Song of the Day #1,813: ‘I Remember California’ – R.E.M.

california_5

I remember redwood trees, bumper cars and wolverines
The ocean’s Trident submarines
Lemons, limes and tangerines
I remember this

I remember traffic jams
Motor boys and girls with tans
Nearly was and almost rans
I remember this
History is made
History is made to seem unfair

I recall that you were there
Golden smile and shining hair
I recall it wasn’t fair
Recollect it wasn’t fair
Remembering it wasn’t fair outside

Low ebb, high tide
The lowest ebb and highest tide
A symbol wave I must confide
I guess we took us for a ride
I guess it’s just a gesture

I remember this defense
Progress fails pacific sense
All those sweet conspiracies
I remember all these things

I remember traffic jams
Motor boys and girls with tans
Nearly was and almost rans
I remember this, this

Low ebb, high tide
The lowest ebb and highest tide
I guess we took us for a ride
I guess it’s just a gesture

At the end of the continent
At the edge of the continent

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,813: ‘I Remember California’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana says:

    What is Stipe singing about here? Race discrimination? Sexual Orientation discrimination? Something else entirely?

  2. Andrea Katz says:

    I googled your question and one person seemed to have an interesting grasp on the meaning:
    General Comment:
    This is another ambiguous puzzler: A lot of the imagery is clear, but the underlying story is hard to tease out. What the lyrics don’t show is that the tune is uniformly sad.

    It’s clear that some past episode took place in California, and something that once seemed to have potential came, disappointingly, to nothing. Positive images are listed with two negative images inserted into the description (Trident submarines, which are instruments of nuclear war… and traffic jams), suggesting that something that seemed to be positive had flaws lurking beneath (submarines are not seen). The question is: what is the something? My ideas would be:

    a) A love affair.
    b) California itself. No need to allude to Luthor (from Superman I, not III) — it is folk science that California might one day be lost to a big earthquake, which is because of its postion at “the edge of the continent” — an odd fact to bring up if geography or geology is not relevant.

    With the mention of “history is made to seem unfair”, however, another very strong possible interpretation is(c) the death of Bobby Kennedy. He was on the path to becoming president when he was shot to death in Los Angeles in 1968. He certainly had a golden smile and shining hair, and his shooting is certainly a case of history being unfair and a “nearly was” and his candidacy thus an “also ran”.

    None of those interpretations is incompatible with the lyrics, although the Kennedy one seems to fit the most small points. This could be about RFK or simply a vague, lyrical song

    • Dana says:

      Very interesting interpretations. I considered also the idea that this was describing a love interest or perhaps a young love interest for Stipe with a woman interested in him, which was unfair to her as he was gay.

      The RFK interpretation is rather compelling I think.

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