By lex, On Sun – January 30, 2005
“Yeah all those stars drip down like butter,
and promises of sleep…”
R.E.M. Monster – Let Me In
That’s the way I hear it anyway. Amazing thing about R.E.M. is that there is no “official,” authorized lyrics compendium, so you’re left with discographies put to pixel by untold thousands of angst-ridden, post-adolescent pseudo-poets who have attempted with uncertain success to transcribe the maunderings of one Stipe, Michael , 1 each (see also: tortured artists, musical).
In many of his early albums, and certainly on the over-driven Monster, Stipe’s lyrics seem so borderline incoherent that they amount to the audiophile equivalent of a Rorschach test. Which I think is a fascinating concept.
In my own long past, oft-lamented youth, I broke up with one paramour for no better reason than the fact that she evidently believed that the chorus of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield,” actually consisted of the words, “Love is a fantasy.” (note: It does NOT!).
It wasn’t the only reason (the relationship was going nowhere), but it certainly caused all of my ghostly and insubstantial misgivings to coalesce in one obsidian edifice, around which your humble scribe, deeply enthralled by the idea of Higher Love, rolled and jabbered, shaking his ape-like fist against the uncaring and unyielding sky.
“Love is a fantasy”! As if.
This opened up a rather revealing window, I thought, into her whole weltanschauung, if not her actual psychological health. For the latter, no final example exists from my years as a free-range rover than the young lady in the Greenwich bar, dressed all in leather (with engineer cap) who sidled up to me appraisingly, and after sipping from her Budweiser, told me (gratifyingly) that she thought I was kinda cute, and added (bloodcurdlingly) that she thought I’d look really hot – tied down, and afraid.
Now, the world is a richly variegated place, and frail humanity many-faceted in its explosive proliferation. So there are no doubt those for whom, dressed as I was in khaki pants, a button down shirt and docksiders, the forgoing formulation would have been exactly the precise verbal and visual combination calculated to send them into paroxysms of joyful anticipation. Maybe even lust. Who knows.
For me, it had an opposite, rather “chilling” effect. Like, “Love is a fantasy.” When it’s clearly “battlefield.”
So I think the lyrics to the “Let Me In” song include “promises of sleep,” and not, as others might contend, “promises are sweet.” Because taken in context, that would mean nothing at all. And I refuse to believe in nothing.
Plus, I know exactly what “promises of sleep” means.
Because (and this is where he gets back to the whole “Sea Stories” theme), I have just gotten back from being at sea, where I was reminded of certain personal facts:
We are instructed that the average person needs eight hours of sleep a night.
I know that I can hum along happily pretty much forever on seven.
I know that I can function almost indefinitely on six hours per night. But that I will hit it hard when I get ashore, and sleep on both ears.
And I also know that while you can catch up on sleep, you can’t get ahead. Which is a shame, really.
I know how it feels to lie in bed awake with too much left to do before the alarm clock rings, thinking to myself, “If I get to sleep right now, I’ll get six hours sleep,” followed by, “If I get to sleep right now, I’ll get five and one-half hours sleep.” Etc.
I know that I can survive on five hours sleep a night for at least three weeks. I haven’t had to go longer than that, and I never enjoyed a moment of it. Sleep becomes a dream you have inside a dream on five hours sleep, after several days. It becomes the measure of your life’s worth.
I know that I can make due on four hours sleep for four days if I must, but that I am likely to get sick at some point after that.
These are some of the things that are impressed upon you, or rather, re-impressed, when you go back to sea again. Because like the memory of pain, you may remember that a thing may hurt, but remembering how much it hurt is impossible. You remember that a warship never truly sleeps, at sea – there is always someone awake, someone working. The watches on the bridge, keeping the ship safe. The watches in engineering, keeping the plant running. The night shifts working to make flyers out of aircraft down for discrepancies tomorrow. The random sailors whose job it appears to be to shout at one another just outside my stateroom at 0200, just as I am falling asleep, leaving me to start again with, “If I go to sleep right now, I’ll get four hours sleep…”
That must be their job, to shout outside my stateroom, since that is what they do.
So today I came home, after a short week, and a long seven nights at sea. We’ve done the debrief, had the celebratory adult beverage ashore, and headed home to our inport cabins. Where your humble scribe promptly threw himself into the rack, turned the ringer off the phone, pulled the blanket up to his chin and the spare pillow over his eyes and slept on both ears for three hours.
Because even if you can’t get ahead, you can catch up.
Those are the promises of sleep.