Songs About Los Angeles: “Electrolite” by R.E.M.

It was somewhere between 1983 and 1984 that I discovered R.E.M. I was about 13 years old and in my bedroom near Houston. Surrounded by walls plastered with posters of Duran Duran and The Police, I discovered a college radio station in nearby Pasadena. I don’t remember exactly what song I heard first, but I loved this sound, which was different from other music I listened to at the time. I soon got to meet the college going niece of a family friend. She was so cool and trendy and I was in awe. She had several albums with her for her visit and helped me copy her R.E.M. albums onto cassette tapes. Awesome! I carried R.E.M. with me through high school and onto college, where I got my roommate into them. I have many memories tied to the band and consider them one of my very favorites to this day.

By the time R.E.M.’s tenth studio album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, was released in 1996, I’d been living in L.A. for a couple of years. At the time, I thought the album was just okay. I was still pretty stuck on their first four albums and didn’t love the newer songs as much. As is often the case, the work has grown on me and I like many of the tracks a lot, especially “Electrolite,” which is to my ears, sort of a love song.

Cell phone snap overlooking Hollywood from Mulholland Drive by Jodi

One of the fun things to do with first-time visitors to L.A. is take a ride on Mulholland. Our guests are often from fairly flat areas of the East coast and the twisty drive with its incredible views of Hollywood and The Valley is a treat, both during the day and at night. I particularly like looking down on the Hollywood Bowl, the 101 freeway, Hollywood, and on to the  downtown skyline.

If you ever want to fly
Mulholland Drive, up in the sky
Stand on a cliff and look down there
Don’t be scared, you are alive, you are alive

Michael Stipe, the band’s lead singer and lyricist of “Electrolite,” wrote an essay about the song in which he said:

“Mulholland represents to me the iconic ‘from on high’ vantage point looking down at L.A. and the valley at night when the lights are all sparkling and the city looks, like it does from a plane, like a blanket of fine lights all shimmering and solid.”

Stipe mentions that the song is a farewell to the 20th century and the ideals of “the city built on dreams and fantasy.” I see the song as somewhat critical of the superficial beauty and values that often prevail in Los Angeles. At the same time, I hear a fondness for the place where he lived for a couple of years in the ’90s.

I really love “Electrolite.” I’ve enjoyed it live in the three live shows I’ve seen since its release. Music tends to really move me and this is one of the pieces that gets me teary-eyed during and R.E.M. concert (or in a performance posted to the web). Enjoy:


Check out more of the “Songs About Los Angeles” series here.

*Photo overlooking Hollywood from Mulholland Drive taken with my cell phone.

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