Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 251
Fri. Nov 8, 2013
Don’t look back I told myself, as I took those last steps from the corporate job I had for years. The way it happened, so cold and callous, it was their way of saying they didn’t want or need me working there anymore; I accepted it, even if it happened on the day after Christmas. What a present to be laid off. But I’m proud of myself because I never looked back. R.E.M.’s “Leave” has always been the soundtrack to that one night that has led me to my new path that would have happened if I hadn’t followed Michael Stipe advice to embrace my fear by walking unafraid and leave it all behind.
Did you know that originally R.E.M. wanted to open New Adventures in Hi-Fi with “Leave?” Although, they ended up settling for “How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us,” can you imagine this underrated rocker would have been one of the best openers in R.E.M. history? In Johnny Black’s Reveal: The Story of R.E.M., Peter Buck described “Leave” as—“It’s a large, noisy, clanky, synthesizer-driven rock’n’roll song. It was the very last song that was written and recorded and mixed for the record.”
This Hi-Fi song has the distinction of being the last song drummer Bill Berry ever helped compose as a member of R.E.M. Scott McCaughey told David Buckley in his book R.E.M.: Fiction, how “Leave” came to life when the guitarist explained, and “The intro is just me and Bill backstage. Nobody else was around and Bill said, “I’ve got an idea for a song, play these chords.” I got this weird sound from the little practice keyboard we had in the dressing room, then he played the melody on acoustic guitar, and that’s exactly what’s on the record. That’s a great song—it seems to be a dark horse favorite of a lot of people.” Unbeknownst to Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe, “Leave” became Berry’s farewell song to his comrades. It was as if Bill had ironically and literally lived out Stipe’s fated lyrics. By the time it came to record R.E.M.’s 1999 Up, the fabulous foursome from Athens, GA were no more.
If you feel familiarity, Hi-Fi’s “Leave” is definitely a precursor to Up’s “Walk Unafraid.” Both songs deal with fear. “Leave” is the leap and “Unafraid” is the continuation of the story, when you pick yourself up after the fall. Patti Smith is the link between “Leave” and “Walk”. Smith sparked Michael Stipe to pen both of these brave songs with her sage inspiration as Buck explained when he said, “When we wrote Leave, Patti Smith was visiting. She and Michael Stipe were sitting in the next room while we were really rocking out with these tiny little amps. Patti came in and went, ‘Wow…’ while Michael said, ‘Hey, you guys are doing some weird shit over there’.” With songs like “Leave,” everyone’s favorite Athens, GA band proved that this wasn’t your little brother’s R.E.M anymore. Those days of “Losing My Religion” were a thing of the past. Patti gave Stipe the lyrical courage to pen both, “Leave” and “Unafraid,” these two timeless songs of braving fear for the unafraid.
“Leave” will always be the soundtrack of that December 26th night that I’ll never forget. As I walked away, I could feel myself falling. I embraced the coldness. At that moment the air emboldened me. I didn’t know where I would land but no matter the scars, I knew it would be a better and more fulfilling place. And because of that night when I had to guts to stand up for myself, I still thrive within the inspirational sounds of this Hi-Fi cut.
After the bands tumultuous Monster Tour when Bill Berry had a brain aneurysm, and Mike Mills and Michael Stipe both needed to have surgery, “Leave” reflects a time that R.E.M. as a band would like to forget. They overcame their health obstacles enough to record an album, Hi-Fi that Buck and his band mates believed, at the time, was one of the bands best as he once proudly explained, “I do think that we touch on a wider range of music than just about anyone right now. The Beatles used to do it, Led Zeppelin used to do it and I don’t think we get enough credit for doing it.” “Leave” is daring and so far from songs like “Religion” that signaled, creatively R.E.M. was still a vibrant band with so much more to prove. Because of R.E.M.’s sense of inspirational, perseverance— “Leave” will always remind me of feeding that familiar of not being afraid, reflecting all the brevity that Michael Stipe sings, in between the faithful lyrical leaps within his eternal rhymes.