erik lundegaard

The Saddest Dusk I've Ever Seen: R.I.P. R.E.M.

This morning on Facebook I added my two cents to a thread started by Candice Michelle Dyer of Georgia. She asked: “What do you think is the saddest song in the world?” and offered “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones and “Waiting Up with Johnny” by Cabbagetown's Joyce Brookshire before letting us all loose. The thread currently has 103 responses, including Irma Thomas' “It's Raining,” Billie Holiday's “Strange Fruit,” Bob Dylan's “I Threw It All Away,” and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

Somewhere in there is my answer: “Half a World Away” by R.E.M.

It was from their “Out of Time” album, which was released in 1991, just as the relationship that defined my twenties was ending and I was hurting. I was hurting so much I didn't want to be in the same hemisphere with her, so I returned to Taipei, Taiwan, where I'd lived in 1987-88, and taught, wrote, and swallowed more pollution. And listened to that R.E.M. album. Half a world away.

“Half a World Away” is kind of a cheat, isn't it, for saddest song, since it begins by talking about the saddest dusk:

This could be the saddest dusk
I've ever seen
Turn to the miracle of life
My mind is racing
As it always will
My hand is tired, my heart aches
Half a world away

At the same time what makes it truly sad is Michael Stipe's voice. Something about it, in my younger, more sensitive days, would make tears well up in my eyes.

Tears aren't welling up in my eyes this afternoon but I am sad for the news, heard a few hours after posting my answer to Candice's FB page, that R.E.M. is calling it quits after more than 30 years.

Here's the statement Michael Stipe posted to the band's website:

“A wise man once said, ‘The skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it. I hope our fans realize it wasn’t an easy decision, but all things must end.”

But I'm not sad for them—they had a great run, and made great music—nor for me, since I still have what they made and I assume each member will continue to make music in whatever form he desires. I'm just sad that it's been more than 30 years, and that that time is gone, and this is where we are now. That that could end. Something so central. So. central.

R.E.M. helped me get through the period when the other central thing ended, so I could be here, feeling only slightly sad, as the news hit. My  mind is racing.

Posted at 01:09 PM on Wed. Sep 21, 2011 in category Music  


Erika K wrote:

Fabulous post! I empathize completely (though my songs/bands are different). The idea that a song could be the saddest is intriguing, but I think the most successful songs are such because of the many ways they can be interpreted and personalized. As an example, Cohen's Hallelujah (thought I only know some of the verses) is one of my happy songs. (I'll tell you why sometime if you want to know.)

I also love your insight that the music that has been made is here forever and the potential in the music yet to come is the inspiring nugget to grasp, rather than the regret and loss of the group itself. Nice!

Comment posted on Wed. Sep 21, 2011 at 02:50 PM

JMac wrote:

“Half A World Away” is certainly in my Top 10 of saddest songs - the opening line still gets me even after 20 years. Must admit that I had a love/hate relationship with Michael Stipe's lyrics and singing but the highs cancelled out the lows. Let's treasure what we've had, not what we've lost.

Comment posted on Fri. Sep 30, 2011 at 03:21 PM
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