The Place Where You Live

June 9th, 2006

I have the best ringtone ever.

I was a senior in high school when R.E.M. released its first Warner Bros. record, “Green,” on November 8, 1988. The band had (of course) crawled from The South, releasing five sonically and lyrically unique pop albums on IRS Records and setting the bar for what would become “alternative rock.” “Green,” then, was the band’s sell out.

And what a gloriously oddball sell out. “Hello, how are you? I know you, I knew you. I think I can remember your name.” What the hell does that mean? That’s Michael Stipe kicking off the record with this cheesy, simple little, well, pop song called, well, “Pop Song 89.” Track two? About dreams. “Dreams they complicate my life (Dreams they compliment my life).” Um, huh? And then, and THEN, and then we hear crickets and mandolin. Crickets? On a major label debut?

Of course, R.E.M.’s “Green” was, for better or worse, all about one ubiquitous, impossible-to-escape song: “Stand.”

Remember the hook? It was like circus music on acid, a drunk organ grinder, a monkey playing piano. It was only slightly less-annoying than “Shiny Happy People” (which the band would unleash upon an unsuspecting world three years later). And yet, and yet…

And yet it was completely catchy, and completely compelling.

Fast forward eighteen years. Abbi and I are sitting in an examining room at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She’s not feeling well at all. I’m trying to make her laugh. So I’m making ridiculous mini-movies on my cell phone. And then I decide to download the most absurd ringtone I can think of. I don’t want one of those actual music files. I want one of those polyphonic, blips-n-beeps sounding ringtones. And I found it in R.E.M.’s “Stand.”

Of course, everyone thinks of “Stand” as R.E.M. worst song ever. But I think it might just be the band’s best. And here’s why: I think it’s a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. Consider the lyrics:

Stand in the place where you live
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven’t before
Stand in the place where you work
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven’t before

How much more existential could you get? It’s about being confident, centered, and grounded. It’s about thinking through the things otherwise assumed, questioning your surrounding, and exploring your interior life. It’s about where you’ve been, where you are and where your going.

And when I my phone rings it in the middle of a meeting, all cold and and mechanical and digital?

Hilarious. And genius. All in one.

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