Sunday, October 16, 2011


Buck, Berry, Mills, Stipe
I am feeling a bit melancholy this morning about last month's breakup of R.E.M. (which from this point on will be typed without the periods because it's cumbersome!).

I reluctantly welcomed REM into my musicsphere in 1988 after sensing that it wasn't the band for which I'd been harboring disdain but their "college radio" fans. You know the smartie-smarts who believed that their love for REM made them smartier-than-thou. In retrospect I'm sure that there were far fewer of these individuals than those that existed in my judgmental imagination. Still, it's hard to dispute that when Document (1987) came out everybody seemed to suddenly love, adore, and darn-near worship REM, and I just didn't get it. Nor did I want to get it.

But then Green (1988) happened, preceded briefly by Eponymous (1988). I started borrowing and taping REM LPs from my friends at the record store, remaining cautious not to hop on any bandwagon. I attended Green's tour stop in the Twin Cities, which was followed by a bowling afterparty attended by the band (Bob Mould was also there - another smarty that I wouldn't appreciate for years to come). When I tried to get Michael Stipe to autograph my Eponymous CD he didn't look me in the eye as he muttered "I don't do autographs - I'll shake your hand later". Actually, the first mutter resembled more of a mumble, so I said "what?", after which he muttered more clearly. As Stipe continued right on past me I stood dumbfounded, feeling like an idiot, and thinking "I didn't ask to shake yer stinkin' hand, I asked for your au-to-graph. On this here Eponymous CD. JERK!". (I heard that the rest of the band arrived after catching part of a Robyn Hitchcock show at First Avenue, and that they were far more accommodating with fans).

Though the bowling alley incident left me feeling a bit bruised and shaken I found I just couldn't quit REM. And I never did. For the next 22 years I anticipated and bought every REM release (with the exception of In Time (2003) and Live At the Olympia (2009), which I'll buy when I find vinyl copies within my budget). Throughout the 90's REM's evolution was dazzling, from the Beach Boys folk of Out of Time (1991), the in-your-face grit of Monster (1994), to the frazzled & fractured beauty of 1998's Up. Each turn of my own life's evolution seemed accompanied by a new REM record, conveniently providing a soundtrack into adulthood.

And now they're suddenly gone. I've found that mourning the breakup is a mixed bag of plusses and minuses: Yes they have announced their disbandment, but at least it was an amicable split. While we can no longer look forward to new REM music, just look at the legacy of recorded output they've left us. Time marches on (as Olbermann says), and as corny as it feels to say this I feel lucky for the opportunity to have marched, waving my REM flag for the past 2+ decades. I will always have the records, ticket stubs, and memories connected to their vast, incredible catalog of awesome.

To Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe I say "Thank You" for the journey.

With love and gratitude,
Jeff A.

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