Can’t Get There from Here

It is such a great feeling when you get a breakthrough in figuring out a song.  And that happened twice for me this weekend in studying Can’t Get There from Here.

I have played this song since 1985 after seeing the neighborhood garage band (Facial Feature–Jay, Clay, Eric & the guys) play it. And I’ve always played it the way they did.  And mostly, it is similar to how Peter Buck appears to have played it, with a few exceptions as always.

I do remember I had a guitar teacher when I briefly took lessons that showed me the opening chord in the verses.  And that chord is exactly the chord Peter Buck uses. (That guitar teacher did not want to teach me R.E.M. or any of the guitar I wanted to play, so I stopped taking those weekly lessons after only a few months–I’d probably be a better guitarist if I had stayed with it, but you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing!).

Here are two of the best videos of this song (from the point of view of being able to see what Peter Buck is playing)–the first is from British TV show, The Tube (Oct 25, 1985):

The second one is from West Germany 1985:

Another pretty good video is Meredith College, but you can’t see much of what Peter Buck is doing except hand positions:

The opening ‘lick’ is pretty clear:

CGTFH - Opening

Then he plays a quick Dbm7 up on the neck right before the first verse.


B something or other (played with second finger on first string, first finger barring bottom 4 strings. 2nd string muted) I think he could also just be playing the top two strings muted–it sounds right either way.



Then repeat:  B something or other, Dbm7, B*

This is the “bridge to chorus”/end of verse sequence: Open E, Dbm7, B, Ab, Open G, F#**

CGTFH - Chord
Peter Buck playing the ‘B’ chord of the verse on “The Tube”, October, 1985

The first breakthrough was that B something or other.  My guitar teacher had showed me that back in 1985 from just listening to it.  And that is how I always played it, but with the third finger barring the fret and the second finger on the top string. Clearly, Peter Buck was not doing that, but it is the same chord.  You can see his finger move in the West Germany Video at around 37:50.

Chorus: One great thing about the videos is seeing the use of the effects, which had not really been done much up until Fables.  For the chorus, Peter Buck is stomping on a pedal.  Not sure which, but at 2:51 in the MTV video, he steps either the second pedal from the right, which on the UE400 is stereo chorus/flanger OR the 2nd pedal from the left which is overdrive (if so, I bet chorus is on the whole time).  He hits it after the chorus for the bridge and then after the bridge, so something else went off/on and then off/on again for the bridge. Cannot figure out what. There is a murky quality I have yet to duplicate.

CGTFH - Pedal 3.


I always had played this with the open E sliding up and down the neck. It appears to be:

E, Open A, Open F#, Open B. With that opening lick played a the beginning each time.

Between the 1st chorus and the next verse, it seems like Buck skips the Open B and goes to an Open A to an Open B.

Bridge: This was the second big breakthrough for me this weekend while studying the song.  I’ve played the bridge two ways, but the way I did in high school, imitating what I had seen others do, was sliding the open E up and down the neck.  After some brief research last year, I was sliding the open A up and down the neck.  Now I see that it is really probably two strings, playing octave, and alternating between the first and third strings and the second and fourth–check out 39:46 in the West Germany  video (that’s the only glimpse you get, so there is some conjecture here, but the sound is right–better than the previous two ways I had been doing it, and accurate to what you can see in the video) and at 2:02 in The Tube video:

B —–slide—-> Db

D —–slide—-> E

A, B

Repeat x 3

So that’s it.  I figured out the ending with credit to James, James on Youtube. I had never understood the slide up the neck thing. James, James is an incredible guitarist, only matched by his excellence at teaching and his humor. Gotta love a guy with Spinal Tap as his avatar!!





*Move your 4th finger down two strings to the E for a B sus 4 add 9 dim 7 (I don’t know what) to transition to the start of the “bridge to chorus” Open E

**I always played this F# open until watching James, James‘ video–I realized it is obviously not open.


Further Reading

Two cuts on Fables Of The Reconstruction stand out for their novel textures and arrangements. Significantly, both are the lead-off tracks on the record’s two sides. “Can’t Get There From Here”- which Buck says is about going to “a weird little town” about forty miles from Athens where Stipe has friends- boasts a most unusual (for REM.) funk rhythm with trumpet and sax interjections.

“That’s one of those songs that happened in three minutes,” says Stipe, who is not quite Mr. Soul. Buck notes that the song has “all these weird chord changes” and evolved from a “jazz ballad” to its present chicken-scratch/James Brown/beach music homage. He recalls when he and Stipe would put on dresses (Stipe, anyway) and make-up and bravely enter a local soul club to try to pick up frat boys’ girlfriends. “We wanted to get an Otis sound on that one,” Berry adds. “The song just came out in rehearsals. I was really surprised it turned into anything. It was kinda like a joke.”

Possible Lyrics

From Can’t Get There From Here, there is an ambiguous line just before “Brother Ray can sing my song.” It sounds like: “Trish is sure to serve the beer now.” Is this correct?

tris is sure to shir[sp?] the deers out. Its a friend chris’ nickname, and his ability to whistle to attract deer


2 thoughts on “Can’t Get There from Here”

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