Cant (or Can’t) Figure It Out

“Can’t get there from here” is a colloquialism from the American South referring to directions too complex to easily give. If a traveler stopped and asked a local for directions, and the proper response would be “go two miles and take a right and it’s on the left”, the local would probably just say so. But if it was significantly more complex than that, the local would dismiss the traveler by saying “you can’t get there from here”.

It’s also the name of a popular R.E.M. song off the band’s 1985 album Fables of the Reconstruction. But it would seem that the band can’t agree on how to punctuate the title.

R.E.M. traditionally ignored apostrophes, as seen in the song titles like “Feeling Gravitys Pull” and album titles like Lifes Rich Pageant. According to guitarist Pete Buck:

“We all hate apostrophes. Michael insisted and I agreed that there’s never been a good rock album that’s had an apostrophe in the title.”

And “Cant Get There From Here” is punctuated as such on the album’s outer sleeve. However, on the album itself the song is listed with the apostrophe. The same goes for the CD: no apostrophe on the sleeve, apostrophe on the disc. There are two versions of the song’s single, one with and the other without the apostrophe:

REM-Cant-01

REM-Cant-02

On their early greatest hits album Eponymous, the track listing lacks an apostrophe, but the liner notes include it. And the apostrophe appears once again on the back cover of the And I Feel Fine… The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 box set.

So who knows. It would seem the band enjoys the ambiguity. The A side of the album and cassette versions lists the album as Fables of the Reconstruction, but the B side is listed as Reconstruction of the Fables. Both have meaning, first as tales about the Reconstruction Era of the American South following the Civil War, the second as the literary deconstruction of fairy tales. But the album art doesn’t help: the front cover says Fables of the Reconstruction, but the back says Reconstruction of the Fables. Most CD versions of the disc say Fables of the Reconstruction on the cover, but Reconstruction of the Fables on the spine.

If all that wasn’t confusing enough, Fable’s liner notes include references to a song called “When I Was Young”, which isn’t included on the album. The song exists – it was played on a 1985 tour before Fables was released, and appears in demo form as “Throw Those Trolls Away” on the 25th anniversary edition of Fables. But if you have a CD player capable of reading CD-Text data from a music disc, you’ll find the song is listed as “When I Was Young”. And if the title sounds familiar, it’s the opening line of “I Believe” from Lifes Rich Pageant… which is the song “When I Was Young” eventually became.

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