Murmur | 1983
This has always occupied a similar space in my brain as “Shaking Through”. These two songs are companion “deep cuts” from Murmur. At least in the old REM head-cannon where the songs are sentient characters. These were the tracks that keps pulling me back into Murmur as a full album. Probably why it tended to stay on side 2 for long stretches.
So we go from the early REM song with the most maning to the song with the least meaning. If “Shaking” is the ideal overhearing lyrics side of Murmur, “Sitting” is the literal murmur. These lyrics are truely incomprehensible without reaching for outside context from Michael. He has said that this is one of his least favourite R.E.M. songs because the lyrics are “just a collection of vowels that make no sense”. After listening to a few versions of this one, I’m inclined to agree.
Despite this, the lyrics succeed at letting the user insert their own meanings into the text. Peter’s guitar line after each verse phrase is pure elation. The verses are delivered so serene but blend seamlessly into the harsh tones of the chorus. Only the title line in “Wasting Time Sitting Still” and “I can hear you” are clearly pronounced. But gibberish spoken with such conviction convinces the listener there is meaning. Even if only in their head.
In a 1991 interview, Michael Stipe acknowledged that the chorus references an old Southern saying: “Katie-Bar the door” which means trouble is coming. The verses of Sitting Still are inspired by Stipe’s sister Cindy who taught deaf children. Her name is abbreviated to “C” in the second line.
There are versions of the song where the full third line is “We can bind it and the sister’s where your children learn”. So it’s not “cyst” or “scythe”, but “sist”.
This looks like the simplest arrangement so far. I spent the first day on it learning the guitar and bass parts. Its a great example of less being more in a song. There are only three different parts both Peter and Mike are repeating throughout the song. There’s not much else in terms of arrangement on this track. Notable lack of any keyboards here. We’ll see if that translates to a quicker turnaround recording time this week.