So by now you’ve probably heard the news that after 31 years, R.E.M. has called it quits. People are sad (come on, Everybody Hurts), and the requisite internet snark has bubbled forth (they were still together?).
Some would say that the departure of drummer Bill Berry fifteen years back was when R.E.M. officially went out to pasture, with the remaining trio of Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck soldiering onward only so they could fulfill their five album, $100 million dollar contract with Warner.
And for a while it seemed those people were right – the run of albums from Up through Around The Sun was hardly the band’s finest hour – though 2008’s Accelerate and this year’s Collapse Into Now were both returns to form.
Me? I’m sad to see them go, but not devastated. They’re in their 50s now, and there has to come a time in any collaboration when it has to end. Two back-to-back hit albums and the accolades that followed are enough of an excuse to “go out on top” rather than releasing album after album to diminishing returns. Now, had they split up sometime in the early 90s, say following 1992’s Automatic For The People, I would have been destroyed, as would many.
That doesn’t mean they were “better” then – rather that I and by extension “we” were better. “We” were younger then, we had time and youth on our side. Music was as important to us then as it ever would be before or after.
I discovered R.E.M. at the ideal age – 15 – High School age, around the release of 1989’s Green. And for a good 5-6 years following, they vied for “Brad’s favorite band” status along with U2 and The Pixies. There’s actual video footage taken by a friend of he and myself driving around my town blasting “The One I Love” from the car radio, and when I think back to my high school years, REM is frequently on the soundtrack. You don’t escape songs and bands so easily, not as you grow older and move on with your life. I’m sure the rest home corridors of Generation X will echo with the sounds of So. Central Rain and Losing My Religion in the decades to come.
The last R.E.M. album I could say I truly embraced was 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and while I remained a loyal fan, had moved on to other music and other bands. For a while I fell out of love with music, but remained an REM fan. The music (and bands) you love as a youth stay with you as you grow up and grow older, and REM held a place in my heart.
While organizing my iTunes library earlier this year I found I had to split a lot of playlists up – bands like U2, REM, The Pixies, The Clash, The White Stripes – organized by name there were simply too many songs for me to cram into one iPod and have room for everyone. I split R.E.M. up by decade, and for good measure put together a playlist of 30 songs for on the go listening. I think, given the day’s news, it fittingly appropriate that I publish this playlist here.
Michael, Peter, Mike, and Bill … thanks for the music. Especially these:
Losing My Religion
What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
Imitation of Life
Leaving New York
Man on the Moon
Radio Free Europe
So. Central rain
Me In Honey
It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Can’t Get There From Here
(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
Pop Song 89
Fall On Me
The One I Love
It Happened Today
Find The River