“Imitation of Life” – REM – Dreamy, Endearing, Nostalgic

By | September 29, 2015

Anyone who’s ever fallen in love with 80s rock music loves R.E.M. They’ve been faithful quiet achievers for decades now, certainly with a different M.O. compared with say, U2, who’ve been around just as long. The song Imitation of Life off the 2001 album Reveal is quite a remarkable, enduring song which beckons further investigation.

My love of the song’s melody helps characterise me as an ‘art rock’ fan; the same genre that Pink Floyd often filled, and Coldplay today. It’s filled with an easy, dreamy, minor-note tempo and an endearing melody with lyrics inspiring the all-age nostalgia of surreal escapism.

The song’s lyrics, on the other hand, are not that coherent. There’s a somewhat loose link to an errant aspiration, something sort of esoteric cased in a hopeless way. For all the trying there’s not a lot of succeeding. There’s more saying than doing. There’s more munching on sugary sweets than real action. The target of the song is impotent.

It’s a void, this life profiled. It’s an imitation, model life that’s quite postmodern in feel–neither there or there-abouts but somehow promising to be in contention.

I recall a time like this. Almost it seems another lifetime ago I had my experimentations in a world of chaotic nothingness–a life that promised a lot but never quite delivered anything real. A life that watched on, wheels spinning expectantly, but never actually gaining traction. I was a dreamer and oh, I pined to be a doer alright. All I thought about was doing. And that’s the point. I thought too much.

And this music attracts the dreamy type who prefers to dream. But it doesn’t have to be this way. For all the trying and crying depicted in Imitation of Life there’s the sense that there are two people involved living two completely separate lives–one striving and doing, enduring storms, tidal waves and avalanches, the other challenged by soft sugar cane and promises of Hollywood.

Given the two extremes, what would we have? What life will we commit to living? What is our life characterised by predominantly: dreaming or doing?

Steve Wickham is a Registered Safety Practitioner (BSc, MSIA, RSP) and a qualified, unordained Christian minister (GradDipBib&Min).

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