Sept. 25, 2011
After 31 years of creating some of the most innovative, exciting, and socially aware music to have come out of the States, R.E.M. has called it a day. Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry, the band is revered for and often credited as the founding fathers of the alternative rock genre. Without their influence we may not have been blessed with Pearl Jam, Pavement, or Nirvana, to just name a few of the artists who came after. Kurt Cobain said in a 1994 Rolling Stone article, “I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.”
From the band’s official website:
“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.” R.E.M.
I think anyone who grew up living and breathing music in the early 90’s has an R.E.M. discovery story. This is mine:
Every year for my family’s Secret Santa exchange I asked for a specific CD. I would neatly print all information needed to obtain said CD below my name on the strip of paper that was pulled out of a hat each Thanksgiving – the artist’s name, the album, and the store where the album could be found. And every Christmas, it did not matter who my Secret Santa was, an unexplained happening occurred and I would unwrap exactly what I did not ask for.
There was the year I asked for Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and received Empire Burlesque. I couldn’t get past the cocaine 80’s inspired cover art or Dylan’s Miami Vice fashion to even give it a spin. The following year I requested Elton John’s Honky Château and received Billy Joel’s River of Dreams. These two artists are often confused. I get it. But River of Dreams, really? Where was the clerk to at least recommend The Stranger or 52nd Street? And then came the year I asked for R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People…
This year would be different, I told myself, Secret Santa is due to get one right. I remember riding in the backseat of parent’s K-car, anxious to get in and get out of my grandparents with R.E.M. in tow and back home to a CD player so I could spend the evening crying with Michael Stipe while listening to “Everybody Hurts” on a constant loop. I wanted the album more than Ralphie wanted that Red Ryder BB gun. I was fifteen. I needed Automatic for the People.
I didn’t get it.
The same Santa who gifted me the dreadful Dylan album gave me R.E.M.’s Eponymous, a compilation disc of greatest hits, alternate versions of songs I never heard of, and b-sides I didn’t think I cared about. I went home later that evening, put the disc in the player, and prepared myself for disappointment. Eponymous didn’t leave my CD player for at least two months and when it did I replaced it with Murmur, followed by Document.
Eponymous was my birth of cool and rite of passage into music snobbery. My friends would talk about this awesome “new” band they discovered via the radio playing “Man on the Moon” twice an hour and I could reply, “Pfft… they’ve like been around forever. Their older music is so much better.” The truth is I love Monster just as much as I love Murmur, and I was just as excited for Up as I was for Automatic for the People. R.E.M. never failed to deliver. They cared too much about the sacred craft of music and its power of influence to produce anything less than mindful and sustainable art. Some of the best music I have discovered has been through accident and so I thank the music gods for receiving exactly what I did not ask for. R.I.P., R.E.M.