Tracks from the Past

BY DI STAFF | JANUARY 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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R.E.M.: Automatic for the People

I’ve never loved Claire Danes more than when she stood in the middle of an abandoned street and watched her teen crush ride away on a rusty Schwinn bike.

The 1994 teen-drama “My So-Called Life” was mid-90s television at its finest. The series followed 15-year-old Angela Chase (Danes) as she navigated through the confusing teenage years. The first and only season covered a slew of hot topics: child abuse, homophobia, alcoholism, homelessness, violence, same-sex parenting, drug use, and ’90s grunge bands.

What made “My So-Called Life” so fantastic (besides Danes in torn flannel shirts, of course) was its now-nostalgic soundtrack. Take the aforementioned angsty street scene, where R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” played against Danes’ troubled expression perfectly.

The alt-rock ballad was first released as track 11 on R.E.M.’s 1992 album Automatic for the People.

Bassist Mike Mills’ G Major piano riff strings the song together and is interrupted only by a string chorus and a lone oboe entrance three minutes in. Yes, the whole melody is rather simple and circular, but in today’s jungle of experimental synth-beats, I find it comforting.

Frontman Michael Stipe sings of young adolescent bliss, of late-night skinny dipping and playful innocence — the kind of innocence Danes clings to so desperately on that dimly lit street corner in episode two.

I own both season one of “My So-Called Life” and R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, and am I’m willing to loan them — only one at a time, I’m not that nice — to those who should choose to take me up (you’d be crazy not to). Be sure to keep tissue and/or a long-sleeve shirt sleeve close at hand because let’s face it, things will get emotional.

— by Dee Fabbricatore

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