Country Feedback

June 16, 2008

A lot of the time, when we think back on traumatic events, our memory holds on to the odd, seemingly trivial fragments. “Country Feedback” is partially comprised of these sort of random, evocative images; some of them come across like flashes of painful memories, the rest are the bits of scenery you may get a fix on when you can’t bear to look someone in the eye. On the printed page, they seem like non-sequiturs, but in song, they resonate, and not simply because they are stunning bits of language. (I’m particularly fond of “a paper weight, a junk garage, a winter rain, a honey pot.”) We can intuit the personal meaning, and project what we need on to these bits to make the song our own.

The remainder of the song’s lyrics are disarmingly straight-forward. Out Of Time is an album of love songs, and “Country Feedback” is love’s bitter end. Blame is passed back and forth, guilt and confusion do the singer’s head in, and he’s left battered and broken, simultaneously lamenting a million mistakes and clinging to the past. He says that he needs the relationship, but it’s plain as day: What he wants and what he needs has been confused. 

The arrangement for “Country Feedback” is more or less exactly what the title suggests: It’s a country dirge paired with a mournful electric guitar part by Peter Buck that recalls Neil Young at his most despondent. In live performance, Buck’s solo at the conclusion is extended significantly, drawing out the pain until it fades into resignation. Otherwise, the music is rather static, leaving Michael Stipe to provide the key dynamic shifts. 

A goofy note: 

Matthew Perpetua: I’m doing a big one today — “Country Feedback”

marathonpacks: Whoa

Matthew Perpetua: Or wait…
is it “Country Feedbag”?

marathonpacks: I think it’s “Country Feedbag”

Matthew Perpetua: I am pretty sure that Michael Stipe wrote it about the closing of a beloved all-you-can-eat country buffet
“it’s crazy what you could’ve had — ribs, chicken, greens!”


51 Responses to “Country Feedback”

  1. Macphisto Says:

    “fuck all”

  2. protimoi Says:

    One of those songs that gets requested time and time again; I could never get into it. I guess you could say I never understood the frequency, hardy har.

    But it’s a decent song, and sometimes it just fits perfectly. I like the distortion on the live version from the Monster tour.

  3. Brian Says:

    Going with the “Feedbag” idea:

    “I need grits, I NEEEEED GRITS!”

  4. Timb Says:

    Matthew, are you going to do ‘Fascinating’ ? 😉

  5. That is one I definitely have no plans to do, sorry. I don’t even have a copy of that one anymore.

  6. Kirsten Says:

    Wow. (Yet another) One of my all-time favourites.

    Unbelievable live! Peter’s guitar at the end just tugs at your heart – you can feel his pain. And on Roadmovie where Michael has his back to the audience and just sits there shaking his head. If you weren’t feeling depressed before, you will now. Infact, live or not, this song always makes me feel like that.

    When I first read that this was a love-gone-wrong song I was devistated. I always took it about addiction. Looking back on to what your life was, what it is now, and what it’ll never be. Give up your addiction now and you can make things better, but your whole life now revolves around this one thing and you’re too scared to try to go on without it.

    It’s crazy what you could’ve had – it need it, I need this.

  7. Paul Alferink Says:

    The live version is pretty good, but the guitar solo is a little weak. (gasp! Oh no he didn’t!)

    This is just a fantastic song. There isn’t anything to the bones of the song. Straight forward chord progression. What makes it is entirely Bill’s bluesy guitar and Michael Stipe’s “It’s crazy what you could of had, I need this” repeated at his emotive best. Like many of my favorite songs, this was not the one that jumped out first on the album, but I remember one day just latching on to it.

    Perhaps the first REM song I ever learned to sing and play. Love those easy chords.

    Best Lyric:
    This flower is scorched, this film is on
    it’s on a maddening loop, these clothes
    these clothes don’t fit us right,

    Second Best:
    It’s crazy what you could of had,
    crazy what you could of had,
    I need this. I. Need. This.

  8. Jerad Says:

    This one just came across my R.E.M. shuffle in iTunes. I never paid that much attention to that song until the band started paying all that much attention to it during the Monster tour. Then I realized that it really was one of their all-time highlights and became one of my favorites. Peter’s solo in the live version I think makes that the definitive version, but you can’t deny the urgent, immediate emotion of the single-take lyrics on the record.

    Matthew, this was one that was worth holding back until the near-end.

  9. ScottMalobisky Says:

    you come to me with a bone in your hand
    you come to me with positons

  10. ScottMalobisky Says:

    you all probably know that in the In Time notes PB talks about how when the band did the online thing for people to request songs for upcoming concerts (I think it was a European Tour), this song always had the most requests by apparently a very wide margin ; and he seems kinda befuddled by that

  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    love the lament of MS in those opening OH-OH’s; he sounds undeniably and totally mired in the throes of misery, my, such misery

    this is an amazing song really
    good call on th Neil Young reference ,MP

  12. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Crazy what you couldv’ve had . So very true. That lyric may be the one single REM lyric that rings the most true for me personally.

  13. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    Sheesh, Paul A. By what standard is the guitar solo weak? I get lost in it every time…

  14. Rob Says:

    When the band played two nights at Dublin’s Marley Park back in 2003 I was there for both. Some friends thought I was crazy/obsessive, but when they played this in the encore for the second night with Peter’s extneded guitar solo I knew it was worth every penny. Thank you…

  15. Mr Cup Says:

    Easy chords, oh yeah. They just flow out like a river on this one.
    MP’s reference to the deluge previously nails this song. Like grasses heavy with water so to this is burdened by a greater weight.

    It’s beautiful.

    A picture of an Indian and an arrow?

  16. Paul Alferink Says:

    Even Peter Buck will tell you he’s not very good at solo’s. He’s gotten better. And he emotes that one well, but technically, there are some problems there.

  17. Dark Bob Says:

    This is in my top 5 of favorite REM songs. The best song off OUT OF TIME in my opinion. I too, have always thought this had a real Neil Young feel to it. Very mournful. I love to play this song on guitar. Simple chord progression, but that minor chord just stabs you right in the heart.

  18. Jared W Says:

    Thanks for the write-up, Matthew. This is a beautiful song, and probably the only one in the REM canon that I actually prefer live.

    I was very surprised when I turned a friend on to REM by compiling some songs on a CD for him, and he immediately fell in love with this one. As great as it is, I think we’ve all agreed that it’s not a “grabber”.

  19. maclure Says:

    A top 10 REM song, definitely. While I love the gravelly takes from the Monster tour, in terms of the definitve live performance I think it’s the one that was recorded for BBC 2 on the Jools Holland special promoting UP. It was acoustic-y with someone playing a lap slide guitar (what’s the real name for that again?). It was also a B-side to an UP single, if I recall. 6 and a half minutes of pure bliss.

    As for Peter’s guitar solos I’d prefer he kept them in the studio – he is not a live shredder. I think if noodling on Country Feedback works it’s because the loop of chords are all in the key of G and it’s extremely easy to pick out a riff to. I basically learned guitar to this song. The same 7 chord progression repeated – Em, G, D, C, G, D, Cmaj7, Cmaj7 (that last one is crucial!) are a stunning accomplishment of doing so much with so little. I see Peter Buck as “Mr Chords” and this song would be my prime example. Didn’t I read Peter recorded this as a demo (hence his counting in), the band added layers, Michael came in last and sang his new lyrics and they left it at that? – re-cutting the whole thing would have lost that rough, edgy, feedback-y feel which is integral to the song.

    Lyrics are awesome too. Some truly memorable lines. Perhaps this song caught the imagination on the Monster tour because those lyrics fit so nicely with Monster’s themes of obsession, blame and meltdown. A “country” cousin of Star Me Kitten thematically too.

    You come to me with excuses
    Decked out out in a robe (but, I always thought it was “row”).

    Somebody mentioned Fascinating. It’s here:

    Not bad but does reek a bit of Reveal off-cut status.

  20. davegassner Says:

    (Fascinating was (or shoulda been) the best song on Reveal IMHO…I can like e-mail you a copy if you decide you need one Matthew. Also, are you gonna do “Wall of Death” or “Draggin’ the Line”?)

    Whenever my one friend or I get in a nasty life changing fight with either our respective parents or lover, and then proceeds hangs out with the other in our duo, it is commonplace to ask the other “So I gather it got Country Feedback in there?”

  21. Paul Alferink Says:

    MP standard for talking about a non-album track usually has to do with “Did they play it live regularly.” Beyond that, I don’t know why Dark Globe appears, and say, “Witchita Lineman” or “Academy Fight Song” don’t (at least yet). Plus, by what he’s said, and my guesstimate, we’ve got the 7 remaining album track post, and maybe 1 non-album track left.

    Although, damn it, I do love me some “First We Take Manhattan,” or “Wall of Death” or “Sponge”.

  22. jim jos Says:

    “crazy what you could have had” the ultimate statement of regret summed up in six small words? Funny how I internalize that statement…its crazy what you (I) could have had, instead of a cocky way of saying, crazy what you could have had.

    one of the best.

  23. There is one non-album song I’m doing by request, mainly because I love it, and it’s totally worthy of consideration. “Witchita Lineman,” I suppose I should do that one, but I probably won’t. They did so many covers back in the old days, I just can’t keep up with them all. It dilutes the project to have too many non-essential covers, and it’s boring for me to write those entries because I have to write about the songs in the context of R.E.M., which in many cases is the least interesting way to approach them.

  24. Paul Alferink Says:

    So eight it is. I vote for Photograph, if we’re talking about non-album, non-concert staples. That’s just a great, interesting REM composition, and it got some radio play.

    “Was she willing when she sat and posed a pretty photograph?”

  25. lenny Says:

    MP — thanks for helping me to figure out why I always felt just so-so about this song — it was the Neil Young reference. I just can’t stand that guy’s music — I really don’t know what people see in him — the sound, the lyrics, the voice, are all poor in my opinion.

  26. Paul Alferink Says:

    Them’s fightin’ words.

    “Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming.
    We’re finally on our own.
    This Summer I hear the drumming
    Four Dead in Ohio.”

    “There’s one more kid
    that’ll never go to school
    Never get to fall in love
    never get to be cool”

    Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”

  27. DGL Says:

    Are you guys making the Neil Young association because of the fact that he played “Country Feedback” with them live a few years back?


    Or is that just a bizarre coincidence?

    I’m not sure by what standard the guitar solo can be called “weak.” We all know Buck ain’t exactly Hendrix — nor would we want him to be. The fact that he does so few solos makes this one even more special when he pulls it out in concert. It’s not about technical virtuosity — it’s about the feeling he evokes.

  28. Paul Alferink Says:

    Technical Virtuosity and the emotion one plays with are not mutually exclusive things. You can have both. Bucks is techinally weak. The way he emotes it is really good. End result, the solo is a little weak.

  29. DGL Says:

    Of course technical skill and intuitive feeling aren’t mutually exclusive. But the latter is more important than the former, at least when it comes to R.E.M. The fact that Buck is no guitar virtuoso doesn’t detract from R.E.M.’s greatness, or this song’s greatness, in the slightest.

    It’s an interesting debate, and I don’t claim any knowledge of the guitar whatsoever; I just know that’s a friggin’ beautiful solo.

  30. jim jos Says:

    Exhibit A in my defense of neil young….

    Powderfinger: Solo,
    “Shelter me from the powder
    and the finger
    Cover me with the thought
    that pulled the trigger
    Think of me
    as one you’d never figured
    Would fade away so young
    With so much left undone
    Remember me to my love,
    I know I’ll miss her.”


    Neil’s voice may not exactly be operatic, but at least we do not have to worry about him losing it like some of his peers have.

  31. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Country Feedback” is so raw that you have to admire it. Other songs from Out of Time (such as “Losing My Religion” and “Half a World Away” are finely crafted, which is why they are gems). The power of this song is in it’s, as Matthew mentions, “evocative images” and non-sequiturs that somehow ring true, really true: a checklist of a lost lover’s minutia/detritus. The music drones like a mourning dirge, but cathartic and penitent with maturity and newfound clarity.

  32. Paul Alferink Says:

    See, I think Buck is a fantastic guitar player. He plays some fantastic riffs and stuff that other good players would have problems with. (The Riff for Wolves, Lower comes to mind). Just not a soloist in the traditional sense.

  33. ScottMalobisky Says:

    jimjos , I wonder how an individual who hasn’t heard that song would imagine it to be from the bit you put down there.

    “Welfare mothers make better lovers
    Welfare mothers make better lovers”

  34. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , but where can I SEE AND HEAR that performance with Neil ??? and the Ambulance Blues thing ?

    and where I can hear Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance ? really very curious about that song…….

  35. Rob Says:

    If the REMDublin site is still up and running Scott, you can hear a small snippet of the song there (1st verse and chorus). It was one of my favourites from the Olympia shows. I really hope it emerges somewhere at some point.

  36. Andy Says:

    Yes, Matthew. That was indeed goofy.

  37. Drew Says:

    I used to have a bootleg of a show at Hershey Stadium late on the Monster Tour on which Michael sung the “aluminum tastes like fear, adrenaline pulls me near” lines from “E-bow The Letter” over Peter’s not-yet-as-developed-as-later solo. I think that addition worked a lot better than the later “Chorus and the Ring” prologue.

  38. jim jos Says:

    well, Scott, Welfare Mothers actually do make better lovers. Same album, great album.

  39. Kirsten Says:

    I can’t believe this epic of a masterpiece is getting so little attention from everybody.

    This flower’s scorched.
    What an amazing image.

  40. Kirsten Says:

    I am one of the many people who misheard “fuck all” for “fuck off”. I still sing “fuck off” – I like the way it adds a little anger to the song, instead of just more dispair. And when you feel that bad, you tend to want to be left alone, so it also fits that way.

  41. Tim Says:

    ScottMalobisky – Here is Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance

    It should have made the album

  42. Dark Bob Says:

    Neil young doing Country Feedback with REM is as good as it gets for me. I am a devoted follower of both. If anyone knows where to find a recording of this, PLEASE let me know.

  43. ScottMalobisky Says:

    thanx Tim

    Exhibit B in defense of Neil:

    “there’s a shadow running through my days
    like a beggar going from door to door”

  44. Kevin Says:

    This flower is scorched, this film is on, on a maddening loop. These clothes don’t fit us right, and I’m to blame. It’s all the same. It’s all the same.

    Far and away my favorite R.E.M. song, although one I sorta had to grow into. (When I bought Out of Time in ’89, I just hadn’t yet felt the heartbreaks to do the song justice.)

    The live version with Neil Young is floating around the ether, and it’s pretty solid. I also enjoy the Unplugged 2001 version, which ends with Michael riffing on the more withering lines in “Like a Rolling Stone.” You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

  45. Kevin Says:

    Or ’91, I should say. Sry about that. I just remember buying it on tape when it came out…might’ve been the last album I bought before making the switch to CDs.

  46. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I love this song. I don’t think it is as good as Losing My Religion, which gets slighted I think because of so much airplay – overexposure, but easily the second best song from Out Of Time and a dark and painful song (which tend to be the kind I like best). For me this song is sort of the bridge between Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, as it is very pastoral feeling (like nearly all of Out Of Time) but its darkness of tone fits in well with Automatic. I also have often thought of this as REM’s last true “southern gothic” song it mood and lyrics. Some of the songs on Automatic could almost be described that way, but I think it is more because the mood of the album is somber in general, not so much because they perfectly fit into that classification (maybe Drive or Sweetness Follows, but again, in my mind not a perfect fit).

  47. kirk Says:

    they were hiding behind hay bales.

  48. ScottMalobisky Says:

    the lasers are in the lab
    the old man is dressed in white clothes
    everybody says he’s mad
    no one knows the things that he knows
    no one knows no one knows NO ONE KNOWS
    (gotta get away gotta get away
    gotta get outta here)
    I’m sleeping in an empty hallway
    I just can’t accept the stares
    I’m using too many colors
    I’m all messed up and I don’t care

  49. Dark Bob Says:

    “Need distraction
    Need romance and candlelight
    Need random violence
    Need entertainment tonight
    Need the evidence
    Want the testimony of
    expert witnesses
    on the brutal crimes of love”

  50. Purplebee Says:

    Hey Kirsten I hear ‘fuck OFF’ too . – This one stuck out on the album when I first heard it – sound and feeling so totally unlike the rest of the songs there.
    Revisited it during separation & divorce and every word described me and my state of mind. Have come out better and stronger 🙂
    Much chat of Mr Buck’s guitar in this thread – yes I can see the Neil Young connection, but I also think of John Frusciante’s guitar solo on ‘I could’ve lied’ from Blood Sugar etc which came out around the same time – another fave.

  51. themanbeyond Says:

    “fuck off”. That says it all.

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