While recording in Berlin the R.E.M. trio met up with longtime friend Patti Smith, who contributed vocals to this half-spoken beat poem. "Patti totally changed the song and added a whole other dimension to it," said bassist Mike Mills to Rolling Stone: "It was a powerful thing to watch."
This was Smith's second appearance on a R.E.M. track, having previously featured on "E-Bow The Letter," from 1996's New Adventures In Hi-Fi.
This song includes the phrase that gives the album its title. Guitarist Peter Buck recalled to Mojo magazine: "Patti was recording her vocal. She looked into Michael [Stipe]'s notebook and says 'Collapse Into Now sounds good.' To me it's representative of the way we've always done things. There's never been a plan, we just stagger along and end up where we are."
Mills told Billboard magazine this closing tone poem was the biggest surprise on Collapse Into Now. "We were getting near the end of the Berlin sessions," he recalled, "and Peter [Buck] said, 'I have this song. Let's record it' and we went in and played through it with no rehearsal. I didn't even know what the chords were. But I didn't really think it was a candidate for the record unless something special happened. Then we got to Nashville and Michael [Stipe] had this spoken-word thing on it, and we said, 'That's cool. That's starting to sound a little more special.' Then we got Patti to sing on it, and by that time we said, 'Wow, we've got a pretty nice song here.'"
R.E.M. released a James Franco directed video for this song over a year after their break-up. The clip features Lindsay Lohan being snapped by American fashion photographer Terry Richardson, as well as footage of Franco himself in drag. The Lohan footage was actually shot the Saturday night before Franco hosted the 2011 Oscars. He explained to MTV News: "For the "Blue" video, the original concept was to make it about two sides of L.A., the idea of L.A. as a place where people's dreams can come true, but also L.A. as a place that eats its young. It's something I've been interested in a lot. I've done a few projects about actors that have died young - James Dean, River Phoenix and Brad Renfro.
Lindsay and I had reconnected at that time," he continued. "I had been writing some poems about the Chateau Marmont and one or two of the poems involved Lindsay. I said to Terry [Richardson], 'I have this text, and it would be great to have some images to go with it. We should do a project where you use the images you shot of me at the Chateau and images you shot of Lindsay at the Chateau and put them together with this text.' And he said, 'Yeah that's cool, but let's do one more shoot with you guys together.' So I said, 'All right,' and we had planned it for the night before the Oscars.
That night before the Oscars we did a final run through of the show and I was just so depressed because I knew it was not good. So I told Terry, look I can't do the shoot tonight, I'm tired, and I just can't do the shoot with Lindsay. But she was already there at the Chateau! So he shot her, but I wasn't actually there."