Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cymbal #36 :: In Pacem

Rumours of the demise of R.E.M. have been greatly exaggerated. Michael Stipe is not dead. Neither is Peter Buck. The tour bus did not go off a cliff. Everyone is actually all right.

Don't get me wrong; I'm in mourning too. At the funeral, everyone is in black, fingers palely clutching on to life's rich pageant. But the casket is empty. Who has died?

Could it be you?

R.E.M. - Nightswimming - 1992

People have started going home in their cars. You're the last one in the pool, and the lights are still on, an electric surf rounding you. Plastic glasses, empty, half-empty, line the edge unevenly. The house is big and white and all its doors are open. It leaks music. You really have had a little too much to drink and the city is very far away. 

By the edge, she squats on her haunches, the fingers of her hands knotted together loosely. She has the eyes of an angel, and crooked twisted mouth like a clown. Her dress is white with lime green stripes. Everything about her is covered in the electric blue and yellow wash from the pool lights. Come inside, she says, and walks away. You get out, towel off, and put on a t-shirt. As you go up the red sandstone path, her footsteps are wet on them, shining in the garden lights; with a high arch, the thinnest of lines connecting the marks of her toes and her heels. They are the perfect parentheses.

R.E.M. - Bang and Blame - 1995

It's summer in the mountains. You drive with the windows down, the sun browning the forearm that sits on the door. The leaves on the trees cast their shadows onto the dashboard. K is asleep in the backseat. V is deep in a bag of peanuts, and there is salt on his fingers and on his trousers.

When you're pitching the tent, you realize that you don't have the mallet for the tent pegs. You don't want to use the car jack because it could bend the pegs out of shape. So, you use K's hardback copy of Anna Karenina instead to bang the pegs into the tufts of virgin grass. It works perfectly and you are thankful that K is so ambitious in his reading, and that Count Vronsky's misdemeanours are so many. The cover of Anna Karenina is dented and punished, but you think, Tolstoy's been through worse.

R.E.M. - Fall on Me - 1986

The coffee is swill. The company is worse. Your tie is tight around your neck and your feet hurt in their shoes. You can never tell whether it's day or night in here. But you know why you do this, right? You do this for the people who depend on you, all the people who put their rope around the piton you hammered in. You do this so that one day, when they have to hammer in their own pitons, they're high enough up the face that it takes them somewhere. In the next life, you think, in the next life, I won't need to be a good son, a good father, a good provider. In the next life, I will be Orpheus of the lyre, I will wear sandals, and that will be enough.

So, ask yourself, could it be you who has died? When you look in the mirror, is there any assurance that those memories are yours? Maybe the only things holding you together are the constants, like R.E.M. existing, not just as eternal ghosts on tape, but as a thing to touch and to hold. Maybe, when one of those comes loose, or more than one, the continuity of your life breaks, and pieces of you flake off.

No, no, I'm sorry. That's absurd. I take it back. It would be really cruel if that were true.