The walls are built up stone by stone
The fields divided one-by-one
And the train conductor says
"Take a break, Driver 8, Driver 8, take a break
We've been on this shift too long"

And the train conductor says
"Take a break, Driver 8, Driver 8, take a break
We can reach our destination but we're still a ways away"

I saw a treehouse on the outskirts of the farm
The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won't get snagged
Bells are ringing through the town again
The children look up, all they hear is sky-blue, bells ringing

And the train conductor says
"Take a break, Driver 8, Driver 8, take a break
We can reach our destination, but we're still a ways away"

But it's still a ways away
But we're still a ways away
But it's still a ways away

Way to shield the hated heat
Way to put myself to sleep
Way to shield the hated heat
Way to put myself, my children to sleep

He piloted this song in a plane like that one
She is selling faith on the Go Tell crusade
Locomotive 8, Southern Crescent, hear the bells ring again
The fields of wheat is lookin' thin

And the train conductor says
"Take a break, Driver 8, Driver 8, take a break
We've been on this shift too long"
And the train conductor says
"Take a break, Driver 8, Driver 8, take a break
We can reach our destination, but we're still a ways away"

But it's still a ways away
But we're still a ways away
But it's still a ways away


Lyrics submitted by sportcarder

Driver 8 Lyrics as written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Michael Stipe

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Driver 8 song meanings
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  • +7
    General Comment

    I have no idea where all the rambling conspiracy theories above come from, but you're clearly overthinking things. It is true, however, that this is one of R.E.M.'s darker songs, along with much of the Fables album, which is a criminally underrated masterpiece, by the way. I feel that R.E.M.'s strongest, most haunting, detailed and atmospheric songs are present on this album. It is a true Southern Gothic masterpiece, that paints some of the most vivid portraits in my head of any music. The songs are all connected with similar themes and musical styles as well, to the point of being just short of a concept album. The most brilliant part is that the music fits perfectly with the lyrics. I'm not sure whether it's my favorite of theirs, however, as you have to be in a certain mood to truly appreciate it, whereas you can enjoy stuff like "Murmur" and "Lifes Rich Pageant" at any time, anywhere. Anyway, I always envisioned this song as being about a train conductor whose life is basically going from one destination to another, with a break in between every now and then, but he never truly reaches his destination. His life is like an endless train ride to nowhere. Naturally, a life like that can get lonely and depressing at times, and the music and Stipe's imagery in the lyrics portray this perfectly. The music only gets darker as it goes along. I absolutely love that moment during the "Way to shield the hated heat" bridge where the harmonica comes in. It's so hauntingly beautiful. Then there's that riff - wow. There's no question that Fables was Peter Buck's finest hour as a guitarist. At least, it has his greatest and most memorable riffs of any album. This song and "Life and How to Live It" have particularly outstanding riffs. Songs like these remind me just why Buck is one of the most underrated guitarists of all-time. He may not be technically brilliant, but he sure knows how to get a mood across. This goes without even mentioning the solo he plays in live renditions of "Country Feedback." If anything could convince me that guitars feel emotion, it's that. Back on topic, Stipe's voice kills throughout the whole song as well. Fables was the first album where you could actually understand over 50% of the lyrics, though Stipe was still employing his trademark "murmur" style vocals. He wouldn't drop that until the next album, Lifes Rich Pageant. On this song in particular, you can hear Stipe's voice come alive, as he switches from slurring off "destination" at the end of the chorus to muttering "But we're still aways away" to unleashing his full potential during the incredible bridge. Mike Mills' haunting background vocals are amazing as always, providing a perfect counterpoint to Stipe's lead. The unfairly overlooked rhythm section of Mills and Bill Berry is rocking on this song as well, backing up Buck's riffs and Stipe's vocals flawlessly. In short, this is the quintessential R.E.M. song, and an alternative rock standard. It is the one that provides the most perfect examples of what made this band so great during their 80's IRS years. It is also the one I play to any of the uninitiated who are unaware of how brilliant a band R.E.M. were back in the day. It converts most of those poor souls only aware of "Losing My Religion" and "Everybody Hurts" (or worse, "Stand" and "Shiny Happy People") immediately, and leaves them hungry for more. I point them first to the classic compilation album "Eponymous," and if they like that, I next point them to the IRS albums (including Chronic Town) in order of release. I envy the musical joys they have left for them waiting to be discovered. It makes me remember the days when I heard these songs for the first time, and how absolutely blown away I was. Nothing was ever the same for me, musically. This band was my gateway to a world of musical magic just waiting for me to find it. It started with The Velvet Underground, whom R.E.M. covered several songs by, and I haven't looked back since. If you have only a casual or passing interest and R.E.M. and have found yourself stumbling upon this page for some reason, I strongly encourage you to not stop here. Don't just download this song on iTunes or whatever and be done with it. You will regret if you do, as you have no idea just what you're missing out on.

    HyperBullyon February 25, 2011   Link
  • +6
    General Comment

    The "destination" is a better society. Interpret that whatever way you wish. The conductor is asking him to "take a break" from his debating and speaking about the changes they need to make in their society. The conductor agrees with his ideals though, when he says, "we can reach our destination", but acknowledges...."we're still a ways away.". The key word is "our", which illustrates that they are in agreement.

    The lines regarding "faith", "crusade", "crescent" and "bells" are all clearly referencing religion. Driver 8 and the conductor are in agreement that religion is shit, but apparently in the area they live in, religion is quite popular.....to their dismay. Obviously, in any society, the less religion, the better, which is what they are trying to achieve. That is the "destination." The townsfolk and their close minded and misguided beliefs, are putting themselves to "sleep", and their children to "sleep.".....by passing down their nonsensical beliefs.....much to the dismay of the more educated driver 8 and conductor.

    esmjlm080507on November 28, 2012   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    It is a great song that can be taken at surface value and enjoyed just for the music and the imagery. I think that there are also some references to intolerance in southern culture. The narrator describes a gradual process, walls built stone by stone, but he is frustrated by how long it is taking to erase the backwards attitudes. The conductor is telling him to take a break - we will reach our destination but it's still a ways away. I think that there are also some references to a very narrow-minded religious viewpoint. The children only hear sky-blue bells ringing. They are taught a very strict point-of-view by the church and that is all that they know. In contrast, the narrator is trying to shield his children from the "hated heat". Or it could just be a song about trains. I don't think that either way of listening to it is wrong.

    chillsboroon March 20, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    @the feed : You said ""Notch 8" is the highest notch on a locomotives throttle. ". Don't you think that this is a little bit far fetched ? In my opinion "8" is the number of the train and "Driver 8" is the driver that belongs to this train. Your impression is that Michael only wanted to compose a song to describe the nice landscape that you can see from a train. If this is really true, why does he focus on the driver of the train and not on any passenger ? Why did he call the album "Fables of the Reconstruction" (artists always used 'fables' in the Medieval Age when they indirectly wanted to criticize the king or the ruling class; they used animals instead of humen beings to pretend that their story is harmless). Another thing : If he really wanted to focus on the beautiful landscape - why does he only describe it in 10 of 31 total lines of this song ? There are other things indicating that there shall be a deeper meaning : 1.) Why did he use the word "can" in the phrase "We can reach our destination" ? If I interpreted it from your point of view I would formulate it like that : "it is not sure that our train will arrive at its planned destination but it is still possible". Do you really think that this makes sense ? For a regular train ? 2.) Why does Michael sing "all they hear is sky-blue" (even separated by commas from the rest of the sentence) ? If he really meant the blue sky, why didn't he sing "all they SEE is sky-blue" ? Is there anything beautiful on a train journey to hear which sounds "sky-blue" ? 3.) In the line "Way to shield the hated heat." he sings "hated". If I wrote a song which shall be harmless and beautiful, why should I use a nasty word like "hated" ? 4.) Michael sings "Way to put myself to sleep." and "Way to put myself, my children to sleep.". Which children does he mean ? Will the train driver put himself and his children to sleep inside the train ? So who will drive the train then ? This song is too short to mention useless details so why shall Michael focus on sleeping while he wants to describe the beauty of the South and its landscape ? 5.) How does "She is selling faith on the Go Tell crusade." fit your explanation ? What faith and what crusade does he allude to ? Can you see that your theory of the songmeaning reaches out too short ? 6.) Why didn't he call this album "Happy journeys through the South" if he really meant nothing politically ? (although this title would be even more sarcastic !) Instead he used "Fables of the Reconstruction" (please look at my comments from Dec'06).

    @ruarchitect : Yes, he alludes to society and yes, he alludes to progress in a certain kind. This song really fits the title of the album "Fables of the Reconstruction" because the first strophe alludes to the industrialization era (the Reconstruction era). Please have a look at my comments from Dec'06 and let's talk about what you think of it.

    In my opinion this song alludes to the Pullman Strike in 1894.

    DerUnbequemeon February 06, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    What strikes me about the lyrics is how often Michael Stipe hangs on the numerous long "A" vowel sounds, especially in concert. Think about "eight" "break" and "ways away". It always sounded like he was trying to mimic the long sound of a locomotive whistle.

    I think this song is perfectly executed lyrically. The themes are clear - Southern landscape, religion, trains, etc- but there is little narrative voice as to what it all means, allowing the listnener to extrapolate their own interpretations...unlike R.E.M.'s more heavy handed approach on later records.

    Plus the technique of using vocal sounds to compliment the music and the lyrical theme is genius.

    supposablethumbson February 03, 2009   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    I hear some of the lyric differently and it conveniently serves to reinforce my interpretation:

    This song is a ballad of great loss and lament over a train that crashes into a school bus. The engineer is high on something(s) that allow him to "flee the heat", put himself to sleep a midst the drudgery. He approaches the town that he barrels through as the walls get a stone or two higher towards the center of population. His conductor admonishes him and tries to calm him. The third person teller of the tale points out that even power lines have warnings attached "floaters so the airplanes won't get caught" but the intersection of the fatal accident does not. The last thing the children on the bus will hear is the warning bell of the train ringing into the sky blue sky they will see as they die outside the bus. The song is written "piloted" in the same frame of mind of loss as the woman who is "sowing pain" with a chorus of girls to "help her sing". If one were to visit the sight today only a "field of weeds" would be there to remind anyone "remember him" of the tragedy or the driver or the train or the children. This is the fable that reminds us to be diligent, stop at railroad crossings, watch our speed.

    pskaaron May 15, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Fantastic song. I don't think there is any great meaning here. It seems to me that Stipe is trying to create an atmospheric song filled with evocative southern images like tent crusades, old rail lines, church bells. I think the album's title says it all: "Fables of the Reconstruction". No deep meaning behind anything here just Stipes love affair with words and images which continued wholly on to Lifes Rich Pageant. I think he means the album to be like a tattered old book you pick up in a used bookshop. Interesting stories and great illustrations but most of the pages are missing. You have to fill in the blanks and will never have all the answers. Thing is, the mystery is more engaging than the whole story could ever be. This is a great song on a fantastic album.

    NudeSooneron February 04, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Forgot to mention: the rhythm of the guitar refrain behind the "we're still a ways away" lyric evokes telegraph poles passing by a train window. The symbol bursts are a bit like steam escaping (like the steam breaks on an old locomotive). I think these were intentional and a very nice touch by the band.

    NudeSooneron February 04, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Anyone who has ever ridden a long distance train will know that a lot of what is described in this song is what one would see when looking out the window. It has some really great imagery. I have known this song for years and never made the full connection until after I had gone cross country and to the South by train. The bells mentioned, by the way are probably the warning bells on the locomotive that are rung as a train aproaches a station.

    Roxxmaon April 26, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    To me, this song has always been a metaphor for life.

    The destination is the grave, hence the desire to shield the hated heat (of hell).

    This interpretation gives added meaning to the line "We can reach our destination, but we're still a ways away."

    Love the song.

    drosson February 07, 2006   Link

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