Driver 8

Album: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

Songfacts®:

  • This uses a series of minor chords that guitarist Peter Buck would use again on "The One I Love," "Losing My Religion," and "Bang and Blame," among others.
  • There were several versions attempted before settling on the studio one we all know and love. On The Cutting Edge, an early MTV program, R.E.M. performed a version of this with acoustic guitars and a banjo. On tour, before this album was recorded, they played a much heavier version of the song.
  • The song is about a train engineer who is over-worked and urged by the conductor to take a break. That message could be applied to many facets of life. Trains were chosen according to Buck because the band grew up near the train tracks. According to lead singer Michael Stipe it's because they represent part of "mythological America."
  • A harmonica is used to mimic the sound of a train whistle.
  • The video for the song, directed by Michael Stipe and James Herbert, was made before Stipe was comfortable lip-synching, so it is comprised almost entirely of footage of trains.
  • A live version recorded in Seattle, Washington, on June 27, 1984, appears on the edition of Fables with bonus tracks that were released in 1992.
  • In the UK, this was never released as a single. It didn't chart in the US.
  • Stipe told Rolling Stone November 12, 2009: "It's like breathing - I don't think about it when I sing it. I was listening to these live tapes and thought it was a beautiful song with incredible imagery. I listen to our old albums and think, 'OK, this is where that went wrong, this is a way to improve that.' And 'Wow, that's really good. You're not the hoax you think you are.'"
  • Despite already releasing two albums, the guys were hardly living like rock stars. Peter Buck remembers writing this song with Bill Berry in their humble digs: "I remember Bill and I had a little apartment. God it was a dump. Everything was falling apart, and the only people who lived in the apartment complex besides me and Bill were some people who were living in group homes trying to transition out into the real world. A lot of them hadn't had apartments before, so it was kind of chaotic.

    "I remember Bill came up with the verse to 'Driver 8,' and after he showed it to me he said, 'I need to run to the market, I'll be right back.' I think he went to get some beans or rice or something. In the meantime, I came up with the chorus and the intro riff. Bill came back in about five minutes, and it was done. So I played it for him and he went, 'Alright, that's great!' Bill was totally excited. That was a song we played almost every day on the tour before we did Fables. I think we had written it immediately after we did Reckoning," he said in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011.
  • "I don't know where I pulled the 'go tell crusade' from," Michael Stipe said, "but it was so southern, and so of a time. And so real."
  • This would unintentionally inspire the band's 2001 song "Imitation Of Life," which borrows the verse chords from "Driver 8."

Comments: 15

  • Franco Milazzo from LondonThis song inspired a comic character. As one of Kay Challis/Crazy Jane's 64 personalities, Driver 8 is the conductor of the Underground subway where her the other alters live. The Driver's hat has an infinity symbol (a sideways "8") on it. In the Doom Patrol TV series, Driver 8 is portrayed by Diane Guerrero.
  • Tom W from Forest Grove OrThere may be some meanings affixed to the Baptist culture or post-civil war sentiment in that part of the country, but not (IMHO) to specifically embrace/reject press a particular agenda. More so, I think, it simply evokes some feeling/imagery much in the way you might see crosses planted along a lonely stretch of highway. Or pink lawn flamingos somewhere else. It's just an idea that fits perfectly in 3:18, conjuring up whatever it means to the listener. I enjoy the "sky-blue bells" and "floaters" (like fishing bobbers) on the power lines. Interesting (to me anyway) is that in 1986 I was serving overseas and (also) playing guitar in a cover band featuring a talented bassist who loved everything REM ever did. With no internet or a recording to share, he taught it to the rest of us. Similarly, I taught him Badge by Cream from my classic rock arsenal, which he had never heard. Both songs went over well when we performed at parties, etc. Fast forward a year - we were back in USA when we dug up recordings of each other's songs by the original artists for the first time. I think we did justice to both.
  • Rick from Juneau AkIt's just simple imagery of a train trough rural Georgia, no hidden meanings. That's what makes it so beautiful.
  • Tadly from Flyover Land, UsaI agree with Helmet head, Joe, Ken. Not Hans. I think the imagery ties simply to rural Georgia. The narration is not a linear story. It is more about creating tension by pairing some conrasts. I found a few facts that may help explain the "way to shield...way to put myself to sleep" lines. I think the imagined driver 8/conductor dialogue is also a figurative inner monologue the narrator feels pulling him in different directions. Maybe the crisp, crisscross imagery is also symbolic of how past, present and future tend to sporadically intersect - via memory, and, imagination - our everyday thoughts, right? One contrast I see: the children, first by themselves near train tracks in town, then, contrasted subtly later by mention of his own children (I think, they are with him on the train), reflect themes of freedom vs. confinement, his own youth v. Parenthood. Regarding the "way to shield..." Line, here are the facts I dug up: Per american-rails.com, Southern Crescent ran through GA from 1970-1979. It was the last private passenger train in the USA, and had high-end amenities including Pullman sleeper cars. Per www.travelpullman.com, their sleeper rooms were equipped with operating window shades(!). I am sure some standard coach cars had shades, too, but given all this context - right time, right place, same train - it is too coincidental and too strained to read it any other way than plainly: The "way to shield the hated heat" (sunlight thru window) was to close the shade. Its fair to ask whether the "way to put myself to sleep...my children to sleep" is the same; since the setting seems to be daylight otherwise,my answer is yes. Its a roundabout phrasing-- but it fits. The more difficult part for me is the last 2 verses. I want to read it as continued first person narration, but then who are "He" and "she"? One device poets use, which looks like this, is to pair (and subvert) traditional male and female archetypes (Mars/Venus, etc.); but if that is the intent here, it is really lost on me. I think its again simpler: Southern Crescent got a female pronoun incidentally (cars, vehicles , boats, etc., often do). I see "selling faith" as like when passenger trains were introduced they helped spread religion. As far as "He" - I am less sure. I think its just one of the bandmates, on a plane, maybe commercial, maybe small. He first hears the taped track all produced. Together these 2 lines I think do imply a comparison about faith: one is religious, one is secular. I see the final lines as the dream or an invocation for the Southern Crescent to return, and I take it, Maybe to help spread REM like religion in the older days: more slowly, and with better hours. Great song. One of my all time REM favorites.
  • Sharon from Miami, FlThis song was playing on the radio (WNEW-New York) the first time I had sex. The music was slightly able to distract me from the intense physical pain that was happening,
  • Ken from Philadelphia, PaWith all due respect to Hans, you are misinterpreting American history. "The Reconstruction" describes a very specific period in American History... the time between the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and the end of occupation of the former Confederate States by Federal troops in 1877 (as part of a backroom political deal to steal the presidency). Mind you, I don't know and I won't guess what Michael Stipe and the band was thinking when they named this album, but I will say that from the end of the American Civil War to today, a great deal of mythology (in other words, fables) has grown up around the war and the alleged nobility of the Confederate (i.e. the southern) cause. Regardless of revisionist history, the proximate cause of the American Civil War and the reason over 500,000 Americans died was because the southern states wanted to retain their right to own African American slaves. Yes, there were other tensions between the two sections but those tensions, if you follow the string, all lead back to slavery. There was nothing noble about their cause.
  • Richard from Tustin, CaOk. Do you really believe that R.E.M. spent all that time to think all this through to write this song? I do not. I mean, come on: there were no airplanes in the Civil War, nor during the "Pullman Strike" (1894) for starters. For Hans, I grew up on the East Coast in New York, and everywhere you looked there were rock (stone) walls, which were built by farmers who were clearing the land to farm and make their homes. Perhaps if you Google Maps Tarrytown, NY or Ossining (Sleepy Hollow) NY, you might be able to see what I mean. In Georgia, the heat and humidity can be stifling; unbearable. That is what I have always thought of when I heard that line, but I think it may actually have to do with the furnace that drove these monsters, and the fact that in must have been blistering hot in that compartment, and difficult to sleep, or rest there. I am with Helmethead on this one. I believe the imagery is just that: four boys who grew up in Georgia watching trains come and go as they went about their day. Nothing more; nothing less. It is what it is, and absolutely nothing to do with any lofty representations of anything but what is says, beautifully. I have loved this song since the first time I was turned-0n to it, and believe it to be one the finest songs they have written.
  • Steve from Chino Hills, Ca"The walls are built up, stone by stone, fields divided one by one." I like to think of the song as the train symbolizes movement such as life and it's mostly observation of visual imagery. People often build walls around themselves stone by stone. Fields divided one by one can represent not only people, but their "lot" in life. Clearly the need to take a break because we've been on this shift too long means that we're working to hard and need to relax and "we can reach our destination" means that we can reach our goals in any phase in life. Each new visual stimulus on the journey conjurs up other thoughts. They all don't have to relate to each other or tell a story.
  • Dane from Lima,ohio, FlThe very first R.E.M. song I ever heard,& still my fave.
  • Joe from Jersey City, NjOdds are the only reference to the Reconstruction (1865-1877) in this song is that it's about a train in the Southern US. The Southern Crescent was a rail line from NYC to New Orleans via Atlanta when the band was growing up. Since many southern rail lines were destroyed during the Civil War, especially in Georgia, railroad constrcution was a huge part of the Reconstruciton. The Southern Crescent likely would have run on lines mapped out and possibly built as part of the Reconsruction.

    Trains have long been a symbol of hopes and dreams in the US literature, poetry and film. I like to think the children who look up are a young REM dreaming of leaving home, and the train (and to a lesser extent the plane in verse 3) symbolizes the outside world. Driver 8 is the children's hopes and dreams driving them to leave home while the train conductor is the internal doubts that come with all dreams. Driver 8 pushes onward despite the train conductor's doubts. The conductor says they've been on the shift too long and should take a break. The driver insists they can reach the destination despite it being a ways away.

    The things in the verses: the stone walls, the fields, the farms, the power lines, the Go Tell Crusade are the things from GA in the 70's that make the rest of the world seems far away, but the train comes from and goes to someplace else.

    The bells are the ones that ring at the RR crossings. When the children hear the bells they look up and dream of the outside world, because the bells mean the train is coming and their dreams are just a little closer when the train comes to town. The bells are most definitely sky-blue. Commas in poetry mean very little more than a pause, and I've always taken "sky-blue, bells ringing" to be an inversion of the common phrase: "the sky is as clear as a bell." Blue skies are considered hopeful and optimistic and so are the bells in the song, so they are sky-blue.

    The hated heat has always puzzled me a little, but if you need to shield yourself from it to sleep, it's likely something that's keeping you from your dreams. The heat from the engine makes Driver 8's job difficult. The heat of a Georgia summer can make time seem to slow down and make it difficult to sleep. When the children hear the bells, they know the train is coming and it brings hope which helps them dream and fall asleep.

    Maybe I'm just an optimist who's completely off mark, but to me Driver 8 has always been about conquering your doubts and fulfilling dreams despite the odds.
  • Helmethead from Burlington, VtHans - it's nice that you think so hard about these things, but you're way off! First, you're confusing the Reconstruction (which is the term used to referred to the period following the Civil War that included trying to rebuild the political and economic infrastructure of the South and integrating the newly-freed slaves into society) with the Industrial Revolution. Second, the Pullman strike was a strike by workers who built railway cars, not by railway workers, especially not by engineers. Third, all of your interpretations are reading far too much into the song. Some of the lyrics can actually be taken literally. There's no reference to a strike in the song. It was common for engineers to sometimes push themselves and their trains too hard, trying to keep on schedule. This was a huge safety concern. The "take a break" was a literal plea.
  • Hans from Berlin, GermanyI think that you are quite far away from the things Michael wanted to say.
    First of all, the title of the album is "Fables of the Reconstruction". That
    doesn't need to fit to all the songs on this CD but in this case I'm sure it
    does.
    The Reconstruction is the industrial development of the USA at the end of the
    19th century. In my opinion at least 3-4 songs on this album are fables of the
    Reconstruction time. Why didn't he say "stories of the Reconstruction" ?
    "Fables" were often used in history to express very sharp criticism towards the
    current society. Especially in the Medieval age it would have meant death and
    torture for an artist to criticize the king. Thus a lot of artists used
    "harmless" animal stories instead which alluded to the dark sides of the
    current society.
    Another evidence for this is "to shield the hated heat". Obviously there are
    some thoughts in the narrator's mind that he needs to shield and give to the
    next generation because they are "hated" by the leading class.
    Who was the leading class in the Reconstruction era ? I think that this becomes
    clear if you read some articles about the Pullman Strike (1894). You know what
    ? It was A RAILWAY WORKER'S STRIKE.
    Can you see the connection to the song title ?
    What happened at that time ? The incomes of the railway workers were cut by 25%
    !!! They weren't the poorest workers at that time but they knew how to defend
    themselves against such attacks. They striked. I don't know the exact chronicle
    but the gouvernment and the police didn't protect the railway workers against
    the cuts of the incomes.
    Instead they attacked the strikes and even shoot lots of workers dead. Thus the
    experience was the following : The Capitalist State cares a (bleep) for human
    beings but for the needs of the leading class (protects their profits).
    Some details about the text : "The walls are built up ..." alludes to the
    Reconstruction Era.
    "Take a break" alludes to the beginning of the strike in the first part of the
    song and to the end of the strike in the further parts.
    The second strophe might already be a switchover to the present (song was written
    in the mid 80's)and how the things have developed since the strike (I don't think
    that power lines had floaters in 1894).
    The phrase "sky-blue" however does not characterize the colour of the bells because
    it is neatly seperated by a comma. I think it expressed the lies about what happened
    at those days.
    The third strophe might express how those "hated heat" was spread since the strike.
    One hears it on radio while flying in a plane, a woman is going around telling the
    truth to people who are willing to listen ("Go Tell crusade").
    However, the "fields of wheat are (still) looking thin" (the anticapitalist movement
    is still far from being a big force).
    Might be that my last interpretations are a little bit far fetched but the rest shall
    be the actual meaning of that song.
  • Brian from Fullerton (the Paris Of Oc), CaThat section about "shield the hated heat" still gives me chills. I saw R.E.M. on tour for this album and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. After they tore through Auctioneer, I turned to a friend of mine about 7 rows behind me and we both said, "goddam!"
  • Nessie from Sapporo, Japan<> Actually, I heard that Stipe was against lip-synching on principle, which is why the video for Fall on Me is subtitled. He later changed his mind.
  • Bob from Apple Valley, MnThis song was covered by Hootie and the Blowfish.
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