"Good Advices" by R.E.M. (Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe)
Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985.

When you greet a stranger
Look at his shoes
Keep your money in your shoes
Put your trouble behind
When you greet a stranger
Look at her hands
Keep your money in your hands
Put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for
What do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away

At the end of the day,
I'll forget your name
I'd like it here if I could leave
And see you from a long way away

When you greet a stranger,
Look at her shoes
Keep you memories in your shoes,
Put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for,
What do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away

At the end of the day,
When there are no friends,
When there are no lovers,
Who are you going to call for?
What do you have to change?
A familiar face a foreign place
I forget your name
I'd like it here if I could leave
And see you from a long way away.
Who are you going to call for?
what do you have to say?
Keep your hat on your head,
Home is a long way away.


Coming at nearly the end of Fables of the Reconstruction, this rather perfectly sums up the mood of the band as they went from constant touring since 1983's Murmur to the recording of this album in London, far from their homes in Athens, Georgia. In an album about homesickness for and disgust with the South--the ability to both love where you're from and know its flaws--this song distills the feelings of loneliness and distance found in a life of travel.


Spend months on the road. Never see home. Or more than that, move away from what you thought was home. Maybe you had to. Maybe your family made you. Maybe you were chasing a job. Maybe you were a refugee.

"You can't go home again." Thomas Wolfe said that; hell, he made it the title of a book. In Look Homeward Angel, he wrote about the same general concept--and borrowing his title from Milton's Paradise Lost--which comes right down to the crux of it--that we lost paradise all too easily. Eden is a precious thing, and it takes very little to be kicked out.

You can't cross the same river twice, the Greeks used to say. You leave, and things are never quite the same. So there are those of us who, once leaving, never settle. We wander about like ghosts, trying to find traces of home, but never quite able to grasp such a simple concept.

I moved out of Philadelphia when I was ten, to a small town in Pennsylvania, which was still pretty rural in 1989. I have occasionally gone back to both places, and neither of them quite feels like home anymore. I see old friends who in some ways are the same as when I met them. They haven't left town, or the neighborhood. They talk about old times, they work their regular jobs. Hell, some of them are married with children now. Some part of me envies them--they feel at home, they feel part of something.

Me? I never feel at home. Even in my parents' house, I feel like a stranger. My home was 744, N. 25th St. in Philadelphia. WAS. Now some other family is living there. Now the neighborhood is a mix of the working class I grew up with, and yuppies who have moved in because of the low rent and proximity to Center City. But even if that wasn't the case, I wouldn't have felt at home--because a person changes just as much as the environment does. And occasionally I go back to the small town, and I see how things are both changed and different. That stream we used to play in is now covered by cement, and forced through a storm drain. That farm is now a housing development. And they're going to tear down my old high school to build a new one. I hated high school, but some part of me hates to see it torn down. I'm not into capital punishment, but I wouldn't want the colosseum torn down either.

Some of us in this world can't adjust. Some of us can't settle down. Some of us drift from town to town, lover to lover, and end up alone. We have no real home. We have no real destination. Names are an inconvenience, something easily forgetable. We stay on the road, whether in our head or in our bodies, chasing after Eden, knowing we're forever locked out.

So what is the good advice? Keep your eyes open. Watch what others do. And remember that at the end of the day, you only have yourself.


This is my favorite R.E.M. song, and almost my favorite song.

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