Life and How To Live It

July 22, 2008

1. The opening guitar figure of “Life and How To Live It” is like a lit fuse in slow motion. The fire gradually consumes the wire, and when the song kicks in all at once at the 30 second mark — KA-BOOM.

2. The opening line is “burn bright through the night,” which may help to explain why I can only imagine this song visually in terms of hot light contrasted with total darkness. In addition to the fuse imagery, I have long associated “Life and How To Live It” with a county fair or amusement park at night. I have no idea how this ever got in my head — some of you may recall that I have a similar though somewhat more literal interpretation of “Carnival Of Sorts” — but it’s in there, and it’s probably never going away.

3. The first time I saw R.E.M. perform this song was at Madison Square Garden in 2003. It was the first song in the encore. I remember the lights going out, then some flicker of strobe light as Peter Buck began the song. I’m not sure if that’s actually accurate, but it’s what I remember in my mind’s eye. When I think of this moment, I see it in black and white. I didn’t realize what Peter was playing right away, and it had never occurred to me that it would be in the setlist. I was stunned.

4. “Life and How To Live It” reveals itself in concert. It gets wilder, faster, and more cathartic. The moments of the composition that feel euphoric on the studio recording sound absolutely unhinged in live performance. Whereas the version of the song on Fables of the Reconstruction capably simulates the manic state of the song’s deranged protagonist, its live incarnation finds the entire band taking a method approach, and fully inhabiting his ecstatic madness.

5. “Life and How To Live It” is based on the true story of Brev Mekis, a schizophrenic man from Athens who split his home into two sides, each with a totally different set of furniture, books, clothing, pets, etc. He would live on one side for a while, and then switch to the other, and back again. After he passed away, it was discovered that he had a few hundred copies of a book he had written outlining his philosophy published by a vanity press hidden away on one side of his house. The book was titled Life: How To Live.

6. The majority of the songs on Fables of the Reconstruction are concerned with older, unknowable men who in some way retreat from the world around them. Whereas the other tracks describe a man’s actions from the outside looking in, “Life and How To Live It” is written from the perspective of its subject. I doubt that this was a deliberate decision, but it would make sense that Michael would relate to Mekis’ radical compartmentalization of his life. Most obviously, Mekis’ lifestyle is roughly analogous to that of a touring musician — time is split between two distinct ways of living, each accentuating a different state of mind. Ultimately, both sides feed into the other, arguably giving the person a more varied and rich life experience. (Also, one could make an interesting argument that the song reflects Michael’s sexual confusion as a young man, and the intentionally separated home represent life in and out of the closet.)

7. It helps to think of the song’s arrangement in the context of its lyrics: Michael is singing about a man running around and hollering as a structure is being built. Bill Berry lays the foundation of the building, and holds the piece together as Peter’s parts give it substance, color, and shape. Mike Mills’ bass part is the most dynamic element — it darts, climbs, and leaps around and through the form of the song, as if to represent Mekis’ frenzied state as his vision of an ideal life takes shape before his eyes. Mills’ bass lines in the song are crucial to the success of the composition, and are essential to its feeling of constant frenetic movement and elation.

8. All four members of the band get at least one moment in the song when their respective contribution seems to pop outside the bounds of the composition. (For one example, consider the way Peter’s guitar part seems to bounce up dramatically in the chorus.) This is brilliant, not simply because it makes for a ridiculously exciting piece of music, but because it allows each of the musicians an opportunity to channel the character’s joyous lunacy. For a song about a bizarre loner, there is not even a trace of alienation or condemnation in “Life and How To Live It.” Truly, every aspect of the song respects its subject’s skewed vision, and throws itself headlong into his creativity, pleasure, and unwavering faith.

167 Responses to “Life and How To Live It”

  1. Scott Says:

    Two of Stipe’s obsessions colliding—joyously—in one song: the personal politics of identity and the necessity of change. Great to consider in concert with “I Believe.”

  2. Mr Cup Says:

    Amen brother!

    The intro on this version give me goosebumps, like the angels are summoning:

  3. Tim Says:

    Spot on, Matthew. Fantastic write up for a fantastic song. I like the version on the 2nd cd of And I Feel Fine where Michael gives the explanation of the song. Amazing song live.

  4. That version on the And I Feel Fine bonus disc is good, but not great. Interestingly, I think the live versions from the 00s tend to be superior to the ones from the 80s — I think Michael just has a better handle on the song, and it’s more exaggeratedly ecstatic. I’m especially fond of this version from a club show in Los Angeles at the end of the In Time tour, I’ve posted that on Fluxblog a couple times in the past.

  5. Mr Cup Says:

    I miss these characters so much. These days they all work shit jobs, go on corporate retreats and are isolated in less captivating ways.

    This song is a fever. A dervish with a momentum all of it’s own. I associate this song with the inner cover (the tin eared pendulum) more than any other song on Fables, probably because they are both so visually rich.

    When the backing harmonies kick in at the ‘holler’ part….I leave this world for a short while.

    Listen, listen to the holler.

  6. Bruno Says:

    (For one example, consider the way Peter’s guitar part seems to bounce up dramatically in the chorus.)

    I don’t hear that. In fact, to my ears there is a lack of musical depth in general with “Life…”

    A great song (let me just say again, a GREAT SONG) but, it’s all pretty much “Turn up the Ricky and lets go!” The chorus is the same volume as is the verse and as is the bridge. At this point Buck and Mills were pretty much just going for it and there was no idea of dynamics.

  7. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    This is a song that is just average for me. I like the Fables version, but it doesn’t particularly move me and for a long time it was in the bottom half of the album for me although I have warmed to it more over the years. (A quick aside here admitting that I agree that live versions of this song have always been much better and have way more power). Admittedly, I prefer the darker, more mysterious, forboding songs in REM’s discography (Drive, Old Man Kensey, Losing My Religion, Feeling Gravitys Pull, etc.) and this is more of REM’s pop/rock/punk style, but even getting past my own musical preferences the song still is lacking something for me – and it is something I have never been quite able to put my finger on. So, in my mind, a solid song, but not a great one.

    In a little piece of rock trivia, Pearl Jam originally was going to name their third CD “Life & How To Live It” but decided not to partially because some band members felt it would too blatant a ripoff of this songs title. Hence, the CD was then to be named simply “Life” and this title was even announced to the press. However, being the great contrarians that they are they changed the title again to “Vitalogy” – meaning the study of life – as that was less direct and more descriptive of the theme of the album.

  8. dan Says:

    best song ever

  9. dgl Says:

    Great post, Matthew, you’ve outdone yourself. Love that Madrid link. I also saw it played in Chicago in ’04 and had a similar (ecstatic) experience.

    Don’t quite agree with you about the “And I Feel Fine” live ’80s version, however. Tim is right; it’s not merely good, it is great.

    Like your previous entry, I Believe, this song is a dark horse classic. It’s a shame that more people don’t know it — and a shame that 2 of 7 commenters so far are lukewarm about it. Do you people have a pulse?

    I can’t believe anyone would say it lacks “musical depth.” All four parts on this song are extremely intricate — brooding yet melodic and upbeat all at once. The album version is certainly not a mere balls-to-the-wall rocker; nothing on Fables is. It’s a very nuanced, accomplished piece of work.

  10. dgl Says:

    And while I’m ranting… Bruno, this song DOES have a strong sense of dynamics — not between verse and chorus, but in the beautifully quiet, winding guitar intro that finally morphs into the muscular main riff. Absolutely one of Buck’s finest moments.

    I don’t think R.E.M. have ever been particularly keen on dynamics. Their songs tend to be rather static — loud or quiet all the way through. So it’s a strange complaint to bring up with this of all songs.

  11. Bruno Says:


    It wasn’t a complaint. It was a comment on Matthew’s mention of Peter’s guitar ‘bouncing up’ on the chorus. I didn’t agree. I think he plays the Ricky pretty much all out for the entire song (after the plucked intro bit I mean). BTW, to clarify, I’m talking about the Fables version here.

    Again, it wasn’t a complaint. I love that riffing stuff that Peter did back then. I just mean that he and Mike approached this and other songs in their ‘rock’ repertoire of that era often with a kind of wild (a bit punk inspired) abandon. I brought up dynamics because Matthew said to notice them.

  12. maclure Says:

    Another song that this blog will make me re-assess and re-appreciate. Thank you once again MP for enhancing my REM enjoyment. I never paid attention to the lyrics – the days I was trying to decipher the early album lyrics were pre-internet – but I love the mix of imagery coming out of this song.

    Is this the first half of a song called “Life and how to be a world leader pretend”?. Here, the lunacy is exuberant, barmy and ultimately harmless to society at large. It’s just a crackpot in the streets. But, World Leader Pretend has a creepy introspection which, with a mix of power (real or imagined), makes for a potential threat, if not just to the protagonist, to society at large.

    Two doors to go between the wall was raised today
    Raise the walls and shout its flaws.
    I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down.

  13. Rob Says:

    Like others here my appreciation of this song skyrocketed after seeing it live. Much as i have always loved Fables it was always a song I tended to skim over. First saw this performed in London in 1999. Much like Matthew described I remember a spotlight on Peter for the opening solo- “a lit fuse in slow motion”- damn that’s good phrasing. Heard it again at the third night of the Dublin rehearsals where in between trying out the material that would become Accelerate they played many songs from Fables including a stunning Feeling Gravity’s Pull, a song I had given up hope of hearing live.

  14. lenny Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song live, or even a recorded live performance. So maybe I don’t appreciate the song as much as I could. I like the song, musically speaking, but it always bothered me how ridiculously impossible it was to understand what words were being sung. This might be the worst of all REM songs when it comes to this category. I have never even wanted to look them up before now, but my curiosity is now getting the best of me. Maybe I’ll comment after I look up the words and try to re-appreciate this song…

    But for now — I’m surprised that Matthew saved this one for so close to the end — there are much better songs on Fables that could have been saved to the end of the discussion of this album. Just my opinion.

  15. Well, keep in mind that it may very well be my single favorite R.E.M. song.

  16. Dark Bob Says:

    A great song indeed! Definetly worthy of the “saving the best for last” catagory. Another song off Fables that was inspired by actual people around Athens that inspired the band. As I’ve said many times, No other album reflects the true essense and soul of REM more than Fables. Along with the last post (I Believe) this is REM at their best.

  17. DGL Says:

    “I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song live, or even a recorded live performance. So maybe I don’t appreciate the song as much as I could.”

    That’s easily remedied, Lenny. Click on the YouTube link in Matthew’s 4th paragraph.

    Another element that deserves mention is the spooky, sort of Gregorian backing vocal from Mike and Bill — somewhat similar to the ones on Pilgrimage. I love the way their “aaah” vocal sort of ascends into the stratosphere just as Stipe’s voice descends almost to a Johnny Cash rumble at “…to tell what I have hidden there.”

    Ho hum; just another unconventional yet beautiful early R.E.M. harmony.

  18. Paul Alferink Says:

    This also was low on my list of Fables Songs. I own a fair number of REM bootlegs, a couple of early Tyrone gigs, a Green Tour one, A couple of Monster era boots, a couple of promo shows from Out of Time, and promo show from around document. I really have nothing from the middle eighties. The last boot I ever bought was a show from Utrecht, I think, on the Document Tour. Because it was the last boot I ever bought, it is also the once I listed to the least. It has the only Live Version of Life and How to Live it I owned until I bought the “And I feel Fine” compilation late last year, so I never really noticed how great this song is live. But Matthew was kind enough to play it on that REM radio show he did last year, and I was like, WOW, that kicks ass!

    In short, much better live. I liked his LA version. I think Stipe’s vocals are better in the Madrid show, but my Utrecht boot has more energy and Buck rocks it out way better than that link.

    Incidentally, I replace the Fables version with my bootleg version on my IPOD, one of only two boot REM songs that I have on the IPOD, and the only one to replace the album version. The other live boot song is, ironically, another song not yet commented on this blog.

  19. Paul Alferink Says:

    Best Lyrics:
    Raise the walls and shout its flaws, a carpenter should rest
    So that when you tire of one side the other serves you best

    Second best.
    My pockets are out and running about
    Barking in the street to tell what I have hidden there

  20. Wezzo Says:

    In my top 5 R.E.M. songs. Up there with “Fall On Me” in terms of their definitive IRS output, IMO.

  21. karen Says:

    a great entry for a great song, definitely one of my most favorite r.e.m. songs ever.

    i’ll always associate it very strongly with the clip for it from succumbs (i think the “live and how to live it”/”feeling gravity’s pull” parts might have been done by jim herbert…), which is pretty perfect for the song.

  22. Brian Says:

    When I first explored the R.E.M. catalog last decade, Fables of the Reconstruction was the album I was into the least for whatever reason.

    It was this song that ultimately made me reconsider the album a few years ago. I’m glad that happened because I adore so many of the Fables songs right now.

  23. adam Says:

    This was a live staple in the 80’s – and involved one of michael’s longer intro stories – the punchline about the books being titled ‘life and how to live it’ was always delivered well.. with peter chiming in just in time. I never fully bought that this a ‘true’ story – but rather a ‘fable’ based on some reality…

  24. Andrew Says:

    a real corker. I like the Avalon version (2003).

  25. jft Says:

    this is a truly great song which I discovered in its greatness pretty late. listening to bootlegs of it may have helped as well. not a top 5 song for me, but for sure part of the best quarter.

    an annotation: please don’t end it all with The End Of The World. this one would be the obvious ending for a blog about R.E.M., and I don’t think this would be a fair appreciation of the time you and all the commenters spent on this, this is not just a “usual R.E.M. blog”. after all, this is based on my personal opinion of that song. it’s one of the weakest they ever recorded, so obviously it would not equal _my_ personal appreciation of this blog.

    this song would have a great statement for the last track. now it hasn’t. still, close before the finish line, thanks for all the good reads I had during this year, I was always looking forward to the new entry.

  26. Dave Says:

    First posting here.

    Couple of things, always a favorite on the record and live.

    I believe the actual title of the book is, Life: How to Live.

    I saw a copy of this book at a record show in King of Prussia, PA in the late 90’s and balked at the $70 asking price figuring it made no sense to pay 70 for the rantings schizophrenic. Kind of regret not buying it.

  27. Justin Says:

    I love this song. Definitely would make a top 5 favorite R.E.M. songs. The live version on the bonus disc of …And I Feel Fine is spectacular. You have great taste in R.E.M. tunes, MP.

  28. lenny Says:

    Matthew: Fair enough… if you had so much to say about this song, and written quite well as usual, then I don’t blame you for holding on to it to the (nearly) very end.

    DGL: Thanks for the tip…I don’t know how I missed that link.

    Paul: I stand corrected — I heard that radio show last year that Matthew picked the songs for, so I have heard the live version after all. I think I liked it better than the Fables version — not loved it, just liked it.

  29. lenny Says:

    Re: Point #6 in Matthew’s write-up…

    I don’t know if this was national news or not, but just 1 day before this post, an “older, unknowable” man in my area (St. Louis) made his own “retreat from the world” around him. He set his house on fire and shot at firefighters and police who tried to rescue him and put out the fire. He injured 2 policemen and killed a firefighter, before dying in the fire himself.

    It’s kind of spooky what older, unknowable men (or women) are capable of these days. I think there could be an REM song in that story, but it sure would be a sad one.

  30. milesy Says:

    Hard to add to the above appreciation really. This one has never made my top ten REM songs lists, but it is pretty darn good; and a real grower.
    There is a real intensity in that Madrid performance, especially from JMS, thanks for that link. (who is playing the keyboard?)

    @jft. I know it’s way too late to suggest what the last song will be, as Matthew has said he decided on it long ago. My choice would have been electrolite. But I think the end of the world would be a fine option too…

  31. Figgy Says:

    This must have been the slowest burning REM song for me. I’d been listening to it over a period of 16 years without particularly liking it until BOOM! When they played it during the encore of their New Plymouth set in 2005 it blew me away.

    The song didn’t come as the complete surprise Matthew experienced when he caught it at Madison Square Garden in 2003. Prior to the 2005 gig I attended, I’d been following the tour on the Internet and was fully aware of the old songs they had been pulling out. To be honest, I wasn’t hoping for ‘Life and How to Live It’. Instead I was more keen on hearing stuff like ‘Rockville’, ‘Seven Chinese Brothers’ or ‘Maps and Legends’.

    But ‘Life and How to Live It’ was a revelation that night. The energy of the band made them appear 20 years younger and gave me a glimpse of what they might have been like on stage in the mid-80s. I could also make out more words than I ever had on the ‘Fables’ recording. Plus there was the sheer joy of just hearing an oldie, even if it wasn’t the one I’d wished for!

    I found myself singing the song for days after. I enjoyed listening to the ‘Fables’ version more than I ever had. My appreciation grew when I heard Stipe’s explanation of the song on the ‘I Feel Fine’ compilation, and grew further when I discovered the lyrics on the Internet and related them back to Stipe’s monologue. It’s right up there with my favourite REM songs now.

    And this write-up by Matthew, along with the comments from the usual suspects, has been a great read. Cheers!

  32. sonneta Says:

    I love, love, love the high hat on this song.

  33. Kirsten Says:

    Wow, Matthew this has GOT to be your best (and longest) write-up ever! Your love of this song is very evident. What I can’t believe is the amount of people who don’t consider it one of their favourites. I loved this one from the first time I heard it (as with most of Fables). Totally agree that it goes off live. Another brilliant masterpiece from the boys. My favourite part is the guitar between “…talking to the street” and “My pockets are out…”. I’m sorry, that’s the only way I can think to describe it. I think you’ll know which bit I mean.

    I have to agree with Mr Cup that I miss the “southern”, “unusual” characters in their early work. I suppose that’s the price we pay now that they are world superstars, not just small town legends.

    “Raise the walls and shout its flaws, a carpenter should rest”. I thought it was: “Raise the walls, the child explores the carpenter who rests.” Never mind.

    “A real corker” Well put Andrew. I thought that was an Aussie saying – where are you from?

    Welcome back Figgy. {Please read that in Michael’s voice in ‘This Friendly World’ when he says “Welcome Back Andy”}

  34. Figgy Says:

    Cheers, Kirsten. It’s nice to be back! Life (and how I’ve lived it) has been hectic over the past couple of months meaning I’ve not had much time to make posts here.

    However, I’ve popped in for a quick look from time to time coz I enjoy reading the comments from all these people I feel I’ve come to know over the past year or so. Bisky the Transforming Profiterole Dog, Kirsten, Paul A, jim jos, Mr Cup with his excellent sense of humour, maclure, milesy, Dark Bob… and so many more.

    In a way, it’s a shame we’re so close to the end. However, I’m sure MP is relieved to be almost finished. A mammoth effort – well written reviews attracting a group of bloggers who’ve really given the whole thing a friendly community feel. You should be proud, Matthew. Well done.

  35. Mr Cup Says:

    Oh Figgy, you’re so fine,
    You’re so fine, you blow my mind, Hey Figgy! Hey Figgy!

    I’m a bit embarrassed by my link to the same clip that MP include in his might fine write up. I’ve been eager to share it for ages and got all giddy with excitement. Still, if you clicked the link twice – it’s win/win right?

  36. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    MP should publish the whole thing as a book –

    And this is my official plea for Matthew to just go ahead and do Accelerate – We have had time to digest it and have (semi) objective opinions.

  37. 2fs Says:

    The book thing is an excellent idea…except honestly, there’s a lot of really good stuff in the comments, and it would be a shame to lose them. (And trying to corral every commentor in terms of rights, etc., would be nearly impossible.)

    Still, even just the reviews themselves would indeed make an excellent R.E.M. companion.

    I agree also that it’d be great to do the Accelerate songs.

  38. Moza Says:

    I seem to have many different favourite REM songs, depending the weather and time of day, but if i had to name just one song as my favourite, this is it. And to hear it live when I never expected it – that made my year.

  39. Ben Says:

    BOLD STATEMENT COMING UP!!!: “Life And How To Live It” is the best R.E.M. song from the 1980s.

    HERE’S ANOTHER ONE!!!: The first 30 seconds of the song are the best thing Peter Buck has ever recorded.

    This is just one of those songs where everything just clicks together to make a completely perfect song. As a whole the song is SO DAMN GOOD that I can never really pin down what it is that makes it so great. I just love the shit out of it, and that’s all I really need.

  40. Mr Cup Says:

    If this were to be published…I…I just wish I’d chosen a pseudonym.

  41. Figgy Says:

    Yes, Mr Cup. It’s too bad that you, me, Beethoven Was Deaf, 2d, Macphisto, 4trak and xman decided to use our real names.

    It’s a wasted opportunity. We could have gone for something cool like Scott Malobisky.

  42. rpschamp Says:

    Life and How to Live It is my favorite song by R.E.M. on my favorite album by R.E.M. I’ve given R.E.M.’s early- to mid-oeuvre output much thought over the past few months, as part of a personal project to pare the albums to their essential songs. Life and How to Live It embodies everything wonderful about early R.E.M.: uncluttered, haunting melodies, manic energy, and textures that knead the subconcious. The parts are beautifully layered: Berry’s manic time-keeping, Buck’s beautiful ringing lead/rhythm, Mills’s melodic and slightly cockeyed bass, and Stipe’s impressionistic lyrics have never worked so well both individually and together. The song builds, falls, scurries, and propels itself through a manic nightmare that transcends time, place, and meaning through the deification of some warped old man who though stunted may have in some way understood something essential. Glorious.

    It may be argued that Fables is a flawed album. The production, while suitably murky, often fails to capture the subtleties of the instruments (try to find the myriad textures of Buck’s guitar from the earlier albums) or the menace of the album’s moods (compare the muted tribal drumming in Feeling Gravity’s Pull to the soul-blasting concert act). Despite its flaws, though, nearly every song on Fables is brilliant; the lyrics are turgid, the melodies are sad and haunting, the harmonies are gorgeous, the control of mode and pace is much refined, and the songs, largely untethered to the traditional verse-chorus structures of rock music, are allowed to breathe naturally and fill their own space in strange and beautiful ways reflective of many of the disconnected characters portrayed in the lyrics. While the mystery of Murmur is in it’s production, the beauty of Fables is in its composition. Fables and half of Pageant (and arguably parts of later albums) represent R.E.M.’s songcraft at its most refined.

  43. Kirsten Says:

    Figgy, are you trying to tell us that isn’t your real name?? I can’t believe you lied to us! And Mr Cup, don’t worry – the crap you’ve written wouldn’t be included anyway! 🙂

    And for the record – I don’t have a problem with the intro to this one.

  44. milesy Says:

    ‘the mystery of murmur is in its production, the beauty of fables is in its composition’. I think that’s a good description rpschamp. It kinda makes me wonder, not for the first time, just how good might Fables have been if Easter and Dixon had produced it? Completely imponderable, of course, but it’s one of those ‘what ifs’ that keeps nagging away.

    By the way, I’m loving this blog more than ever now, I can’t believe the fun’s coming to a close soon. Can we just start again, or take albums as a whole or something, something..?

  45. gluefoot Says:

    GREAT write-up matthew, so impassioned and well-written..
    this is my favourite r.e.m. song along with so. central rain..
    the live version on the recent IRS best of CD2 is stunning..

  46. gluefoot Says:

    great write-yp too rpschamp..
    i’m in total agreement..

  47. gluefoot Says:

    great write-up too rpschamp..
    i’m in total agreement..

  48. Dark Bob Says:

    Milesy, I’ve often thought too, how Fables would have sounded had it been produced by someone else. But I think what I love about it is the fact that it is so stripped down and basic. It’s REM without all the “Bells and Whistles”. The songs just stand on their own merit in their most basic form. I think it takes awhile to get used to this record but once it clicks in it’s amongst their finest works.

  49. ScottMalobisky Says:

    great write up, MP, yeah it’s manic…and rpscchamp, it scurries too, you stole Cup’s word–“turgid”–don’t you know he owns the rights to that word ?….such an awesome story behind this song……

    listening to Stevie Wonder’s INNERVISIONS presently, sending chills up my spine after an interminable, miserable and sleepless night in the pit mind …Golden Lady and Visions and All In Love Is Fair

  50. ScottMalobisky Says:

    oh, Hello Figgy, good to hear from you…..

  51. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Life and How to Live It” transforms me into a magical, mysterious and somewhat dangerous (fabled) place even before I knew what the song was about. I marvel at Michael’s lyrical delivery in this song: Read about the wisdom lost, a knock, a knock, a knock/A secret knock one hammer’s locked the other wisdom lost. There is something entrancing about it. When they performed this live in 2004, I kind of giggled at that part. I don’t know why. I am thinking it is because it is so unbelievably good and I was there experiencing it, live.

    The song is a standout today and for the time (1985: think “Sussudio” by Phil Collins and “Dress You Up” by Madonna). It is another reason to be a proud R.E.M. fan then and always.

    Matthew, again, a great write-up.

  52. 2d Says:

    this is definitely one of my favourite r.e.m. songs, and, along with “feeling gravitys pull”, a clear standout on fables.

    everybody here has already said all the things i myself wanted to say, so i’ll humbly shut my pie hole after this statement: for me, there has always been a connection of sorts between this song and “accelerate”, the song. is it the paranoiac impressionistic lyrics, the angular post-punk guitars, the adrenaline-filled dread the melody recreates, the ominous intro, the throbbing bassline weaving through the other instruments…? no idea, i just know in my mind, “accelerate” is “life and how to live it, part deux”. it’s like the character is trying to cling onto the bit of sanity he has left, and struggles with his delusion that has morphed from the privacy of his own home to that of the entire world around him – his inner apocalypse.

  53. 2d Says:

    p.s.: nice to see you guys again! or, see what you type 😛

    p.p.s.: noooo not ITEOTWAWKI(AIFF) as the last song (too predictable for the genius of matthew)! let it be at least WTF,K? 🙂

  54. ScottMalobisky Says:


    I, like you, when initially getting into the REM back catalog, always found Fables a bit of a clunker..maybe that impression was reinforced in my mind by some of the downer things I read about it……Although I always loved the title–I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I didn’t realize right away that Reconstruction was literally referring to “that post-Civil War era”, thought of it more as a general metaphorical image–one of my favorite album titles of all time actually; but I gotta tell you, Man, there are really no adequate words to describe how special this record is to me now. It took repeated listenings for the songs to really take shape into the absolute gems that resonate their secrets through the corridors of my mind now—and also learning ABOUT the songs, via this blog for one–I gotta say that I am really glad that I was enough of an REM junkie, to realize that, “Hey, it’s REM, there’s gotta be something special here somewhere..”, to stick with this record long enough to discover its unqualified allure. It’s almost unfathomable to me how I used to almost dismiss it as a series of B-sides or something !! A lot of that has to do though with the way that I got into REM, the back asswards way that process unfolded.

  55. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I’m an older unknowable man, not sure of what I am capable of just yet, although it won’t involve the spilling of innocent blood.

  56. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I have Cup’s real name narrowed down to two possibilities, but I won’t state them here…

  57. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Mark Twain–Samuel Clemens
    Matthew Perpetua–rpschamp

  58. jim jos Says:

    jimjos = scottmalobisky, now the truth can be revealed.

    2 personal notes to add.

    1. When I had the honor of going to Macon last year, I went to the GA. Music hall of fame. There is quite an amazing r.e.m. exhibit in their “alternative room”. Great memorabilia, all the albums on vinyl, took a picture and bought a t-shirt. This song was playing when I walked into the R.E.M. shrine room. Never will forget that.

    2. On the And I feel fine, when the song is introduced, Stipe mentions something about how the house that the author lived in, was torn down for college housing (which I imagine to be cheap Mcpartments) and some ass is cheering this. I really hate the stupidity of people at times. (especially my own).

    three cheers for the homogenization of America, another Greenville, another Magic Mart.

    Jefferson I think we’re lost.

    everybody must get stoned. there are places I remember, all my life. The storm is threatening my very life today, my book is called the the ascent of life and how to live it. Oh, well, whatever, nevermind.

  59. ScottMalobisky Says:

    anybody see the CSNY flick, Deja Vu, any thoughts on that? is it really, in the words of Yogi Berra, “deja vu all over again” ?

  60. Mr Cup Says:

    My name is Loretta.

  61. Kirsten Says:

    What I loved most about Fables, and the reason I purchased it before some of their other albums, is that so many of the songs (and the album itself) had interesting names. Made me curious.

  62. Mr Cup Says:

    I think that was one of the attractions for me too.
    What could a song like “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” possibly sound like?

  63. Paul Alferink Says:

    Loretta? Do you perfer Lottie? Are you closing in on your fifteen year? If your eyes are green and your hair is yellow, I am so staying the heck away from you!

  64. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Get Back Lortetta!

  65. Athena Says:

    Off Topic, but is IRS back as a label?
    I saw a new IRS shirt on ebay, but I thought they went belly up in late ’89-’90.

  66. lenny Says:

    Wearing her high-heeled shoes, and a low-neck sweater.

    (Hey, that sounds like the pre-cursor to a short skirt and a looooooooong jacket!)

  67. 2d Says:

    i think i’ll call you lori.

  68. Amanita Says:

    Matthew, I was blown away by your description of Life and How to Live it. I had similar thoughts/feelings about this song but never fathomed to put them into such beautiful words, really well done! Fables is my favourite album, so dark and quirky with probably Michael’s weirdest and amazing lyrics. The whole album is a perfect mix of great drumming, melodic bass and guitar lines and of course Michael’s amazing voice and lyrics.
    just great!

  69. jim jos Says:

    stuck in old lodi again, what if lodi was a woman and not a town? Ignore me please.

  70. Mr Cup Says:

    Yes Alfy. And my mumma told me we all got to die.
    I was torn between that and this:

    ‘I want to be called Loretta’
    ‘Why do you want to called Loretta, Stan?’

  71. 2d Says:

    i had a weird dream last night. in my r.e.m. phase i was at an r.e.m. concert (presumably the one i’m actually attending in luxembourg) and the band walked off the stage into the crowd while they were playing. michael had (long) hair and everybody just kept touching him and stroking his hair, and i ended up next to peter, who was leaning against the wall. my heart was pounding and we started to chat for a bit while michael was overwhelmed by the crowd… when he suddenly collapsed on the grass (?)… peter hurried over there to see what had happened, knelled down and checked if michael was breathing – he was, he was in very bad shape though. then peter looked around for help – and i woke up!

    if michael writes a book it will be called “collapse and how i lived through it”.

  72. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    You can call me Al.

  73. Ignis Sol Says:

    r.e.m in your r.e.m. – — beautifully creepy

  74. 2d Says:

    i’m maxwell. meet my silver hammer.

  75. 2d Says:

    and ignis, i didn’t sleep, i dreamed about r.e.m. quite a few times – and this year i finally saw them at the werchter rock festival! i still have the bracelet on my left hand… had a wonderful time! people around me kept looking around to see who was the lunatic who knew the lyrics to all of their songs and was singing/shouting with every fiber of his being, and probably to a completely different tune too, muahahahahahaha!!! 😀

    *drifts into his own memories*

  76. Kirsten Says:

    Wow, I hope that doesn’t happen at the show you go to 2d – that would be really creepy! {And it would make us all very sad, of course}

  77. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    Hey Mr Cup – I got the Life of Brian quote – haven’t thought about it in years. My personal theory is that everyone on this site accept me is Scott Malobisky…

  78. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    (should that be “Life of Brian and How to Live It”?

  79. Mr Cup Says:

    Yes – we are all Scott Malobisky!

    (I’m not)

  80. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I am the green lizard king
    I can do anything
    My book is called,
    “Life past twenty seven and how to avoid it”

  81. Jared W Says:

    I had a dream a few months ago that Mike Mills broke his back while playing and performed the rest of the show on his back, in a disfigured heap. Okaaaay….

  82. Rob Says:

    Today is Mr Bill Berry’s 50th birthday. A gentleman farmer who also apparently played in some rock band- I think it might’ve been the Ting Tings. Happy Birthday Bill.

  83. Ignis Sol Says:

    Happy Birthday to Bill Berry!

  84. ScottMalobisky Says:

    has BB ever done a “solo” , any body ever witness this curious phenomenon ?

  85. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I think it might’ve been that indie band, …The Turgid Thong Things

  86. Rob Says:

    I mentioned in my first post here that I remember hearing Life And How To Live It at the Dublin shows last year. Recently I began to doubt that was the case, and checking the REM timeline linked here confirms that they did not play it that night. Goddamn my selective memory… They definitely played it in London in ’99 though.

  87. ScottMalobisky Says:

    had a strange REM dream last night, was supposed to play bass with the band at this show …….like at a church….my childhood Catholic church …..I recall a grand piano…..”How’s it going, Michael ?”…he was in a pissy mood…I remember bailing just before the show began…and there was no sign of Mills……I don’t know what it meant, such a strange juxtaposition of people, places, and things……Well , you know how dreams are……..

  88. lenny Says:

    Re: Dreams
    Mitch Hedberg put it best:

    “I hate dreaming, because you know when you want to sleep, you want to sleep. Dreaming is work, you know. Like there I am, laying in the comfortable bed in my hotel room, it’s beautiful, and the next thing you know, I have to build a go-cart with my ex-landlord… I want to dream of me watching myself sleep.”

  89. Ignis Sol Says:

    a few Tylenol PM with a shot of bourbon should solve Hedberg’s problem.

  90. jim jos Says:

    a few tylenol PM with a shot of bourbon, or as I call it, dinner.

  91. lenny Says:

    Don’t joke, man. The guy died from a heart attack / overdose of something. There were various drugs in his system, whatever that means. But he didn’t exactly get the serious investigation that they were giving Heath Ledger… oh wait — they stopped that. Thanks very much, Mary-Kate Olson! (Or was it Ashley? Who cares, either way, a no-talent waste of space on the planet.)

  92. ScottMalobisky Says:

    eat the rich

  93. Kirsten Says:

    C’mon Lenny, give them a break! No talent, maybe, but they’re tiny, they don’t take up that much space! Besides, they’re cute – and there’s two of them.

  94. ScottMalobisky Says:

    jimjos, do you smoke a square with that ? I always picture you smoking a square, lost in thought, almost resigned to certain inevitabilites…….almost, but still sorta thrashing at the gnaw of it all.

  95. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , Kirsten , they’re like poodles without the fuzz

  96. Ignis Sol Says:

    I have a sinister sense of humor sometimes.

  97. […] the title of a great R.E.M. song, and here’s the back story on it, which I love: (It’s) based on the true story of Brev Mekis, a schizophrenic man from Athens […]

  98. jim jos Says:

    scott, I have often stared into the wild, empty abyss of nothingness, only to become lost in my own reflection.

  99. Ignis Sol Says:

    jim jos, were you listening to U2 at the time?

  100. lenny Says:

    Does anyone else actually know who Mitch Hedberg is (was)? Funniest damn guy on the planet, when he was here.

    All time favorite line of his: “I went to the Home Depot the other day, which was unnecessary. I need to go to the Apartment Depot, which is just an empty warehouse with a bunch of people sitting around saying, ‘hey, we ain’t gotta fix shit!'”

  101. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “Rice is great when you’re really hungry and you want 2000 of something.”

  102. Ignis Sol Says:

    Yeah, I knew who Mitch Hedberg was, that is why I made the Tylenol PM/bourbon crack. If it was funny he would be laughing at it while smokin’ a joint with Jesus and Tammy Wynette.

  103. lenny Says:

    “smokin’ a joint with Jesus?”
    …that reminds me of that song, “Heaven is a halfpipe”
    …”with Jesus packing my bong”

  104. Paul Alferink Says:

    There’s a country song where the lyrics are “Drug or Jesus.” I always hear it as “Drugs for Jesus”

  105. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I searched Rhapsody by song titles with “Jesus” in them and got 15,129 listings. Just out of curiosity, I started to go down the list to see how long it would take to encounter an artist I recognize….about 25 songs in—Cat Stevens, the Muslim, singing a song simply titled ‘Jesus’ on an album called “Buddha and The Chocolate Box”. Kinda humorous to me.

  106. ScottMalobisky Says:

    The Stones ,”I don’t wanna sit and talk about Jesus, I just wanna see his face, I just wanna see his face….”

  107. Mr Cup Says:

    Well its got to be a chocolate jesus
    Make me feel good inside
    Got to be a chocolate jesus
    Keep me satisfied

  108. Mr Cup Says:

    Well, Jesus will be here
    Be here soon
    Hes gonna cover us up with leaves
    With a blanket from the moon
    With a promise and a vow
    And a lullaby for my brow
    Jesus gonna be here
    Be here soon

  109. Mr Cup Says:

    Jesus built my hotrod

  110. Paul Alferink Says:

    My favorite Jesus song:

    know it’s a slide-show and not a video. Listen anyhow.
    It was late one night on a Kentucky highway, up ahead on the horizon,
    It was there before my eyes, I saw the glowin’ cross of Jesus Christ.
    I saw Jesus on the grille, of a south-bound Peterbilt,
    Catchin’ bugs between his teeth, and glowin’ for everyone to see.
    He don’t stop at those toll-booths, the state troopers let him roll on thru,
    Folks stop and stare at his long flowing hair, and his gold-capped tooth.
    I saw Jesus on the Grille, rolling down the Interstate,
    And I know we won’t be late no darling, with the potentate of hauling freight,

    Talkin’ Jesus, riding on the Grille, Talkin’ Jesus blessing every road-kill.
    Talkin’ Jesus giving points for good behavior,
    I’ve been redeemed by the 75 mph savior, tell it mommy now.

    I saw him down at a roadside diner, with a soybean burger and a side of fries,
    A big ol’ glass of chocolate milk, and a slice of apple pie.

    I saw Jesus, riding on the grille, I saw Jesus blessing every road-kill,
    I saw Jesus giving points for good behavior,
    We’ve been redeemed by the 75 mph savior, tell it baby now, yeah.

    I saw Jesus on the grille, rollin’ thru the cold Kentucky night,
    And I know we won’t be late no darling, he’s the potentate of hauling freight.
    He’s the potentate of hauling freight, you know with Jesus we won’t be late.
    Man, where’s Moses?

  111. Mr Cup Says:

    Living Well Jesus Dog…..spooky

  112. Rob Says:

    “Jesus died for somebodies sin but not mine…”

  113. lenny Says:

    “Jesus Wrote a Blank Check” – by Cake
    “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” – covered by Nirvana on unplugged.

  114. In case any of you were wondering, the next entry should be done soon. It’s been a difficult one to write, and I’ve had a lot of distractions.

  115. lenny Says:

    Let me guess — Matthew is breaking down each and every phrase in ITEOTWAWKI(AIFF) and explaining their deep and important meaning. The delay could be attributed to distractions, or it could be due to his repeated visits to the doctor’s office to diagnose and treat his carpal tunnel syndrome, which he developed while working on this next post…

  116. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Bring it on!!! We could discuss that for months! Then, REM could hurry and release another record and then we could do Accelerate after all!

  117. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “How small the cosmos(a kangaroo’s pouch would hold it), how paltry and puny in comparison to human consciousness, to a single individual recollection, and it’s expression in words !”________Nabakov

  118. maclure Says:

    Jesus loves you more if you can drive – The Driven (band from Ireland knocking around in the 90s).

  119. maclure Says:

    What the? I honestly cannot believe that song by The Driven is on YouTube but here it is:

    It’s not too bad.

    Also, The Stone Roses – I am the Resurrection
    and Longpigs – Jesus Christ.

  120. Paul Alferink Says:

    Lolita. Light of my life. Fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.- Nabakov.

  121. ScottMalobisky Says:

    not Lolita, Loretta

  122. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Suddenly that book has a new, even more disturbing theme…

  123. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    …The lust for Loretta!

  124. Paul Alferink Says:

    Ugh. That makes me want to shake and cough. Just like the old man in that book by Nabakov.

  125. Paul Alferink Says:

    By the by, I love any pop song that name drops famous literature. Examples:

    What I really Want- Alanis Morrisette

    “I’m like Estella. I like to reel it in and then spit it out.”

    How could you want him when you know you could have me?- Spin Doctors

    “I’m quite contented to take my chances/ against the Guildensterns and Rosencrantzes”

    (Extra points for the Tom Stoppard play based on the incidental Hamlet characters)

    Don’t Stand So Close to Me- The Police

    “He starts to shake and cough. Just like the old man in that book by Nabakov.”

    Imitation of Life- If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t be here

    “Water Hyacinth, named by the poet ‘Imitation of Life'”

    Cemetry Gates- The Smiths

    “Keats and Yeats are on your side”

  126. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Better stay away from him
    He’ll rip your lungs out Jim
    Ooh I’d like to meet his tailor

  127. ScottMalobisky Says:

    heaven is yours
    heaven is yours

  128. jim jos Says:

    life and how to live it.

    its a very basic psych questions. But do we live our lives or is much of what happens to us out of our hands.
    You play the hand your dealt, but, some of a much better hand, if you know what I mean.

  129. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Oui. Je consens. Chat echaude craint l’eau froide (mais) qui ne risque rien n’a rien (et) aide-toi le ciel t’aiedera (mais) plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.

  130. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Well you coulda gone into business and ranted and believed that God was concerned.

  131. Paul Alferink Says:

    I liked you, Scott. And then you started speaking French. . .

  132. Dark Bob Says:

    Hey Matthew, you still alive out there!

  133. Bruno Says:

    It’s a terrific blog. It really is!

    I’ve been gone for weeks and come and have a peek and still we be sitting back and discussing life and how you go about living it.

    I too think if we just take this all a bit sloooower this is a chance for Accelerate to get added to the list (hint hint)!

  134. ScottMalobisky Says:

    The Wichita Lineman is still on the line

  135. ScottMalobisky Says:

    He’s thinking as he’s working, “Everything that happens will happen today…..”

  136. ScottMalobisky Says:

    refer to “The Apologist”

  137. ScottMalobisky Says:

    say it fast:
    Obama and Biden
    Obama and Biden
    Obama and Biden
    Osama Bin Laden
    Osama Bin Laden
    Osama Bin Laden
    Samoan Osso Bucco
    Samoan Osso Bucco
    Samoan Osso Bucco
    Obama and Biden

  138. Rob Says:

    To anyone heading to tomorrow’s show in Southampton, if you see me say hello. I’ll be near the front wearing an REM T-shirt.

  139. milesy Says:

    See you there, Rob. With matching uniforms, how can we miss each other..?

  140. Melonie Says:

    Anyone planning to go to the show in Dallas in October? My husband and I and our best friend are driving down for it. Would love to meet up with other fans.

  141. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:


  142. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Sorry about above, but last night I couldn’t log on, so I was checking if it worked now.

  143. Melonie Says:

    so check does not mean you will be at the Dallas concert? bummer.

  144. Paul Alferink Says:

    I don’t think any of the regular posters are from the Dallas neck of the woods. Maybe some of the occasional posters? Enjoy the concert, though.

  145. Melonie Says:

    I’M not from the Dallas neck of the woods. I’m in Minnesota. I figured I’d take a chance that one of y’all were nearby.

  146. Paul Alferink Says:

    That’s a drive. Did you see any of the other shows this tour, or did you just ever want to see Dallas from a DC-99?

  147. Kirsten Says:

    Hey Paul, have you heard REM’s version of Dallas? That’s the only way I know what you’re talking about. They did it back in ’91 (I think) as part of a demo/jam session, with a lot of laughing.

  148. Paul Alferink Says:

    It’s on the Bingo Handjob Bootleg from London. And yes, that was my introduction to both that song and “Jackson.” When I got into Johnny Cash later in life, I was surprised to hear him sing it. I mean, I KNEW in the back of my mind that it was a Johnny Cash song, it just didn’t sound right in my head at first. I got over it. REM is great and all, but their thrown off version doesn’t compare to Johnny’s. Maybe if they, you know, rehersed it or something, they’d give him a run. . .

  149. Melonie Says:

    We saw the show in St. Paul, which is why we want to see another one. We used to live in Austin and had to drive back and forth to visit family on holidays, so Dallas isn’t so bad. It’s only 20 hours. he he.
    And I prefer not to fly because I get ill. I’d just as soon enjoy the concert and not spend half of it in the bathroom yakking.

  150. Bruno Says:

    Yakking in the bathroom? Oops! Problems with flight management.

  151. Bruno Says:

    Or maybe that’s slang for talking round the toilet. A little bit of gossip in the john. You know, “Hey, pass that over here Bogart!” and “I liked him more when he had hair”

  152. Melonie Says:

    yak. puke. pray to the porcelin god. barf. ralph. blow chunks. toss cookies. chunder. spew. technicolor yawn.
    Whatever you want to call it, it’s gonna spoil the fun.
    I’m just sayin is all.

  153. Bruno Says:

    Well said Melonie. Gotcha. Definitely not part of the plan.

    Have you ever seen Bill Cosby’s impression of the love affair between a ‘too-much-to-drink-but-dammit-I-deserve-it’ individual and the ol’ holy shrine. If not, you should – for a laugh. And that goes for the rest of all of yous. It’s damn funny!

    YouTube: “Bill Cosby Drinking”

    Ah, I giggle again.

  154. Ignis Sol Says:

    Wow, I’v been busy, but I guess Matthew must be really busy. It’s all good, my babies.

    I am wishing/hoping R.E.M. makes another swing through the Seattle area because I missed them last time at the Gorge. Death Cab is playing the Bumbershoot Festival here in Seattle this weekend. The last time I was at that festival was to see R.E.M. in 2003 (the day after I saw Radiohead at a nearby venue). Am I the only current American Northwesterner on this blog?

  155. Kirsten Says:

    Hey, thanks Paul! I had no idea that CD I had was officially Bingo Hand Job. How could I not know that??I’m so ashamed of myself…..

  156. Rob Says:

    So milesy, did ya enjoy the concert? Definately worth the short flight over (ok, so I was visiting family at the same time). So happy that we got Nightswimming and Pretty Persuasion.

  157. milesy Says:

    Wasn’t it great? I loved Ignoreland, which I’m really glad they have been doing on this tour, Nightswimming, as you say, 7 Chinese Bros… Aah! Let’s face it, they were all great! Did you manage to get close to the front? I thought it was a really good atmosphere. Not sure what was going on between Michael and Peter during the first few songs, while Mike just shrugged and looked a bit bemused…

  158. Kirsten Says:

    >>Not sure what was going on between Michael and Peter during the first few songs, while Mike just shrugged and looked a bit bemused…

    Tell me more Milesy – what was happening??

  159. milesy Says:

    Who knows what was going on. As I remember, in between each of the first few songs, Michael and Peter retreated to the drum riser area and seemed to be in intense discussion. I was thinking, is anything wrong, is Peter not happy about something? Mike, meanwhile, stayed by his mic, greeted the audience, shrugged, or just grinned. After a handful of songs,Michael said he was struggling with the cold August, and needed as much heat from the crowd as possible. We gave heat. A few songs later, he said he was feeling much better now, we were doing a good job; and he had bought some new shoes today which were making him feel odd (I think that’s what he said). So I guess it was Michael not Peter.

    Anyway, at no point in any of this were the songs or performances any less than full-on; and the second half of the gig was, if anything, even better. I’ve been lucky enough to see REM 4 times over the years, and I think I would go as far as to say this was the best performance I’ve seen them give. Loads of energy; and also a real playfulness, and relaxedness which contrasts with the more intense rock star persona of the mid-90s.

    What do you reckon, Rob? Did I get this right?

  160. Kirsten Says:

    Wow thanks Milesy, that sounds really cool. I can picture Mike standing there with a big grin on his face. I wish I was there…..

    Cold August? Aren’t you at the end of Summer??

  161. milesy Says:

    Yep. An English summer. As Mr Stipe put it, I come from Georgia, and I like my August to be hot enough to make me sweat. I think it was about 20C last Wednesday. To think, the last time I saw REM, I was living in South Africa…

  162. Kirsten Says:

    Wow, that’s only about 6 degrees warmer than it was here in August – and we’re in Winter! Mr Cup over in the west probably was enjoying weather even warmer than your Summer! It’s suppose to be 17 today. Beautiful. So, Mr Stipe, if you like it hot COME AND TOUR HERE PLEEEEEEEEEEEASE!!! {I’ve been reduced to begging}

  163. milesy Says:

    Shall we talik about the weather?

  164. Kirsten Says:

    Hi. Hi. Hi.

  165. Aado Says:

    I was at the same show at MSG in 2003 and almost collapsed from excitement when I recognized the first few chords. I too never imagined that I would hear this, my all-time favorite song. Glad that you felt the same way.

    I actually got it on my camera in Philadelphia in 2008 which was another thrill.


  166. Dark Bob Says:

    Looking forward to the remastered deluxe version of Fables! Should be out this year I think.

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