Ford column: Fanning the flames with REM
By Emily Ford
As I grow older, I’ve found that the fire in the belly burns less intensely.
I spend less time thinking and more time doing. Less time soul searching and more time searching for socks. Less time burning and more time just getting by.
Complacency has a certain appeal.
I went to the REM concert in Raleigh for old time’s sake. A favorite college band, REM brought back happy memories for me, but I hadn’t bought one of their new albums since “Monster” in 1994.
For me, REM was kind of RIP.
But with a sweat-soaked, joyous, no-holds-barred performance that fanned the belly flames, REM leapt out of its grave with new music so relevant, so motivating, so good it left me giddy and incredulous.
Featuring songs from their new album “Accelerate,” the concert was a call to action.
Intense and driving with catchy melodies that stayed with me all night, their new music focuses like a laser on politics, the media, religion and even adolescence. The songs are powerful without being preachy, sincere without being strident.
Frontman Michael Stipe rarely spoke to the audience when I saw REM in 1989, singing an entire song (“Perfect Circle”) with his back turned.
This time, Stipe embraced us, loved us, thanked us.
REM played plenty of their old stuff, but it never seemed nostalgic, interwoven with the stinging “Man-Sized Wreath,” poignant “Houston” and silly “I’m Gonna DJ.”
In “Supernatural Superserious,” Stipe consoles those of us still occasionally haunted by high school: “You don’t have to explain/humiliation/of your teenage station.”
“Enjoy yourself with no regrets,” he urges.
In the haunting “Hollow Man,” Stipe deals with losing yourself, forgetting your beliefs. In other words, complacency.
“Believe in me, believe in nothing/Corner me and make me something/I’ve become the hollow man/Have I become the hollow man I see?”
REM cornered me. What do I believe?
I believe the mother who lives in a slum half a world away loves her children as fiercely as I love mine.
I believe when we invade a country unjustly and occupy it for five years, killing thousands of civilians, yet allow a junta to block delivery of humanitarian aid to a million starving people, there is something wrong with our government.
I believe when polar bears turn up dead, their lungs filled with salt water, and penguins mourn for eggs lost in freak spring floods, there is something wrong with our world.
I believe when a 78-year-old man lies alone, paralyzed, in the middle of the street after a hit and run and no one holds his hand, there is something wrong with our soul.
I believe we need to hold our leaders accountable and ourselves responsible. I believe we need a longer attention span and a better memory.
I believe it’s not enough just to believe.
Last week, I turned 38 and attended my 20th high school reunion. REM saw me out of high school and into college, where fires burn brightly.
Two decades later, during perhaps the most important election of our lifetime, REM accompanies me again as the flames glow.
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.