Album: Monster (25th Anniversary)
. . .
File Under Jealousy
Like “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)” from Chronic Town, “Circus Envy” was inspired by David Lynch’s Elephant Man, a fact that Michael Stipe only revealed last year during an interview with the RU Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me? guys.
I totally missed “Circus Envy” in 1994. With Stipe’s fucked-up, fuzzed vocals buried under about a million layers of distorto Peter Buck guitar that spizzled and spattered all over my speakers, leaving them wet with an unidentified liquid each time I played the song, I just dismissed it as a wannabe Stooges knockoff.
Which is stupid, I know, but it wasn’t until the remix that I realized something about “Circus Envy:” it was a great Stooges knockoff. And it had the catchiest chorus on the entire album:
I’ve got my telescope head in the haystack
I’m getting tired of your dodgeball circus act
Put pepper in my coffee, I forgot to bark
Hell, there’s even some Mike Mills harmonies. And while both Buck and Stipe are buried under layers of shit and grime, the relative clearness of Scott Litt’s remix brought it out to me. Or it’s possible that 25 years of listening to other dirty, grimy stuff has opened my ears up to it. And it also helped me discover the gross-but-funny last verse, where Stipe’s character is so consumed by the monster jealousy, he, well . . . I’ll let him describe it:
If I were you I’d really run from me
I’d really, really wish that I were you
When I get loose I’ll climb a tree and drop a load on your head
This monster in me makes me retch
You messed it, messed it up
Mike Mills reported that he laughed all the way through the live performances of “Circus Envy” because he though the image of a tree-bound Stipe shitting on a former lover’s head was fucking hilarious.
Because it came out at around the same time as Matt Wallace’s rescue of The Replacements Don’t Tell A Soul, there were a lot of comparisons and thinkpieces about the two remixes. And while I’ll dig deeper into Dead Man’s Pop when I get there in a few months (the Rs are utterly lit!!), I’ll say that I prefer it to the Litt remixes mostly because I prefer Westerberg’s songs to the ones that R.E.M. had for Monster. But I’m incredibly glad how I was able to discover this song.
“Circus Envy” (2019 Remix)
“Circus Envy” (1994 Mix)
“Circus Envy” live in Dublin, 2007
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