The Great Beyond

May 22, 2008

“The Great Beyond” is the closest thing to a sequel in the R.E.M. discography. The song was composed for the soundtrack of Milos Forman’s Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon, and its thematic and musical continuity with the band’s hit of the same name does not seem like an accident. Whereas “Man On The Moon” grounds the spiritual quest of its agnostic protagonist in folksy chords and country affectations,  the mild psychedelia of “The Great Beyond” seems to launch its character deep into the cosmos. It’s still the same journey, but “The Great Beyond” is just further along — Kaufman remains a sort of patron saint, but this time around,  he’s not called out by name. Instead, by being less specific, we get to the heart of why Kaufman was invoked in the first place: Michael Stipe is essentially characterizing the artist — any artist, but he chose comedians, probably because they are seldom taken seriously — as a person whose job it is to interpret the world, and attempt to suss out its meaning. “Man On The Moon” is loose enough to be universal; it could be anyone’s search for truth and reason, but “The Great Beyond” emphasizes the notion that any sort of understanding must spring from intuition, creativity, and courage.

43 Responses to “The Great Beyond”

  1. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Very good song, not a great song. I enjoy this song and Man On The Moon, but honestly think both are somewhat overrated in the REM canon. (I still remember nearly falling over wih shock when Man On The Moon was released as the 2nd single from AFTP). I do give REM a ton of credit for making the two songs sound connected and yet really sound very different. Matthew is right that the strength of the connection is lyrical primarily. After all, how many bands, if asked, could write a sequel to one of their biggest hits that evokes the spirit of the original song without copying that song. Really that is a pretty amazing accomplishment. In a side note, this song being as good as it is, why did Reveal turn out so average. And why not include this song on Reveal? It would have drawn in more casual fans, added a stong song to a relatively weak album, and it would have fit fairly well in tone.

  2. Flor Says:

    My favorite R.E.M. song probably. I especially love Mike coming in with the “Here’s a little agit for the never-believers”-callback for the two final choruses, took me a while to notice that.

  3. Scott Says:

    I’d put it on “Up,” not “Reveal.” It’s a perfect song, one of my top five R.E.M. songs. Love the massed harmonies and the string arrangement. It’s like an answer from limbo, advice to the narrator of “Man on the Moon” to stay put and find the beauty in life.

  4. profligateprofiterole Says:

    wow Flor , that’s news to me…..my favorite part is the last bit after the last vocal has been sung

    interesting and ironic that this should be posted, I was just listening to an array of REM Yearn Songs from Up and Reveal; this one nails my mood perfectly right now

  5. protimoi Says:

    Songs like this make me wonder if the members of R.E.M. haven’t been personally kissed by God. I don’t believe mere mortals can write songs like this, Perfect Circle, Sweetness Follows, and Fall on Me.

  6. Ben Says:

    I’m sure some will disagree, but I think this is the last truly great song R.E.M. have done. There are some really, really good songs on the last three albums, but nothing as unbelievably fantastic as The Great Beyond. It just works flawlessly on every level. Instrumentally, lyrically, thematically…. just fantastic.

  7. Kirsten Says:

    Not much more to add. I love it – not their best, surprised to hear so many of you think it’s THAT good. To me, it’s more your standard ‘lets try to write a hit’ REM song.
    Love the way it strips right back for the verses, then builds back up for the pre-chorus. Pushing elephants up stairs, falling pianos – then the breaking through, bending spoons, flowers in bloom: Triumph in the face of Adversity! This song always makes me feel good, gives me hope and inner strength, no matter what I’m about to face.

  8. Michael Says:

    There’s something incredibly sad and wistful, yet uplifting about this song. One of REM’s finest moments without a doubt, and possibly my favourite Stipe lyric. I thought the whole Man on the Moon project was beautiful actually. I loved the film, and I thought the guys did a great job with the soundtrack.

    I first heard the song when they played it at Stirling Castle in ’99. I went to all 3 shows there, and after the third night the song was giving me chills. It was a long wait for the Man on the Moon soundtrack! The music, the melody, the words… As close to the perfect song as it gets I think.

    It was their highest charting UK single as well. Got to number 3. The single version was edited and lost one chorus and one blank chorus from the end, which spoiled it slightly I think. Made the ending seem rushed. With a chorus that good, why not play it 5 times…?

  9. Martijn Says:

    I take it I’m the only person ever who doesn’t like this song? :S

  10. Rob Says:

    Maybe so, Matijn. I love this song as well. Nothing much more to add here, execpt the way in which this song connects with people of very different tastes. It was the first REM song that both my mother and my best buddy came out and admitted they loved. Her tastes are very middle of the road, while he’s was infatuated with post-rock and the Replacements. Before this he’d said that if it wasn’t for Peter Buck collabarating with some of his favourite bands he could happily say “F- REM”. Since then he’s come with me to two of their concerts and declared Scott McCaughey his new hero. When we both met Scott after a Robyn Hitchcock concert he was giddy as a schoolgirl.

  11. Rob Says:

    Just wanted to add that I hope anyone who’s going to the opening night of the tour in Vancouver has a fantastic night. Me and my aforementioned friend saw the National at the Dublin Olympia last week and they were kick-ass (haha). I’ll be seeing REM in England at the end of the summer. Can’t wait…

  12. maclure Says:

    Yeah, surprised to see that it is THAT well loved, by I do think it’s pretty good. It is a lyrical connection with Man on the Moon for sure, but it is also a musical one. The two verse chords are not far away from the two of MotM (C to Dsus) and then there’s a pre-chorus and main chorus with bouncing predict-a-chord kind of stuff – it’s definitely an REM song honed from the same block of wood as MotM but with more lush electronic and layered arranging…

    In the summer hols of my 1st year at uni in 2000 I got a job doing activities for Italian and Polish (everybody here comes from somewhere) kids who had come to the UK to learn English (at that summercamp where I volunteered). It was a tough time of life for me for various reasons but by the end of the summer I was doing OK again. My enduring memory – the kids disco on their final night had a karaoke machine. The only REM song on offer was The Great Beyond and a few of us helping severely butchered it but it was fun!

    Nobody’s mentioned the video – I don’t like it. I think it was the first time I noticed that the REM brand could really be marketed to a pop audience. It paid off with that high chart position in the UK, I guess.

  13. Dark Bob Says:

    Not one of my favorites but a much better song then I give it credit for. This song seems to come and go with me. I’ll really like it for awhile and then I’ll lose interest and won’t listen to it for a long time, but then I’ll hear on the radio and start playing it again.
    I can’t think of another song in the REM catalog that has that effect on me.


  14. Has anyone posted the setlist for last night’s show? I really want to follow those in real time, and it doesn’t look like Murmurs is doing that. I’d really appreciate it if someone got it together a la ateaseweb.com

  15. Dark Bob Says:

    I wasn’t aware that there was a show last night. I thought the tour started tonight in Vancouver. Did I miss something?

  16. Jared W Says:

    Hey Flor,
    I read about that supposed layering of Man on the Moon in the final verse(s) some time ago… and cannot for the life of me hear it. Anyone else?

    This song is middle-of-the-road REM for me.

  17. Jacob Says:

    I just watched the video on youtube, and the Mills backing vocals (“here’s a little agit for the never-believers/here’s a little ghost for the offering”) come in at around the 3:50 mark. I’d try listening with headphones, because they’re pretty hard to pick out, but there. Which is really cool; I’d never heard them before.

  18. Jacob Says:

    Uh…ignore that smiley face. damn emoticons.

  19. Scott Says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s Stipe and not Mills singing the “Here’s a little agit for the never-believer, here’s a little ghost for the offering.”

  20. adam Says:

    REM’s orchestral compositions for Man on the Moon (the film) are amazing and underrated – just, beautiful, haunting stuff

  21. Ignis Sol Says:

    “The Great Beyond” has become an accidental favorite for me. Meaning, if someone were to ask my favorite song I would not mention it right off. Judging from my iTunes count for this song, it rates in my top 4 most listened to. This song is magical. Kirsten mentions its evocative imagery – dancing bears, pianos crashing, and flowers in full bloom. I wish I could have written a song like this. They culled inspiration from the great “Man on the Moon” and take it up to new and beautiful heights.

  22. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    This is toally off base here, it comes from the underappreciated albums thread on The Apologist post, but I left one off that needs to be mentioned – “Reverberation” by Echo & the Bunnymen. This album is a lost classic in the truest sense. Echo & the Buunymen is largely defined by the voice of lead singer Ian McCullough (even more than most groups), and when he went solo at one point, the band soldiered on without him, bringing in a new guy named Noel Burke. “Reverberation” is the Echo & The Bunnymen albums done with Noel Burke, and while critics lampooned it because McCullough was missing, it is absolutely excellent. It sounds different and maybe they should have called the band something else for this record, but it is an amazing CD that was COMPLETELY ignored, even by fans of the band and today is out of print and somewhat hard to find. Still, for the guys to pull of an album this good without Ian McCullough would be akin to REM releasing a CD without Michael Stipe and finding it to still be among their best work. Amazing.

  23. profligateprofiterole Says:

    I’ll check that out on Rhapsody , BWDubya

  24. jim jos Says:

    “I don’t want to stay around” one of the most sad/yet heartwarming lines from any of their songs. The idea that death is a choice, and that we are all kind of hanging around, like kids after school, and then the scene gets old, and you do not want to hang around anymore.
    Now you are breaking through, bending spoons, and keeping flowers in full bloom. Those things all sound wonderful, but I hope to be hanging around for a good while.

    I believe this song to be a masterpiece. I don’t know if its their last masterpiece, that honor might go to I’ve Been High, though, musically, Great Beyond trumps that one.

    all this talk of Up being sadly overlooked and now Great Beyond, makes me want to make some kind of Re-Up album and cheat and put Great Beyond on it.

  25. profligateprofiterole Says:

    I can’t believe that I believed I wished
    That you could see

  26. Kid A Says:

    Very possibly my favorite REM song. I have very vivid memories of sitting in the back of my dad’s Ford Escort in 2000, listening to this song on repeat off Totally Hits 2, reading the first three Harry Potter books over and over. Nice memories of younger days.

    (And REM doesn’t need its own AtEase; it needs its own Chain of Flowers: craigjparker.blogspot.com)

  27. 3d Says:

    “why can’t we pantomime, just close our eyes and sleep sweet dreams?”

    also, is the “bending spoons” thing in any way related to “the matrix” of the same year?🙂

    this song is another example of r.e.m. in full gear and at top speed. love it.


  28. Bending spoons is a pretty clear reference to Uri Geller, actually.

  29. Dark Bob Says:

    Did anyone check out the set list from last nights Vancouver show? Wow! Ignoreland! When was the last time they played that live? Looks like it’s going to be a great tour.

  30. jft Says:

    just looked up the setlist of the last show at remchronicle.com…

    according to that page, this was the FIRST time ever Ignoreland was played live. great thing. and, it was the first time Time After Time was played since 19 years.

    looks like a great concert, looking forward to the shows in late summer.

  31. jft Says:

    there seem to be nice audio clips off the show on youtube.

  32. Dark Bob Says:

    Ignoreland still has a lot of relevence to these times.
    Reminder: REM will be on Austin City Limits tonight on PBS. Definetly worth checking out.

  33. Rob Says:

    Springsteen is playing his third Dublin date tonight. No tickets but no matter as I’ve been able to hear his concert really clearly in my apt, the other side of town. Sounded great.

  34. Rob Says:

    In fact someone emailed Mark Radcliffe’s radio show during the week to say that as a child they thought that Born To Run was by a band called Loose Windscreen.

  35. Glassmeow Says:

    Was at the Vancouver show – it was amazing! Pix up here:
    http://glassmeow.livejournal.com/

  36. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Not that many of you will care with the REM tour getting started but I went and saw The Cure Friday and it was a very good show. They are playing as a 4-some these days with no keyboard player, which actually changed the structure of some of the songs a little (helped some, hurt others) still it was quite interesting.

  37. Kid A Says:

    REM headlined Sasquatch last night, didn’t they? The Cure are headlining tonight. I’m going to see The Cure on the 29th(, maybe REM on the 31st,) and The Cure again on the 1st. And I want to say The Cure and REM toured together in ’95 in Europe. But I Might Be Wrong….

    Sorry. Can’t help myself sometimes. But yes, The Great Beyond, fantastic song…..

  38. milesy Says:

    I might as well be honest and admit that I can’t think of anything worthwhile to contribute on Great Beyond, but am enjoying the comments as ever; and agree with BWD that it would have been great on Reveal, in that fine REM tradition of including songs from the last tour on the next album.

    Ignoreland in Vancouver, though. Wow! Now there’s a great and underrated song, and REM’s best ‘angry’ song, wish I was there…

  39. profligateprofiterole Says:

    the possibly related posts that are automatically generated…makes me wonder how that works exactly, what would be the criteria of the computer mind ?

  40. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Hey Tim, did you ever get those Tragically Hip CD’s? Did You like them?

  41. Paul Alferink Says:

    I was shocked when this song didn’t chart higher. It is a really wonderful song.

    Best Lyric:
    Why can´t we pantomime, just close our eyes
    And sleep sweet dreams
    Me and you with wings on our feet

  42. Kevin McGlinchey Says:

    It’s always stuck in my craw that this song wasn’t even nominated for the Academy Awards’ “Best Song.” Someone must have had it in for R.E.M. or Warner Bros for this great slight. What was nominated, you ask? Commence to toe-tappin’ and dig these:
    “A Fool in Love” Randy Newman
    “I’ve Seen it All” Bjork, Lars van Trier, Sjon Sigurdsson
    “A Love Before Time” Jorge Calandrelli, Tan Dun, James Schamus
    “My Funny Friend and Me” Sting, David Hartley
    “Things Have Changed” Bob Dylan

    Eight years later I’m still annoyed and baffled. Maybe band/label never sought the nod.


  43. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Compartmental.


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