We Walk

April 8, 2008

If you take the whole of Murmur as something that takes place over the course of one long night, the spritely “We Walk” is like a brisk stroll in the waning moonlight, just before dawn. The tune sounds especially perky and innocent, but its child-like tone is tempered by a slight drowsiness, and faint, ominous booms that punctuate the track like distant thunder. (R.E.M. trivia buffs ought to know that this sound was created by manipulating the recording of balls colliding on a pool table.)

Michael Stipe’s explanation for the song’s lyrical content is somewhat intriguing. Apparently it’s based on visiting a place in Athens called the Print Shop. To get to the main room, one would have to go up a flight of stairs and through a bathroom, where occasionally there would be a person bathing with their arm leaning over the edge of the tub, recalling Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Jean-Paul Marat, the French Revolutionary who was stabbed to death in his bath by an assassin.  It’s an odd and striking image to be sure, but it’s a curious basis for a song, especially since there is so little to the lyrics aside from the repetition of this sideways allusion to a famous painting.

84 Responses to “We Walk”

  1. 2d Says:

    wow i actually didn’t know that explanation for the song matthew, where do you know it from? pretty cool.

    this song is so bouncy and sweet, very much in tune with the playful innocence of “murmur”. the pool balls thing is a stroke of genius.

    slightly off topic, i’ve always connected “wanderlust” to “we walk”, they have some musical similarities, they’re childish and there is even a connection in the titles. i prefer “we walk” but i love them both.

  2. Michael’s explanation can be found in Marcus Gray’sIt Crawled From The South and the J. Niimi’s Murmur book in the 33 1/3 series.

  3. Brian Says:

    I haven’t read It Crawled from the South in years. I might need to dig it out again this summer.

  4. Kirsten Says:

    We Walk is a heap better than Wanderlust, but I see your connection with the childish, poppy tune. However, I have a much higher opinion of We Walk, though it is the low-light of Murmur (but I still love it). I’m also a big fan of the pool balls. Great live and fun to sing along to.

    My Mum sings this song every time she walks up the stairs and to the landing….

  5. Paul Alferink Says:

    It’s Stupid that this is one of the Stand-Outs on Murmur. It’s silly and stupid. . . and unbelievably catchy. It has a mildly tropical feel, for some reason. It might have been a better ending song for Murmur. West of the Fields always felt tacked on after this song finishes. Nothing against, West of the Fields. More of a track order preference.

  6. Paul Alferink Says:

    I also sing the song in the stairwell at work.

    Up the stair onto the landing up the stair into the hall . . .

  7. profligateprofiterole Says:

    2d , read Wanderlust posting..

  8. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I love We Walk, really dislike Wanderlust, yet I hear the similarities as well. We Walk is such simple pop sugar, surely the forerunner of Stand, Shiny Happy People, etc. One of my faves from Murmur and I agree with you Paul that this track should close Murmur and the West of the Fields seems tacked on the end.

  9. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Beavis: Hee-hee, hee-hee.

    Butt-Head: What are you laughing about buttmunch?

    Beavis: Hee-hee, hee-hee, Matthew said “balls colliding”.

    Butt-Head: Uh, you’re a loser.

  10. Bruno Says:

    I always liked Michael’s yelping on this one. Funny sing-along stuff.

  11. Mr Cup Says:

    I’m unable to hear this song without seeing that painting nowadays.
    It’s a tune that got me through some art history classes on friday afternoons though. Back then it was ‘upstairs and to the pub’ though.

  12. Rob Says:

    I remember seeing a really cool and funny take on this on a concert recorded for German television in 1985. It includes Marlene Dietrich impressions and Michael rubbing the head of a bald man in the front row. I think its up on You Tube if anyone wants to track it down.

  13. Clive Says:

    Yes Rob, that was Rockpalast, that was a great performance. Note- Peter, Mike and Bill shouting 1, 2, 3, 4 in as many languages as they know.

    The print shop is actually mentioned right at the end of the song on a live version that I think is on the ‘And I Feel Fine’ bonus CD. I work in a print shop and I found it quite weird why he would randomly mention a print shop. Now I know 🙂

  14. maclure Says:

    I love this track and I think it (along with 9-9) are essential to breaking up side 2 of Murmur and providing a breather for the listener. I actually think this kind of arpeggioed major chords with a plodding, “walking” bassline is their prototype for some of their later essential songs like Everybody Hurts, Strange Currencies and Why Not Smile.

  15. Paul Alferink Says:

  16. Dark Bob Says:

    WE WALK is the most playful song off Murmur.I don’t know why, but I frequently hear this song while I’m dreaming. Mitch Easter and Don Dixon really did a great job on this song as well as the entire album.

  17. lleimmoen Says:

    mathew, do you have an account on murmurs? i would just love to pm you sometimes to ask you a few r.e.m. oriented questions – or to discuss some of the material. i imagine you must be busy but it would be a great fun to discuss some of their stuff – i am also a writer (publishing books) but r.e.m. is just my great hobby.
    so if you did not mind…? e-mail me if you find time to spare…

  18. profligateprofiterole Says:

    never really thought of this as an official real song
    but I guess it is

  19. Imitation of Life Says:

    Not really a fan, although one of the best songs off Murmur has been left ’til last, so it’s no bad thing.

  20. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    As I mentioned above I love this song and believe it could have been a great closer for Murmur. However, that said, its tone and feel probably would make it a closer cousin to the songs on Reckoning (West of the Fields too). I could hear this fitting in very nicely in between Secong Guessing and Letter Never Sent.

  21. Jared W Says:

    This song sounds like a lazy, plodding dream, and I really like it.

  22. jft Says:

    nothing much to add, this is a nice little song which is kind of different to the other songs on Murmur in mood but fits in well at the same time, one of the weaker songs on Murmur actually, but that’s due to the quality of the whole album, not to the song. there isn’t actually a single skippable track on that album – well, perhaps “Talk About The Passion” from time to time, but actually… no!
    a standout album which is standout for its consistency of great songs plus one of the best tracks they ever produced (pc).

  23. Macphisto Says:

    Getting down to the wire Matthew… You have some great songs coming up: Life and How to Live It, Find a River, I Believe…

  24. Andy Says:

    Got my R.E.M. tickets.
    Got my Radiohead tickets.
    It’s a good day in Massachusetts!

  25. jim jos Says:

    up the stairs to the landing up the stairs until the hall. Take oasis, Marats bathing.

    we walk through the woods.
    we walk through the world.

  26. Paul Alferink Says:

    I always thought the lyrics where
    “Take an Oasis. More odd spaces”

    Oh Well.

  27. Mr Cup Says:

    I thought it was ‘mud, rocks, bathing’.
    Until art history. It all became clear. An REM song about THAT painting. Wow.

  28. Chris Oliver Says:

    I always heard “Take Oasis, Moonlight Stasis.” I mean, I knew that was wrong, but that’s as close as I could get. “Oasis” literally translates as “rest”, right?

  29. Dark Bob Says:

    I always thought it was “Take. Erase us.”

  30. Figgy Says:

    At one time I thought it was “take away solace”.

  31. jim jos Says:

    murmurs best quality, a “choose your own adventure” take on the lyrics. Psych test to soon follow.

  32. milesy Says:

    I always sand ‘Take away, sis’…

  33. milesy Says:

    That would be sang, of course

  34. Mr Cup Says:

    Could have been ‘take a recess’ at one point.

  35. davegassner Says:

    Yeah, this should have been the closing track of Murmur, “West of the Fields” is sort of ‘wtf did this come from?!’ Probably one of that album’s rare flaws.

    “…child-like tone…”

    Funny you mention that, I remember reading this song appeared on “Mary Had a Little Amp”, , a semi-awkward collection of rock and pop songs compiled for their “kid-friendly” sound a couple years back. Buck definitely provides a kiddish melody but I think it’s still too fogged in Murmur’s unique production sound and Stipe’s lyrics aren’t audible or sensical enough for it to be literally connecting to a toddler.

  36. Ignis Sol Says:

    Yeah, daveg, we need more toddlers who like R.E.M. and less who are into Radio Dizzzney. That said, they should have included the kid-friendly “Furry Happy Monsters.” monsters, happy, monsters

  37. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Furry Happy Monsters existence is about the only redeeming reason for Shiny Happy People’s inclusion in REM’s discography.

  38. davegassner Says:

    Haha, I remember my friend told me they had been on Sesame Street and I didn’t believe it until I saw the clip for myself. That song was awesome. I like how Buck still kept his usual tired facial expressions despite the setting they were in.

  39. Rob Says:

    Peter’s dancing at the end of the Shiny Happy People video further justifies the songs existence. I crack up laughing every time I see it.

  40. 4trak Says:

    Btw, I’d like to apologise for being the 1,337th person to have stolen the idea for this blog (I know there’s at least a Talking Heads one out there) – this time for U2. Anyway, I suppose I’m inevitably going to end up plugging it, so it’s at http://arattleandhum.wordpress.com

    Also, as far as R.E.M.’s dafter songs go, I’ve concluded that Stand > Shiny Happy People > Underneath The Bunker > We Walk. Maybe. I’m not very good at this.

  41. Meriste Says:

    WTF! Didn’t know about the cue-ball thunder! I thought it was the real thing.

    Genius. XD

  42. Purplebee Says:

    Oh dear I spent years singing
    Up the stairs, to the landing
    up the stairs to the top
    take your place now.
    as I carried my small sons up to bed. I’ve always thought it had a lovely childlike swing quality to it.
    The thing about this site is I find out that the words to songs I’ve sung for ages aren’t what I thought they were and it’s like rewriting my past. At my age that’s getting to be a bit unsettling.

  43. maclure Says:

    I tried posting this a couple of days ago but it wasn’t showing up. Here goes again…

    I like the way we’re creating Oronyms out of Michael’s words. Take away sis / take oasis is an example of an Oronym.

    Grey tapes great apes
    i scream ice cream
    an ocean a notion
    York rhymes your crimes

  44. jim jos Says:

    I am starting my own blog as well. Dedicated entirely and exclusively to the music of Falco. I hope you all will enjoy it.

    now, can anyone here teach me German? Beethoven Was Deaf, maybe? Or do speaken zie Deutche Kristen? I know you are from Australia. That is close to Germany, right? The Australian Alps is where they ski in the Winter Olympics, is it not? You will have to forgive me, I am an American and not so bright when it comes to such things.

  45. jim jos Says:

    scuse me, while I kiss this guy…

  46. Ignis Sol Says:

    jimjos (hilarious): Everyone knows Australia is in Canadia!

  47. profligateprofiterole Says:

    the Morrison video in article is intense, creepy..I always really dug the Shaman dance–it’s bizarre contortions and all–but seen here in the above context it’s a bit unnerving.

  48. 2d Says:

    i thought australia was a city in sydney… ???

  49. Mr Cup Says:

    Isn’t the Governor of California an Australian?

  50. Kirsten Says:

    I’m an Aussie, Jimjos – I barely speak English, let alone German!

    purplebee, this blog has distroyed so many of my favourite songs, it’s not funny! I choose to live in denial and continue singing the words I know and love.

  51. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Achtung, Baby !!

  52. Ignis Sol Says:

    Doesn’t “Achtung” translate to “Sell Out” in Irish, I mean German… 😉 (joke, joke)

  53. Paul Alferink Says:

    Oh, Ignis. . . Now Bono’s going to have to cross you off the list of people to save when he saves the world. . .

  54. Andy Says:

    Purplebee and Kirsten! Sing it your way!

    Apparently, I’ve been singing them wrong for 20 years! “Gentlemen, don’t get clawed!”
    “She didn’t want to get pinned down by Empire Town”
    —My way will always sound right to me!

    (I do have to admit though, that I’m finally glad to know what he says in “These Days” when he sings about his hat!)

  55. profligateprofiterole Says:

    West Of The Fields is a great song for getting th elyrics way wrong and going with it. …”something something adhesions ..” I was way off on that one.

  56. profligateprofiterole Says:

    dreamers crouch in jungles

  57. Andy Says:

    we could gather throw-up in

  58. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’ve got my Sprite, I’ve Got my Orange Crush.

  59. maclure Says:

    If you believe, they put a man on the moon (man on the moon). If you believe, there’s nothing up there to see, nothing that’s cool…

  60. Andy Says:

    A lander’s tide, murders you

  61. Rob Says:

    “You’re moving through Ralph Nader’s motel bar” So Fast, So Numb

  62. Andy Says:

    Rob, I actually laughed out loud at that one!

  63. 4trak Says:

    Trouble is, I’m probably gonna hear Rob’s altered lyric every time now.

  64. Figgy Says:

    Macy Gray:
    “I wore goggles when you were not here”

    (the next time you happen to hear “I Try”, listen out for the part that sounds like this – in fact, I can’t hear the song without this line anymore)

  65. 2d Says:

    Figgy, that’s EXACTLY what i’ve been hearing on macy gray’s “i try” also! when i read the actual lyric my… world crumbled. unbelievable, i’d have never thought anyone else would hear that also! hahahahaha!!…

  66. Purplebee Says:

    Thanks Kirsten and Andy – I’m going to carry on singing my words to my songs anyway (who said they still belong to REM?) – it’s too tricky to try and remember the ‘correct’ ones anyway. I’m already mishearing a couple of things on Accelerate. (maybe this rock music stuff really has damaged my hearing!!)

  67. milesy Says:

    Listened to We Walk last night. Weird. Marat is bathing, it seems. But I suspect I will stick to:
    ‘Take the girl away, sis, mud rocks bay (ee ay ee ay ee ee)’. Deep, and meaningful.

  68. maclure Says:

    Not REM but Surf Wax America from Weezer’s first album was always to me…

    You take my cards away,
    and take my ball
    And when you’re out of it
    I’m still so bored.

    Compare with the real thing which is totally different:

    You take your car to work
    I’ll take my board
    And when you’re out of fuel
    I’m still afloat

    It’s a moment from my teenage station that I’ll never forget. I vividly remember one of my pals (who was pretty cool) saying, as we walked along in the playground, that he preferred my version. Anyway, sorry for the needless reminisce…

  69. Andy Says:

    “MUD ROCKS BAY” !!! yes, that’s what i’ve been singing for years!

    …and I spent a wonderful week there once…

  70. maclure Says:

    Pretty much any beach in the UK is Mud Rocks Bay. I wonder if Michael was referring to Skegness, Scarborough or Flamborough Head.

  71. milesy Says:

    I would guess Weston-Super-Mare, which has one of the worst beaches (read ‘mud flats’) in the world, but one of my favourite place names: ‘It’s a Weston’ sounds so much more dramatic than simply ‘It’s a nightmare’.

  72. milesy Says:

    Where did that emoticon come from? I’ve no idea how I did that…

  73. milesy Says:

    And I can’t imagine why mud flats would merit a wink, either.

  74. Paul Alferink Says:

    it’s a ; followed by a ) 😉

  75. Andy Says:

    from “Stumble”:

    “Faaaaaather Jan!”

  76. holygoof Says:

    also from ‘Stumble’:

    “Farrrmer taan!”

  77. jim jos Says:

    gardening at night,
    its not a waste of time.
    In a corner garden,
    stranger to these parts,
    Secluded in a marker stone.

    Straight off the boat, where to go?
    Up the stairs and to the landing
    Lock the doors, latch the room.
    Pass a magic pillow under head
    Now I lay me down to sleep.
    Dream of a living jungle.
    Rest, assured, this will not last.
    Combien, combien, combien du temps?
    Children of today, on parade…
    Did we miss anything?
    waste of time, sitting still.
    Put your hair back, we get to leave.

  78. Mr Cup Says:

    Despite all the rain
    I’m still just a bat in a cave

    (Ok it’s the pumpkins – I’m bored)

  79. 4trak Says:

    Next one from Monster, probably…it’s gotta be, surely?

    OK, I’m bored too.

  80. Catapult Says:

    Ignis Sol Says:
    April 11, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Yeah, daveg, we need more toddlers who like R.E.M. and less who are into Radio Dizzzney. That said, they should have included the kid-friendly “Furry Happy Monsters.” monsters, happy, monsters

    I’m proud to say that my 2 1/2 year old is one such toddler. Until lately, every time we’d get in the car, he’d say ” I wanna hear Aww-Eee-Emm”…now it’s “I wanna hear the ‘Steady-Steady’ song” over and over again. I’ve listened to I’m Gonna DJ more times than I can count. He actually knows most of the words and sings along. Too funny to hear a 2 1/2 year old singing “if heaven does exist with a kickin play list, I don’t wanna miss it at the end of the woooooorld.” He also likes So. Central Rain.

    My apologies for boring all of you with stories about my kid. I couldn’t help it. Carry on.

  81. Kirsten Says:

    And so the cult grows……

  82. Paul Alferink Says:

    Remind me to Brainwash My Toddlar with REM. Before my wife infects him with country . . .

    Hey, in the live version of this song, Michael Stipe yells “Ignrid!” I assume he’s talking about THE Ingrid Schnorr or “Rockville” fame. Does she have something to do with this song? Or was she just at that concert or something?

  83. profligateprofiterole Says:

    I think Michael was yelling, “Ignis !” You just misunderstood him…..

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