A Letter Never Sent

The words ‘For River’ are visible in the bottom of the rear view mirror that appears on the song’s single sleeve. Photo by Ian McFarlane

 
 

E-BOW THE LETTER

(Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe)

“Look up, what do you see?
all of you and all of me
florescent and starry
some of them, they surprise

the bus ride, I went to write this, 4:00 a.m.
this letter
fields of poppies, little pearls
all the boys and all the girls sweet-toothed
each and every one a little scary
I said your name

I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
dreaming of Maria Callas
whoever she is
this fame thing, I don’t get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
this star thing, I don’t get it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

will you live to 83?
will you ever welcome me?
will you show me something that nobody else has seen?
smoke it, drink
here comes the flood
anything to thin the blood
these corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
phone, eat it, drink
just another chink
cuts and dents, they catch the light
aluminum, the weakest link

I don’t want to disappoint you
I’m not here to anoint you
I would lick your feet
but is that the sickest move?
I wear my own crown and sadness and sorrow
and who’d have thought tomorrow could be so strange?
my loss, and here we go again

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

look up, what do you see?
all of you and all of me
florescent and starry
some of them, they surprise

I can’t look it in the eyes
seconal, Spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene
cherry-flavored neck and collar
I can smell the sorrow on your breath
the sweat, the victory and sorrow
the smell of fear, I got it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

pulls us near
tastes like fear…

nearer, nearer
over, over, over, over
yeah, look over
I’ll take you there, oh, yeah
I’ll take you there
oh, over
I’ll take you there
over, let me
I’ll take you there…
there, there, baby, yeah”

 
 

E-Bow the Letter is the first single from R.E.M.‘s tenth studio album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It was released in August 1996 just weeks before the album’s release.

Patti Smith sings guest backing vocals on this song. The song’s title refers to the EBow, an electromagnetic field-generating device that induces sustained vibration in an electric guitar string (creating a violin-like effect), and to a “letter never sent” by Michael Stipe. It is believed that the letter in question was written to actor River Phoenix expressing Stipe’s concern for his friend’s spiraling substance abuse with the letter never being sent due to Phoenix’s death. Guitarist Peter Buck can be seen using an EBow in the video for the song at approximately 1:27 to 1:30. R.E.M. has also played the song live with artists including Thom Yorke singing Patti Smith’s vocal part.

“I first saw Patti Smith perform in 1976, and I remember thinking that I would gladly give 10 years off my life to be the bass player for her group. I know Michael was equally as inspired by Patti, and when he came up with a Ronettes-style vocal chorus, it was obvious who we had to call. It was such an incredible experience watching Patti sing this song – a song we wrote! I had all the cliche reactions; chills ran up and down my spine, the hair stood up on the back on my neck, etc. My life did not flash before my eyes, but it was a close thing.”

Peter Buck
(Liner notes for the hits compilation In Time)

The music video can be watched on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

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Love Is A Rebellious Bird

Georges Bizet’s manuscript of Habanera

 
 

Habanera, the popular name for L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird), is one of the most famous arias from Georges Bizet‘s 1875 opera Carmen. It is the entrance aria of the title character, a mezzo-soprano role, in scene 5 of the first act.

The score of this aria was adapted from the habanera El Arreglito (The Little Arrangement), originally composed by the Spanish musician Sebastián Yradier. Bizet thought it to be a folk song; when others told him he had used something that had been written by a composer who had died only ten years earlier, he had to add a note to the vocal score of Carmen, acknowledging its source.

 
 

Emilie Ambre in the role of Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name. Painting by Edouard Manet, c. 1879

 
 

Quand je vous aimerai? (When will I love you?)
Ma foi, je ne sais pas, (Good Lord, I don’t know,)
Peut-être jamais, peut-être demain. (Maybe never, maybe tomorrow.)
Mais pas aujourd’hui, c’est certain! (But not today, that’s for sure!)

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird)
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser, (That none can tame,)
Et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle, (And it is well in vain that one calls it)
S’il lui convient de refuser. (If it suits him to refuse)
Rien n’y fait, menace ou prière; (Nothing to be done, threat or prayer.)
L’un parle bien, l’autre se tait, (The one talks well, the other is silent;)
Et c’est l’autre que je préfère; (And it’s the other that I prefer)
Il n’a rien dit mais il me plaît. (He says nothing but he pleases me.)…

…L’amour est l’enfant de Bohême, (Love is a gypsy’s child,)
Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi; (It has never, never known the law;)
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime; (If you do not love me, I love you;)
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi! (If I love you, take guard yourself)…

…L’oiseau que tu croyais surprendre (The bird you hoped to catch)
Battit de l’aile et s’envola. (Beat its wings and flew away)
L’amour est loin, tu peux l’attendre; (Love is far, you can wait for it)
Tu ne l’attends plus, il est là. (You no longer await it, there it is)
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite, (All around you, swift, swift,)
Il vient, s’en va, puis il revient. (It comes, goes, then it returns)
Tu crois le tenir, il t’évite, (You think to hold it fast, it flees you)
Tu crois l’éviter, il te tient! (You think to flee it, it holds you)…

Excerpts from Habanera

 
 

To watch Maria Callas singing this aria in Covent Garden (1962), please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl