Song of the Day #1,374: ‘Try Not to Breathe’ – R.E.M.

Best Albums of the 90s – #4
Automatic For the People – R.E.M. (1992)

R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People earns its high spot on this list for a couple of reasons.

First, the obvious: it is the richest, most rewarding album recorded by one of the all-time great alternative bands. R.E.M. put out a lot of great music in the mid- to late-90s right through to their final album a year ago, but nothing that approached the majesty of this record. And the only earlier album in the band’s discography that I’d put on this level is Fables of the Reconstruction.

But Automatic For the People also has special personal meaning to me as a member of that fabled class of ’92, the year my life changed from what it was to what it would be.

1992 keeps coming up as I’ve written about 90s music over the past month, so I took a look at the movies released that year to see if they had the same sort of emotional resonance. Sure enough, such titles as The Player, The Crying Game and Reservoir Dogs leap out at me as not only excellent films, but movies for which I can recall — in vivid detail — the actual viewing experience.

Those movies, and a few other, less notable titles (such as Prelude to a Kiss), are wrapped up in the same emotional memory bundle as the albums I’ve written about in recent weeks.

But of all the films and albums combined, Automatic For the People stands out most. My guess is that’s because it so effectively establishes an identity and a mood — it feels like one piece rather than a collection of songs. And even if that mood is decidedly downbeat, my associations aren’t.

This album about loss reminds me of new beginnings.

I will try not to breathe.
I can hold my head still with my hands at my knees.
These eyes are the eyes of the old, shiver and fold.

I will try not to breathe.
This decision is mine. I have lived a full life
and these are the eyes that I want you to remember. Oh.

I need something to fly over my grave again.
I need something to breathe.

I will try not to burden you.
I can hold these inside. I will hold my breath
until all these shivers subside,
just look in my eyes.

I will try not to worry you.
I have seen things that you will never see.
Leave it to memory me. I shudder to breathe.

I want you to remember. Oh. (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
over my grave again. (you will never see)
I need something to breathe. (something to breathe)
Baby, don’t shiver now.
Why do you shiver now? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
over my grave again. (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe. Oh. Oh. Oh.

I will try not to worry you.
I have seen things that you will never see.
Leave it to memory me. Don’t dare me to breathe.

I want you to remember. Oh. (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
over my grave again. (you will never see)
I need something to breathe. (something to breathe)
Baby, don’t shiver now.
Why do you shiver now? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe. (something to breathe – I have seen things
you will never see)
I want you to remember.

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,374: ‘Try Not to Breathe’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana says:

    I certainly saw this album coming as a top-ranker for you, as it is certainly for me as well. And, as I am sure I have said before, this album, for me, stands atop amongst all REM albums.

    I loved today’s song from the start, but it took on a special and poignant meaning with the passing of my mom. Indeed, over the past few years, it is difficult to get through the song without tearing up, and listening to it this morning is no exception.

  2. Amy says:

    As I’ve suggested many times on this blog, the decade of the 90’s was an important one for me, as well, which is why I expect all my favorite albums are from that time. This one is no exception. As always, the somewhat cryptic lyrics are part of that charm. What exactly does “leave it to memory me” mean? I’m not sure, but I find that it resonates despite my lack of literal understanding of its message.

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