Tag Archives: life

Stuff that inspires me: #2 Murmur by R.E.M.

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Everything is open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of things. There’s no right way or wrong way; we take what we can from what we experience. This series of posts is about the stuff that inspires me. I’m not trying to convince you – I’m just brain-dumping some fanboy love on to the page. Not everyone will agree. That’s ok.

This is one from back in the day – but it’s the ones that stick with you that can have the biggest impact. First off, try to put aside any preconceptions (misconceptions) you may have about R.E.M. This was their debut album back in 1983 and a record I first heard many years ago but after the band had reached global mammoth-ness with Losing My Religion.

The reason it’s so important to me isn’t just that I love the music and that it hit me at an important time of life – I also love what it represents. This is a true indie album. Produced by I.R.S. Records in Atlanta, Georgia, I think it stands up against any of the great indie debuts and, as the music scene has evolved in the last 30 years, I actually think it may have gained even greater recognition if it was released today instead of back in the 80s.

That’s not say that it was ignored at the time – released in the same year as Thriller and U2’s ‘War’, Rolling Stone Magazine still nominated it as their record of the year, which was pretty unusual for such a ‘small time’ release.

The band members were all around 20 years old. They lived, worked and studied in Athens and, like a lot of kids, all wanted to be in a rock band. But great musicians? Not really. Lead guitarist, Peter Buck, was such a novice that on many of the tracks Mike Mills actually plays ‘lead bass’ to make up for it. Buck learnt to play once he was in the band, not the other way round.

And Michael Stipes’ distinctive vocals that are intelligible, save for the odd recognisable phrase… was he intentionally distorting his voice? It seems as if he’s too shy to let his words ring clear and true: at this stage he’s the opposite of a confident, brash frontman. In the words of Mitch Easter, the producer:

“We put him in in front of a microphone and that was the sound he made.”

However, what they were saying was less important than how they said it. They had a raw urgency and edge that I don’t think they ever reproduced and I think few bands have achieved, while turning out such great songs too. Just like looking at a painting that you don’t entirely understand but that speaks deeply to you nonetheless, Murmur gets you on a subconscious level and doesn’t let go. Even 30 years later.

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Authors who look like their writing: #2 Kurt Vonnegut

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Look at him, with his dishevelled, curly hair and tidy moustache, with his rumpled face and wry smile. He could be a mad scientist or a kindly history professor… maybe a bit of a wise guy. Or a genius novelist who was in turns prophetic and vulgar, a poet and a cartoonist, a non-conformist and an acrid wit. He’s so loved that I feel hesitant to give him any of these labels. To me, he seemed eternally disappointed in humanity yet filled with an absolute optimism in the possibility for human kindness.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhaps
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.

– ‘Requiem’, Kurt Vonnegut

(Photo: Random House/Reuters)

I’ve been asked a few times if I’m taking suggestions for other authors to include in this series.
Of course, bring it on.

I’m heading off to a writing retreat… bliss

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I’m just about to leave to catch a train to not-so-sunny Devon for a writing retreat hosted by the excellent Urban Writers’ Retreat.

I did exactly the same last year (that’s when these photos were taken) and it was the thing that really kick-started my writing: three or four days with a few like-minded souls in the British countryside, with nothing to do but write and go for the odd walk.

I’m expecting to get a lot done, meet some lovely people and generally have a great time.

Wahoo!