Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 182
Mon. July 10, 2012

“It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”

I find myself often at a loss for words…” R.E.M. singer and lyricist Michael Stipe once told The Guardian UK. “I’ve realized that to try and slot myself into that world is to diminish what I have to offer. And I do have something to offer but it’s just in a different dialect, a different language.” I’ve always felt this creative kinship to Michael, being in the mindset of someone who’s always had trouble communicating because of my stutter, I turned to eloquently introspective singers and songwriters like Stipe.

Even though at times I’ve been seen as a nomadic wanderer, moving from city to city, ironically I’ve always had this fear speaking publicly especially introducing myself to strangers. But what link did my trepidation of my vocal tremors have with my fear of earthquakes? Strange enough I may have found the answer within the lyrical confines of in R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

“♫ That’s great it
starts with an earth
quake/ birds and
snakes/ an aeroplane/
and Lenny Bruce is
not afraid

I recall this time, in my not so distant past, both my fears of earthquakes and stuttering came together in the most unusual moment. It was 2006, I sat with a former flame on the damp toweled tile in the bathroom of our Chicago efficiency apartment— she could feel the fear in my eyes, when she first asked me to move to California. But, sadly, it wasn’t because of the myriad reasons inside of her head; I just couldn’t get the words out— I didn’t want to live in California because of my inherit fear of earthquakes. Looking back it was foolish; she knew I was too scared to go, of all the reasons not to come to Los Angeles. — earthquakes, seriously?

I eventually got over it, my literal earthquake phobia; I never realized, until today, my phobia of earth tremors were tied to my fear of stuttering. It took years of some serious introspection but eventually I overcame my trepidation when hearing the opening chords of “It’s The End of The World.” Did you know, according to Craig Rosen’s book R.E.M. The Stories Behind The Songs—“[“It’s The End of The World,”] has been an anthem of sorts to residents who live in regions that are prone to earth tremors.”

But how did Michael Stipe come up with the now vintage R.E.M. song that he dubbed—“the ultimate ambivalent anthem?” You may have heard the legend, it came from a dream. Stipe explains when he told Timothy White—“I was at Lester Bangs birthday party and I was the only person there whose initials weren’t L.B. So there was Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, and Leonard Bernstein…So that ended up in the song with stuff I’d seen when I was flipping TV channels. It’s a collection of streams of consciousness.”

Because of this many critics like Johnny Black have claimed that “It’s The End of The World” is R.E.M.’s homage to Bob Dylan. In Johnny’s own book Reveal: The Story of R.E.M. Black wrote— “Clearly descended from Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” features a rapid-fire lyrics that is not only one of Stipe’s most powerful, but also one of the quickest to write. “When they showed me the song in the studio, I just said. ‘It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).’ I wanted it to be the most bombastic vocal that I could possibly muster, something that would completely overwhelm you.””

I’ve been at R.E.M. concerts—“It’s The End of The World,” is definitely the song that received the best reaction at their shows. Stipe was right, ‘And I Feel Fine” is the same sentiment these confused youths feel about this ambivalent anthem in this age of uncertainty. Imagine that a song that was birthed by Michael Stipe’s dream, in 1987, is still the one that captures the hearts and hopeful imagination of R.E.M. fans everywhere. Even today, as a married forty-year old, I still feel chills of excitement, I experienced as a teenage R.E.M. fan, when I hear Bill Berry’s opening military style drum fills.

For years, “It’s The End of The World,” was a song I would avoid, not only because of earthquake and stuttering phobias. Try singing “It’s The End Of The World” with a vocal tremor? It’s very difficult to get those words out when you’re constantly tripping over your own words. Looking back I realize I was lost and unsure about my true voice in life. I was afraid of running out breath, when trying to speak and not having enough time to express my true meaning of the soul I was meant to become.

Luckily, even with my trademark stutter step, I rediscovered my writer’s voice. In L.A., I found my true calling in life as a poet. And, I bet my So-Cal compadres would love to know, I eventually got over my fear of both my tremors. I’ve already read my work aloud at various poetry readings in So Cal and I’ve actually experienced a few quakes already and they actually felt like a roller-coaster ride on cement.

Thank You R.E.M. for helping me overcome my fears of self-expression and my earthquake phobia—we honor Stipe’s very own lyrical dream, today we celebrate “It’s The End of The World.” The best advice I ever heard if you live your life to the fullest like the world will end mañana—no matter if you trip with stuttering missteps, those regrets you’ve feared will all fade away like R.E.M.’s “I Feel Fine” chorus that you will not soon forget.