “Half A World Away,” I reckon that it has something to do with the specific qualities of the mandolin and harpsichord — I consistently associate treble with winter and Christmas, and the gentle melancholy of the piece is not far removed from many religious carols of the season.
Really, “Half A World Away” is not far removed from a lot of traditional folk music in terms of style, instrumentation or subject matter. Michael Stipe doesn’t quite shake off his penchant for mildly inscrutable poetry, but no matter how you look at it, it’s a lonesome ballad about being far away from someone you love. The words are mostly quite straightforward, but the song’s most gorgeous moments come when Stipe’s words lean heavy on images: “This storm it came up strong / it shook the trees / and blew away our fear,” “Blackbirds, backwards, forward and fall.”