Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RECKONING: HARBORCOAT

Let's start with a ghost story.  Michael has said that this is a rewriting of Anne Frank's story, Peter claims to have never known what it was about and Mike claims a harborcoat is a "protection ... against less tangible things."  In any case it's kind of a spooky story.  My journey with this song had more to do with the background vocals.
  Under the main line, Mike is singing a completely different narrative.  There is little correlation between his lyric and Michaels and it convolutes the song in a rather nice way.  I must point out that at a number of points what I have credited to Mike is speculation ... some of what he is saying would be impossible to discern without the master recordings.  For instance, I really don't think he's saying 'would I kiss her ass,' but it does sound like it.  However, I think what I have here is pretty damn close.  In the Dublin live recordings, he doesn't even bother with the background vocal.

HARBORCOAT
They crowded up to Lenin with their noses worn off
A handshake is worthy if it’s all that you’ve got
Metal shivs on wood, pushed through our back
There’s a splinter in your eye and it reads react

They shifted the statues for harboring ghosts
(Laocoon is host)
Reddened their necks and collared their clothes
(The library hollowed)
When we ditched the books with the middles cut out
(When we caught her ghost)
She gathered the corners and collared her gown
(She went to tell it to you)

(MIKE: Please come with me bay)
Find my harborcoat
(BILL: Harborcoat is long away)
(MIKE: I can’t harborcoat oh whoa)
Can’t go outside without it
(BILL: Harborcoat is long, whoa whoa whoa)
(MIKE: She’s gonna go away)
Find my harborcoat
(BILL: Harborcoat is long away)
Can’t go outside without it
(MIKE: Harborcoat, whoa whoa)
(BILL: Harborcoat is long, whoa whoa whoa)


They crowded up to Lenin with their noses worn off
(Tell her I sent hers ahead)
A handshake is worthy if it’s all that you’ve got
(You'll have done no wrong)
Metal shivs on wood, pushed through our back
(Would I kiss her ass?)
There’s a splinter in your eye and it reads react
(Would I read the signs?)
R-e-a-c-t

(MIKE: Please come with me bay)
Find my harborcoat
(BILL: Harborcoat is long away)
(MIKE: I can’t harborcoat oh whoa)
Can’t go outside without it
(BILL: Harborcoat is long, whoa whoa whoa)
(MIKE: She’s gonna go away)
Find my harborcoat
(BILL: Harborcoat is long away)
Can’t go outside without it
(MIKE: Harborcoat, whoa whoa)
(BILL: Harborcoat is long, whoa whoa whoa)

They shifted the statues for harboring ghosts
(With your feathers in)
Reddened their necks and collared their clothes
(You'll have done no wrong)
Then we ditched the books with the middles cut out
(And we caught her ghost)
She gathered the corners and collared her gown
(She went to tell you)
Which in she said:
Does she
Does she
Does she know?

(MIKE: Please come with me bay)
Find my harborcoat
(BILL: Harborcoat is long away)
(MIKE: I can’t harborcoat oh whoa)
Can’t go outside without it
(BILL: Harborcoat is long, whoa whoa whoa)
(MIKE: She’s gonna go away)
Find my harborcoat
(BILL: Harborcoat is long away)
Can’t go outside without it
(MIKE: Harborcoat, whoa whoa)
(BILL: Harborcoat is long, whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa)


This is another song that I really didn't have much to go on.  I watched some of the live footage, but it was so hazy I found myself scratching my head.  So I started from scratch and put on my WWPBD hat on, which is a long lanky wig.  And voila, it came to me.  The B chord is all high notes, but with the B string open.  Sounds cool and is really the focal point of the song, particularly when picking it at the end of the bridge and hitting it at the end of the song.  And then the tuning: you have to tune down a 1/2 step to play with the album.  They rarely tune down live and it sounds just as good.

HARBORCOAT
Tune down 1/2 step
Intro/ Chorus:
E-B-A
e|--0--0-2-0-0----------------|
B|--0--0-0-2-0----------------|
G|--0--1-1-2-2----------------|
D|--0--2-1-2-2----------------|
A|--0--2-0-0-0----------------|
E|--0--0-0-0-0----------------|

Verse:
Pick the last two sliding chords.
e|--4-4------5-5-5---5>7-|
B|--5-5------5-5-5---5>7-|
G|--6-6-2-1--6-6-6---6>8-|
D|--6-6----2-7-7-7---7>9-|
A|--0-0------------------|
E|--0-0------------------|

Bridge to Chorus:
e|-5-5>7-7-7------5-5-5---5-5---5-5----|
B|-7-7>9-9-9------7----5-5---5-5---5-5-|
G|-6-6>8-8-8---x3-6--------------------|
D|-7-7>9-9-9------7--------------------|
A|------------------------------------|
E|------------------------------------|

Bridge 2:
Scratch the frets like a wild man, then hit the note on the B string before
jumping to the B chord to pick.
e|-5--7-7--2-------------|
B|-5--7-9--0-------------|
G|-5--7-7--4-------------|
D|-5--7-7--4-------------|
A|-5--7-7----------------|
E|-5--7-7----------------|

Second Guitar on final Chorus:

e|---0--2-------0-----0-----0----|
B|--0--0--2-0-2h--0-2h--0-2h-----|
G|-4--4--------------------------|
D|-------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------|

-BW

4 comments:

  1. Thanks. Just for kicks I'm learning to play this on bass and sing Mike's backing vocals. There is no way in a million years I would ever have worked out what he is really singing, so thanks for having a go!

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  2. Lyric-wise there is a lot of "what is it?" thrown in there, assumedly sung by Stipe, during the chorus. You can hear it especially live sung by Berry.

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  3. Your blog is epic. I've been listening to REM (caveat: all of it up and through Out of Time) since going to camp in Mentone, AL and hearing the counselors there try to figure out lyrics to Reckoning and I think Fables. Had to have been 1986. Just a wee lad then, I was. Anyway, thanks for breaking down many, many previously unintelligible lyrics. Rock on, peace! --Barnacle Bill

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  4. I'm now listening to the song repeatedly on my lossless player with some really good headphones, I've always been pretty sure one of the underlying counterpoint lines in the chorus is Mike or Bill singing "a Harborcoat IS A LONG DAY...." That's at least what it always sounded like to me. Keep listening to it, see if I'm wrong.

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