Song of the Day #1,182: ‘Find the River’ – R.E.M.

Out of Time was an unlikely hit album, but its follow-up was even more of a surprise. 1992’s Automatic For the People is a somber, murky meditation on death that happened to go quadruple platinum.

It’s a testament to R.E.M.’s integrity that their two most commercially popular albums were also two of their more experimental.

Automatic For the People is a particularly gorgeous record, all cellos and distorted bass lines, Stipe’s mumbled vocals processed into a low grumble on some tracks and allowed to soar on others. I rank this album just below Fables of the Reconstruction as the band’s best work.

This album will always represent the Fall of 1992, a time when I drove around the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew from my job at a movie theater to my classes at the University of Miami listening to it on cassette. Before I had a CD player in my car, I would tape all of my CDs to listen to while driving. My Automatic For the People cassette was backed with Michael Penn’s Free-For-All, which came out a couple of weeks earlier.

Those albums are forever associated in my mind. They form the soundtrack of the year I met my wife, the year my life shifted from what it had been to what it was going to be.

Hey now, little speedyhead,
The read on the speedmeter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve.
Don’t be shy. Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go.

Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon.
I have got to leave to find my way.
Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes.
Nothing is going my way.

The ocean is the river’s goal,
A need to leave the water knows
We’re closer now than light years to go.

I have got to find the river,
Bergamot and vetiver
Run through my head and fall away.
Leave the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes.
Nothing is going my way.

There’s no one left to take the lead,
But I tell you and you can see
We’re closer now than light years to go.
Pick up here and chase the ride.
The river empties to the tide.
Fall into the ocean.

The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow.
None of this is going my way.
There is nothing left to throw
Of Ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rose of hay.
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete.
Pick up here and chase the ride.
The river empties to the tide.
All of this is coming your way.

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,182: ‘Find the River’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana says:

    Oh, how I love this album! And how beautiful is this song? I mean, come on!

    Looking back nearly 20 years later, it truly is amazing how 1992 was so significant for all of us. Earlier that year, I graduated from law school, married my soul mate, moved to a new city, started my first job as an attorney and then watched from a safe distance as Andrew impacted the lives of family and friends.

    I wish I had as clear a memory as you do as to where I was or what I was doing while listening to this album. I do remember, though, hearing “Nightswimming” for the first time and thinking that it may have been one of the most perfect songs ever written.

    Writing this, I just realized that Amy and I haven’t really properly exposed our kids to the greatness of REM or this album (as we have done with Counting Crows for example). I think this must be remedied during our drive to Melbourne:)

  2. Amy says:

    Gorgeous is definitely the right word to describe this song and this album. And sumptuous also comes to mind. And this song brings the whole gorgeous mess to a spectacular close. “Try Not to Breathe” and “Nightswimming” were always the standouts for me.

    I wonder if this album made such a huge impact on all of us because we were experiencing such significant events in our lives, and this was the soundtrack to many of those experiences? I tend to think so. Regardless, I feel lucky to have those memories and grateful to have such fondness for this music.

  3. This album got me through some weird times. The title comes from Weaver D’s Fine Foods frequented by the band… beneath the name it says ‘Automatic For The People’

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