How the 1980s, R.E.M., Siri, and the Pursuit of Transforming Knowledge all Fit Together
Trolling the mall with my friends I heard the song as we passed an American Eagle.
“It’s the end of the world, as we know it.”
The fella singing was earnest and angsty. The song was hopeful, punchy, and sincere. I loved it. I wanted to listen to it over and again. But I had no idea who it was.
These were the wonder years of my musically formative youth. These were the 80’s.
And in the 80’s, you couldn’t ask Siri who you were listening to. This was well before one could peruse Google’s limitless data stream in order to fetch the name of such a gloriously fun lyric. This would require an old fashioned investigation.
Quick on my feet, a hunter seeking its prey (or a 15-year-old willing to talk to whoever might possess the knowledge), I ran into the store and asked the first person I could find, an early 20-something punk rock kid: leather, eyeshade, and Mohawk.
“Hey man” I said in my coolest I don’t care voice. “Do you know who sings this song?”
“It’s R.E.M, dude.” He said, never looking up from his perusal of the newest Jordache.
“Rem?” I asked.
“No!” He scoffed and offered nothing more.
“Oh, cool…” And the search continued.
Weeks passed, then it played over the speakers as I stocked shelves in the automotive department of Canadian Tire, the Great White North’s equivalent of Wal-Mart.
I found my co-worker, Regina, a cool flirty senior, “Hey, this is R.E M., right?”
“Yeah, I love them!” She said. She was so cool!
“Me too, they are literally my favorite band, ever… What does it stand for?”
“What does what stand for?”
She smiled and exaggerated an eye roll as if to say, you’re dumb but it’s cute, “Rapid Eye Movement.”
“Cool, that’s what I thought,” I said.
I purchased the cassette, put it in my Walkman where it remained for weeks. It wasn’t long until I had every nuance of melody, harmony, and rhythm eternally memorized.
About a year later, a fella pulled up to the red light next to my new mag wheeled, midnight blue, 1976 Toyota Corona, and yelled through my open window over the new song “Losing My Religion” blaring from my speakers. “Hey, is that R.E.M.?”
“Yeah man! Great band!” I said.
“What’s it stand for?” He asked, and I knew I’d met a fellow traveler—a man on a mission, a brother seeking to know.
Without flirting, I give him the same look Regina gave me. “Rapid Eye Movement,” I said.
“Cool, that’s what I thought,” he said. But we both knew…
Now, some thirty years later, when I hear a guitar line over percussive claps and distorted kick with synthesized organ and horns, accompanied by cascading ahhs and a rhythmic melodic female vocalist in the style of Thom Yorke, all I have to do is push a button on my phone and it informs me it’s Farao.
No longer must I live in the tension of weeks of not knowing, months of searching, of just missing the DJ’s intro as the song plays on the radio.
No longer do I listen to one line in a song over and over and still come away with, “Hold me closer Tony Danza.”
Now, thanks to Google, “tiny dancer” couldn’t be clearer.
So it’s good.
But somedays, I feel something has been lost… or maybe I’m just getting old.
We live in a day where knowledge often equals enlightenment, as though knowledge is its own reward.
But I think knowledge by itself is an exercise in vanity. I’ve experienced that when knowledge isn’t earned through persistent, hopeful, curiosity, it loses its power to transform us.
And isn’t that the point of knowledge—that we could be transformed?
I believe that seeking knowledge is meant to lead us to something greater: revelation.
Revelation, that’s what I’m after; that moment where all the biggest questions meet, and love is realized.
I think revelation is where knowledge and love meet. I think revelation is when two become one. It’s about intimacy.
I’ve been writing lately on “the end of the world as we know it.” I’m on a persistent, hopeful, curious, lifelong journey into oneness with my heavenly Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, my wife and kids and…
Somedays I get it: the better answers, the greater encounters, the wide-open spaces, revelation. And somedays I’m tired with what I know.
On those days, I thank God that it’s the end of the world as we know it.
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children.