The soundtrack of the produce aisle

I was looking at bananas the other day when I heard four thumps on the drums — an opening I listened to, oh, about 1,427 times in the early 1980s.

“No,” I told myself. “It can’t be.”

But it was, right there, playing over the speaker system at my neighorhood Safeway — R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe.” Now, we’re not just talking about R.E.M. here — we’re talking about old-school R.E.M., four-albums-before-breaking-huge R.E.M., all-the-cool-kids-are-listening-to-this-unless-they’re-too-cool-for-cool R.E.M.

Michael Stipe’s voice floated through the air, mixed too far down to comprehend, and I still have no idea what the hell this song (or most of R.E.M.’s early songs) is about. But there it was — the four drum thumps and that first line: “Decide yourself if radio’s gonna stay.”

Or at least, that’s what I think the first line says. Opinions still vary on that topic and Michael Stipe’s always been a little circumspect about the lyrics on that whole album. It was the 1980s, after all, and a lot of people were varying their blood chemistry at the time.

It is mildly depressing to hear “Radio Free Europe” or Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” or even, so help me, The Clash used to enhance the 2009 shopping experience. These songs were dangerous once, and now they’re sanitary enough to play in the cereal aisle. Decide yourself, indeed.


Actually, a little Google-ing indicates “Radio Free Europe” wasn’t so dangerous after all:


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