Today’s song was not a single, but it’s always been the track I liked best on the album, with its moody, quavery vocal and strident mandolin.
The lyrics seem like an exercise in the exploration of solipsism—the notion that everything that happens is personally relevant, or, even more to the point, that the world exists for the sake of one’s own personal consciousness. Rather than see this as the delusion it is, the song, as I hear it, recreates the wonder of that state when first perceived, most likely as a child. A memory of riding in the back seat of a car, “the windows wrap around / Time stands still in travel,” gives way to the sensation that “the stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen / And they’re there for you / For you alone, you are the everything.” This memory is introduced by the line “Eviscerate your memory,” as though the effort to overcome remembering leads to the recollection. In other words, it comes not as a personal memory but as memory that happens to “the everything.”
The memories or lyrical equivalents of memory later in the song find a different figure for the perfection of everything: “I think about this world a lot and I cry / And I have seen the films and the eyes / But I’m in this kitchen / Everything is beautiful”—where the beauty of the memory takes form as a woman “so young and old / I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music / Voices talking somewhere in the house, late spring / And you’re drifting off to sleep with your teeth in your mouth / You are here with me / You are here with me / You have been here and you are everything.”
The sense of childhood bliss simply in the presence of the mother comes across strongly in this scene, that feeling of well-being that one equates with the beauty of “light,” “music,” and the woman who is “everything” to the child. The “teeth in your mouth” detail is amusing, suggesting that age, from six months to two years, when one first begins to get teeth and is very aware of them. This is also the time, generally, of weaning and so the memory may be of an infant still feeling the contentment that dissolution of difference between himself and his mother occasions: “you have been here and you are everything.”
The looped vocal “say, say the light” works as a kind of mantra that moves in and out of the main vocal, as if insisting that the light at stake is the music itself. So that the entire song would be a way of counteracting the fear that would prevent one from singing. To “say the light” is to sing. Something I’m willing to grant to Michael Stipe whose voice manages to convey both the dread and the “peace and absolute” with almost a hymn’s power at the final repetitions of “for you alone / You are the everything.” At that point we may be said to be praising the everything that transcends the individual, but of which one is a part, so that “you” becomes God and all that is is “there for you, for you alone.” The self-contained monad of creation.