Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 209
Thurs. Sept. 5, 2013
Talking about the aim of the band’s most experimental sounding album, 1998’s Up, guitarist Peter Buck told author Tony Fletcher in his book R.E.M.: Perfect Circle, “One of the things we were trying to do was push ourselves into new territory and be a different band and given all the things I think it’s a really cool record. And if I was a fan of the band it’s one of those records I would really like because it’s totally different from all the things we’ve done.” Buck was talking about the electronic esthetic that flourishes sonically around Up’s songs that challenges fans of the traditional R.E.M. sound.
We all know about Michael Stipe’s lyrical gift to Peter, Mike Mills and departed drummer Bill Berry on the very Brian Wilson Pet Sounds/Smile inspired beauty that was “At My Most Beautiful.” But Buck being the resident Beach Boys expert in the band, he wrote the liner notes to the reissue of The Beach Boys Love You CD, wasn’t the only Wilson inspired tribute on Up.
Listen to the music that accompanies Stipe’s very mysteriously lyrical “Parakeet,” and you will find an ode like connection to The Beach Boys metaphysical wonder “Feel Flows.” Released on The Beach Boys best album of the seventies, 1971’s Surf’s Up, this song penned by Brian’s brother Carl and manager Jack Reiley has a very sonically spiritual nature that Buck captures so eloquently and musically on “Parakeet.”
Writing about “Feel Flows” in the Mark Dillon compiled Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Stories, director Cameron Crowe said this about Surf’s Up most mystically tripped out cut, “To me, this song is about the human experience — the giddy high-highs and the aching low-lows and all those glorious spots in between.” I believe the same can be said about this hidden gem on R.E.M.’s 1998 Up.
Originally Michael claimed that a mysterious voice mail message saying “The desert speaks to me. The flowers speak to me and now my name is Parakeetio,” is how this very moving Up song got its name. Later, Stipe talking about the inspiration of “Parakeet,” told this story on VH-1’s Storytellers, “When we were in Australia, three years ago, we went to this outback petting zoo and held a Kola Bear. After holding this Kola Bear and smelling its urine, I decided that Kola Bears are the highest that you can go. If you believe in reincarnation, if you believe that if you’re a good person and you do everything right, that you go higher and higher and higher; that the deities of the highest order are Kola Bears because they live in eucalyptus trees. They eat eucalyptus, that’s their only diet, which is a hallucinogen. They spend most of their lives in a completely slothful relaxed situation. They’re totally high so of course, they’re going to be totally relaxed and they’re urine smells great. And everyone in the known world thinks that they’re the cutest thing in the world. Thus, Kola Bears are the highest deified life form on earth and it’s what we all strive to be.” Taking the answering machine message and his idea of Kola Bears is what Stipe used as stimulus to write the lyrics to “Parakeet.”
Stipe took Buck’s backing rhythms and matched it with his answering machine message and Kola Bear inspired lyrics to create one of the most wondrously mysterious songs R.E.M. had ever put on wax. I believe that “At My Most Beautiful” wasn’t the only Beach Boys inspired track on R.E.M.’s Up. Could Carl Wilson’s “glistening flow” have sparked Peter Buck to create an uplifting musical canvas that mirrors the timeless and mystical beauty of “Feel Flows?”
I urge you to spin this 1971 Beach Boys’ cut from Surf’s Up before “Parakeet” and you will hear the sonic connection. Either way, you will definitely feel enlightened when you re-experience the sonic beauty of “Parakeet.”