Movements, Rapid Eye
"E-Bow the Letter," by R.E.M. From the Album New Adventures in Hi Fi released September 10, 1996
R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi Fi marked a smooth, assured tonal shift for the band. And "E-Bow the Letter" is both a remarkable song and video. The lyrics are impressionistic Michael Stipe at his best, delivering his trademark word spillages, images, mixed metaphors. "Aluminum, tastes like fear / Adrenaline pulls us near..." sung by Stipe in the chorus while Patti Smith drawls gravelly, consolingly, longingly in the background, "I'll take you over, Baby." Her voice is either the song's neurotic-emotional love object, or the narrator's other, stronger, more wicked self. Taken that way, the song becomes a conflation of the tremulous masculine with the snarling feminine. This is no quaint love duet. The interplays here transcend normal romance. And the video shows cityscapes, parking lots, the band practicing before walls of little white lights, Stipe writing lyrics left-handedly, Smith on a train, Smith at the station.
It's almost as if she's traveling to Stipe, but you sense she'll never get there. And if she does there will be no embrace, maybe something like an awkward handshake. Or maybe she'll just curl up in a chair while he keeps on writing, only to realize that he is writing about her in the chair and when he looks up she (part of himself, in a sense) isn't there and never was, she's still at the train station, standing, waiting while people walk past, singing, "I'll take you over, Baby.... I'll take you over, Baby..."
P.S. Here is a great 2004 interview with Michael Stipe, conducted by photographer Wolfgang Tillmans for BUTT. Stipe discusses his ambiguous sexuality, among other things. Also, Stipe has a site for his photographs. Check out this one of him called "frightening experiment in north carolina."