Shaking Through

February 18, 2008

If Murmur is about anything at all, it’s about communication. More accurately, its songs attempt to articulate the state of being entirely inarticulate, or unable to process the way other people express themselves. There’s a sense of confusion in just about every track, but more than that, a genuine effort to overcome this mess of miscommunication. “Shaking Through” begins with a statement of resigned frustration — “could it be that one small voice doesn’t count in the room?” — but as the song carries along, it finds its grace in the sound of the music, if not its words. “Shaking through / opportune” may look terrible and obtuse  in print, but that chorus sounds absolutely glorious on record, as the piano, rhythm, and harmony come together like a gentle wave of compassion and humility. Even more is conveyed in the song’s bridge, in which Michael Stipe sings the line “in my life…” over a few bars, but never completes the thought, as though he cannot find the words to express what he’s feeling, and jumped the gun a bit because he was so eager to be understood.  It’s an awkward moment that we all recognize from life, but the band have turned it into something rather gorgeous and sublime.

41 Responses to “Shaking Through”

  1. Paul Alferink Says:

    I like this song live. If they were to resurrect a forgotten Murmur song for this tour like “Perfect Circle” for Green, or “Pilgramage” last tour, I’d vote for this one. Or “We Walk”.

    I’m a sucker for Key Changes, and REM doesn’t do it very much. But there is a big, fat one here. Yay!

  2. ScottMalobisky Says:

    autumn marches on sad and pensive
    through entire semesters lost

  3. adam Says:

    Today, on the Presidents holiday.. one could also give a political reading to this song.. re elections.. voice .. frustration etc. (though I do not think that was the original intent of the song) Beautiful, classic REM.

  4. milesy Says:

    It’s pretty much impossible to overstate how much I love this song. Brilliant write-up Matthew: ‘the piano, rhythm, and harmony come together like a gentle wave of compassion and humility’- yes! That’s exactly what happens. Listening to Shaking Through is like being surrounded by people who value and love you; or maybe like being somewhere very safe after a storm (literal or otherwise). The hope conveyed here is hard to pin down, but it’s forceful.

    In 1989, when I first got a tape with Murmur and LRP, this was one of the first songs to grab me. It never let go. Isn’t this a classic one for getting to the end and just wanting to do it again, and sing it LOUD.

  5. milesy Says:

    Right with the chord change comment, Paul; not quite as cheesy as Stand, but even more uplifting.
    What are the other REM modulation-moments?

  6. Mr Cup Says:

    Like a geisha gown, this song is GOLD!

    I can’t communicate the joy it brings.

  7. Paul Alferink Says:

    Conversation Fear, Mr. Cup?

  8. Paul Alferink Says:

    Oh, do not ask, what is it?
    Let us go and make our visit . . .
    For I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

    I do not think they will sing to me.

  9. maclure Says:

    My favourite from Murmur, possibly. You’ve all done a great job of expressing what I already feel.

    That line about the still small voice for me recalls the protagonist from Perfect Circle, another character who struggled with noisy crowded rooms. Nobody’s mentioned geisha gowns yet, have they? That image comes out of left field (perhaps, west of the field?) but lifts the song perfectly…

    I think what I love is that – compared to what was to come later – the band were finding their voices, Michael was murmuring, pianos and guitars were played carefully and tentatively. The production is boisterous but not proud. This song describes for me how R.E.M. must have felt taking their music into the world – quietly optimistic, pushing on and shaking through.

    Here’s another one who likes the key change – a totally appropriate inclusion.

  10. Mr Cup Says:

    This is one of THE best songs to play on geetar as well. The chords just roll along nicely and sound great even if your voice doesn’t.

    Buskers of the world, learn this and take over!

  11. Kirsten Says:

    Well said Matthew, my thoughts exactly. Love Michael’s voice on this one, so unsure – almost scared. Conveys the meaning of the song beautifully. I miss that uncertainty in more current REM – I guess they kinda got over that conversation fear.

    That’s what I love about this room. My small voice might not count, but at least I’m heard.

  12. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Paul , that’s the second reference to The Love Song OF J. Alfred Prufrock that I do not get , did not get the last one either (9/9) ?? Are you testing me because I mentioned that poem a while back ?:)…except for the fact that the feeling of positve forlornness of this song is kinda similiar to TLOJAP except the poem suggests age while this song suggests tingling untainted youthful [naive almost] optimism , positive forlornness–well not really positive forlornness– as in hopelessly idealistic , as in hopeless but sticking to your ideals and “guns” despite the consequences, optimistic , having your act together ….and this song is really autumn, autumn all the way , and yes I know that it’s “honor marches on”, not autumn marches on ..(not that anyone chided me for that, a pre-emptive strike on my part:))

    I can picture a certain northest college campus, ivy on the buildings surrounding the quadrangle, me obliviously young..a gentle rain that falls ..My head like a flower floating in the breeze , Man.

    “jumped the gun a bit because he was so eager to be understood” , or to understand, “You reached for the secret too soon , you cried for the moon..”

    this song must surely be one of the ones from Murmur that JMS supposedly sang in a darkened side stairwell of the studio. right on , maclure, quietly optimistic

  13. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Shaking Through” is one of my favorites. Makes me want to sing it loud and free.

  14. Paul Alferink Says:

    Prufrock is a timid fellow. So caught up in himself that he cannot act. So worried about the consequences of his actions that he cannot do anything.
    As a subset of that, and the important part, perhaps, is that he cannot engage in meaningful conversation, or even conversation at all. He ends the first part of the poem hint at an overwhelming question, and then backs off and never asks the question. Heck, should he engage in conversation, it would only be misunderstood. Hence, the “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.”
    Anyway, probably overplayed by my own reading into the poem and the inherent problems with language and meaning that interested me back in the day. Words can mean so many things that you can mean one thing and have someone else interpret those words to mean something else, sometime radically different. For fear of not being understood, one would be frozen, unable to commuincate. Conversation Fear. I got obsessed with that concept, and read a bit too much of it in Proffock (and the Waste Land) then is really there.

  15. 2d Says:

    this is a lovely, perfectly innocent song. it bursts with that hopeful child-like spirit that is so characteristic to “murmur”, full of magic and colours.

    i love this album.

  16. Mr Cup Says:

    milesy requested more attention here and I have to agree, this song is truly deserving of some gushing platitudes. However, I’m still stuck for words.

    I think it was a Bob Mould review on somewhere, where someone asked the question ‘how do you write a primal scream?’. And it’s sort of resonating with me through the bridge here. That ‘in my liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-ighhhhhhhhhhhhh-iiiiiieeeeeeee,,,’ is so pivotal in the matter of the frustrated singer. All he can do is scream (before resuming some poetic lines) but that moment where the ‘iiiiiiiiiiiii’ drops an octave is another moment where I do need to reach for the absorbent paper.

    Such a great song. Such a great album. What’s all this business with the 25th anniversary of Thriller? THIS was THE album of 1983.
    Let me hear ya’ll.

  17. beonetraveler Says:

    Another superb write-up that verbally captures the atmosphere and mood of a great R.E.M. track. Digging the comments as well.

    My pre-internet enjoyment of “Shaking Through” made my ears hear “yellow like a geisha doll” with heavy drawling and diphthonging of “doll.” And I was never convinced that was right. I was somewhat glad to see from the “Sitting Still” comments (“Up to par and Katy bars the kitchen…”) there’s a range of views on what JMS actually sings (in that song and others).

    So, it’s “gown.” What does the line mean? Yellow as in cowardly, albeit delicate or fragile (like a geisha gown)? Or old, aged, customary–as in, “Yep, that’s (Stipe’s protagonist), never says anything.”

    Agree that Thriller wasn’t, really.

  18. lleimmoen Says:

    one of their best i think. one of anyone’s best. beautiful.

  19. lenny Says:

    I have just one thing to say about the comment posted earlier by Scott: Shine on, you crazy diamond.

    (I wonder how many other people reading this site catch the PF quotes like I do.)

  20. 2d Says:

    count me as one, lenny 😉

  21. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I like this song, but it has always been just middle of the pack for me – but I am way in the minority here.

  22. ScottMalobisky Says:

    good call , Paul , I really follow your reasoning there with the Prufrock thing

    “geisha gown” is a very cool lyric , delicate image, well placed in a delicate song

  23. Kirsten Says:

    Didn’t Rolling Stone Magazine rate Murmur as the #1 Album of 1983, with Thriller coming in 2nd? I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere.

  24. Mr Cup Says:

    I’m certain I’ve read that before…Hey Man I’m makin’ moves…

    If REM had Vincent Price do a little voice over somewhere in the murky middle of 9-9, it would have sold millions. Oh and if Quincy produced it. And they tacked Speedwagon on the end.

    erggh. Thriller can have it’s gold plated re-issue. I’ll still take the river smell of Murmur – anytime!
    In 2033, they’ll both be 50. Who wants to catch up then and compare them?

  25. Figgy Says:

    I can’t find the words to describe how much I like this song and how it lifts me when I listen to it. Luckily, many of you clever people have been able to find the words for me. Excellent review and excellent comments. Cheers!

  26. Figgy Says:

    By the way, I always thought the “geisha gown” line was something like “Your life, it gets you down…” Never knew the real line until Mr Cup’s comment encouraged me look up the lyric archive. I still find meaning in what I’ve always heard, but the real words are so much better.

  27. jim jos Says:

    for 1983, It is is in the liner notes of “And I Feel Fine..” Murmur was voted album of the year, with Thriller and U2’s War coming in second and third by the readers. Is it true that this is JMS least favorite song off the album?

  28. Mr Cup Says:

    JMS to the swings!!!!

  29. Kirsten Says:

    That’s one way to get them to tour down here….

    Golden Lemonade to be served to the King (of comedy and birds). In his defence (which I’d come to no matter what he said or did), the album is perfect so it’d be a hard call to make – he could be right. Actually, he is right. Michael is ALWAYS right and don’t you forget it!

  30. Mr Cup Says:

    Golden Lemonade sounds rather, shall we say…fetishistic?

    Was he right when he rubbed mustard in his hair? Was he right when he sported the moho- mullet in the late 80’s??? NO! He wasn’t right then and he’s not right on this one. He doesn’t know anything!

    (Stipe, if you are reading this – she made me say that!)

  31. Kirsten Says:

    Yes, yes and no I didn’t!

  32. Mr Cup Says:

    Did so! Times infinity!

  33. 2d Says:

    oy! come along, mr. stipe. let’s leave the loonies be and have ourselves a nice cup of coffee.


  34. Kirsten Says:

    Sorry 2d, I know it’s a bit obvious, but I have to mention pepper….

    Or maybe I could quote Java:
    Share a cup with your neighbour
    Hey sister, you got a bag of sugar I can borrow?

    And Michael – Did Not times infinity Plus 1! (See how much fun it is down here? Come on, join us!)

  35. wei Says:

    What else can I say? I cannot be more articulating. This is my favorite song by REM or any band. I love it so much that I cannot stop pushing replay button and listen to it, only it, through my 1 hour commutes, every time. It purely lifts me.

  36. bree Says:

    This song gives me chills pretty much every time I hear it. I love the way the verse rolls into the refrain so organically–it’s such a feeling of freedom and abandon.
    Thanks for another beautiful write-up, Matthew.

  37. Dark Bob Says:

    Another example of one of REM’s FINEST HOURS. Fantastic song.

  38. Steve Hill Says:

    Love this song. An early unrecorded version had the line “incest on parade”, I always assumed the lyrics were about child abuse – hence the line “could it be that one small voice doesn’t count in the room?”.

    Thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Great project, love reading it.

  39. RDB Says:

    Whenever I listen to Murmur, I think “Sitting Still” is my favorite REM song until I hear this one start.

  40. font9a Says:

    “In my life” is one of the greatest refrains R.E.M. has ever sung. Shaking Through is probably technically the best song the band has ever written and performed. I think you nailed it with the observation that, “piano, rhythm, and harmony come together like a gentle wave of compassion and humility.”

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