“Drive” was originally supposed to be a loud, raucous song. I know this from interviews, and from R.E.M. Behind the Mask, a biography that came out the same month as the album; but I know it most from the song itself. In its finished form, “Drive” is quiet and pensive, all acoustic guitars and a violin section. The angriest it becomes—the closest it comes to actually rawking (though it never quite gets there)—is in the drums, two separate moments when they switch to a hard, anal tympani, crashing like a few stray thunderbolts during a soft spring rain. The opening guitar part, a smooth, twinkly hook barely worth being called a riff, might sound really cool when played on an echoey electric guitar, but in its finished form the melody sounds more like a campfire song performed by a smartass, a professional guitarist sitting among mere campers, or an overtalented amateur with nowhere else to show off his chops.
Peter Buck, R.E.M.’s guitarist, was neither. Floppy-haired, bright-eyed, indisputably shy and taciturn, with a penchant for wearing pajama pants to his concerts and everywhere else, he was less rock star and more composer. Patrick, my best friend, wanted to be him. I was more Michael Stipe, the singer, who could never settle on either being cocky and self-assured and grasping the microphone like the phallic symbol it was, or wearing his hair long over his face and muttering poetry into it. Patrick played guitar and keyboards, but he was in a legitimate band, a goth band, and they were way too trendy and scene-intensive to ever allow him to admit in public that he willingly listened to R.E.M. Patrick didn’t care, he’d do it anyway, but on pain of being excommunicated from the minor Philadelphia fame he had (a high school kid! playing real clubs! on the weekends! with drink tickets!) he forced himself to keep it on the down low. He had taken to saying such covert and underhanded statements in public as “I really admire Twisted Kites’ later work” (Twisted Kites was the name R.E.M. used to play under, in the early days) and “J.M. Stipe’s spoken-word backed with music is quite enlightening, in a darkening sort of way."
People tended not to pay much attention to the specifics of what Patrick said, his bandmates and their friends, anyway. He was a great guitarist, but socially, he was still just 14. He looked weird. His skin lumped up around his neck and chin because of the disease that he was born with. He wore paisley shirts and bright ties, painter’s caps and tweed vests. Several days a week, he wore a bathrobe to school. I bought a beret and tried to keep up with him. I had no disease to blame for the way I looked; I was just weird.