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The Poetics of American Song Lyrics$
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Charlotte Pence

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781617031564

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617031564.001.0001

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Laughing in Tune: R.E.M. and The Post‐Confessional Lyric

Laughing in Tune: R.E.M. and The Post‐Confessional Lyric

(p.203) Laughing in Tune: R.E.M. and The Post‐Confessional Lyric
The Poetics of American Song Lyrics

Jeffrey Roessner

University Press of Mississippi

R.E.M. came to prominence in the early 1980s as the antithesis of nearly every trend in corporate rock music. In contrast to top-forty rock, which was hyper-produced, strident, and awash in synthesizers, R.E.M.’s style was murky, understated, and laden with chiming guitars. Singer Michael Stipe’s lyrics generated mixed responses from the beginning, but everyone agrees that the lyrics are difficult to understand partly because of his own muddled enunciation and the way the vocals are mixed. This chapter examines Stipe’s obfuscated lyrics through the lens of poetry. It first considers the notion that lyrics should provide literal meanings before placing R.E.M.’s lyrics in the context of contemporary verse, particularly Language poetry. The chapter then assesses Stipe’s anticonfessional poetics and his position as the confessional “I” in the songs.

Keywords:   rock music, R.E.M, Michael Stipe, lyrics, poetry, verse, Language poetry, anticonfessional, songs

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