30 Years Ago: R.E.M. Release ‘Fables of a Reconstruction’
June 11, 2015 - accent chair
Long before R.E.M. were tellurian superstars, they were southern boys finished good. Regardless of either a landscape outward of your bedroom window was lonesome in kudzu or Spanish moss, red clay or sight tracks, a attainment of a new manuscript from Athens’ favorite sons meant something done only for you.
I’m not vocalization hypothetically — we was there. Fables of a Reconstruction was expelled a same week that we graduated from a high propagandize notched into a red clay and a loblolly pines of Upstate South Carolina.
My best friend and we took a expostulate down I-85 in his beat-up Toyota, cassettes and unwashed hosiery strewn opposite a behind chair and Fables blustering from a fasten rug value some-more than his car. The scabby trees and a impossibly immature setting rolled past. “Man, this could only be done here,” we said.
“What do we mean?” he asked.
“Just listen. The song matches a landscape. Anywhere else in a universe it wouldn’t make sense. You couldn’t write ‘Driver 8′ in New York City.”
“I’ll extend we that sourroundings influences music, though we consider you’re overstating it a bit,” my friend said.
But we wasn’t.
The band’s final truly southern manuscript was their initial available outward of a south. What had been a unequivocally cultivatable attribute with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon had begun to shroud a dual producers’ possess careers. Drummer Bill Berry is quoted in Marcus Gray’s It Crawled From a South: An R.E.M. Companion as saying: “I consider [Easter] was removing a small miffed by a fact that whenever he did an talk that he suspicion was going to be about [his band] Let’s Active, a initial questions he was asked were always about producing R.E.M.”
For his part, Easter remembers a separate differently, observant that a rope wanted to start a Fables sessions in Feb of ’85, while Let’s Active were out on tour. Regardless, a rope packaged adult for London, where Joe Boyd took a producer’s chair. Boyd’s CV enclosed several artists that interest to alt-indie listeners to this day, including Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, and a Incredible String Band. Bonus cold points: Boyd constructed Pink Floyd’s classical Syd Barrett-era single, “Arnold Layne.”
The production’s Englishness didn’t trickle into a production, during slightest not overtly. There’s a clever tie between a American south and England — those Appalachian hills were staid by a English, Irish, and Scottish, after all. Some Shakespearean scholars disagree that to hear a playwright’s works achieved authentically, one would need a expel comprised not of top center category English accents though rather a “hillbilly” accent of a Blue Ridge Mountains.
England has a eccentrics, too, and singular (but unequivocally southern) characters underline prominently in several of a album’s songs: “Old Man Kensey,” “Wendell Gee,” “Maps and Legends” with a loyalty to Georgia alien artist Reverend Howard Finster.
The album’s pretension is so southern that it drips with pink extract and humidity. “Reconstruction” is a installed word in a south, conjuring a duration only after a Civil War, and “Fables”? Well, there’s a prolonged tradition of storytelling in a south, utterly stories about engaging people.
Old Man Kensey was one such person, a real-life partner to a Reverend Finster, who combined a design for a band’s prior album, Reckoning. (Finster also embellished a cover to Talking Head’s Little Creatures.) In interviews during that period, rope members told stories of Kensey jumping out of a coffin stranded in a bed of a pickup lorry only to shock aged ladies and holding dogs for ransom.
Trains, individualist characters — a manuscript was so deeply flushed with southern account that it was creatively named The Sound and a Fury, a pretension it would have common with William Faulkner’s tide of alertness novel about a Compsons, a before good southern family in a state of decay. Stipe pronounced in a radio talk in ’85 (quoted in Gray) that, “Up to a final minute, it was patrician something else that we stole from Shakespeare, though we motionless opposite it since William Faulkner had already stolen it.” The quote in doubt comes from Macbeth. Don’t forget to review it with a hillbilly accent:
Life’s though a walking shadow, a bad player
That struts and frets his hour on a stage
And afterwards is listened no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
And so a alternate, strange pretension gives us one of dual keys to meaning: Is this an manuscript about a once elegant south depressed into decay, or is it simply a story told by an idiot? Both, neither. Stipe once explained (again, quoted in Gray) that he was
…coming to terms with a nostalgia aspect. It wasn’t conscious when we were recording a album. The some-more we discussed it with friends, a clearer it became that we and many of a people we hang out with are unequivocally nationalistic for what is radically a siren dream, that doesn’t exist or maybe never did exist….In Europe, we can travel around and a clarity of story that seeps out of buildings creates we feel not utterly so big. You feel a good clarity of place. In America, that clarity of place is radically a myth. Especially in a Deep South.
That is what makes Fables quintessentially southern, that enterprise to scratch together a clarity of place out of a few scabby hunger trees, a small kudzu, a “green rushes” and a crazy dognapper. Album opener “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is taken to be about descending defunct while reading, though given a context one could make a plain box for a charming sobriety of that fabulous clarity of place.
Then again, maybe not. None of this matters. If Fables is indeed no some-more than a story told by an idiot, it’s a story that I’ve been listening to for 30 years now. These songs are as most a partial of my fabulous clarity of place as a rolling hills of a Piedmont, a exploding stand overpass down Rainbow Lake Road and a sight marks over by Hillcrest where we could launch a cruddy cars airborne for a few feet.
Sometimes it’s improved not not to know a law behind a fables. Sometimes it’s improved to spin off one’s mind and only listen to a song and accept but doubt that we can’t get there from here.