(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
February 24, 2008
When I was in high school, I had a job as a stock boy at the local supermarket. They played old-school Muzak over the P.A., i.e., mellow instrumental versions of well-known pop songs, never the actual recordings. In the time I was there, I noticed that there were a handful of R.E.M. songs in rotation: “Man On The Moon,” “Shiny Happy People,” “Everybody Hurts,” and, uh, “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.” I probably heard the Muzak version of “Rockville” a few times before I realized what I was hearing — not that the song wasn’t recognizable in this form, but because I didn’t realize the song was well-known enough to enter the context of mid-90s supermarket Muzak. But really, why not? “Rockville” is a straight-up traditional country-rock tune, and one of the most unabashedly mainstream songs the band has ever recorded.
Much of the song’s charm — and near-total lack of weirdness — comes down to the fact that “Rockville” is more or less a Mike Mills solo composition. Michael Stipe may have filled the tune with obscure turns of phrase, but Mills’ words are simple and sincere: He’s way into a girl, but she’s leaving town, and headed off to a dull suburb in Maryland. He imagines that his life will be boring and lonely without her, and his vision of her life in Rockville is almost hilariously grim. It’s a very sweet song, but the best thing about it is that the singer’s earnest pleas are colored with a bit of selfishness. This is not to say that he is in any way a creep, but it’s pretty fair to say that this song is more about him and his desire for stability than it is about her.
A Jicksy Note: Very sloppy, but it fills my heart with joy!