Perfect Circle

I didn’t know what to title this post, especially since I had already used “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” on the last post, but I’m definitely not feelin’ fine. Why not? Yesterday, R.E.M. announced their retirement as a band. So I settled for the prettiest song R.E.M. ever recorded.

Why the angst?
1) R.E.M. calling it a day is a reminder of my middle-aged-ness. Michael Stipe is the same age as I am. Yesterday, the music of the generation after mine celebrated one of it’s biggest milestones–Nirvana’s “Nevermind” turned 20. Stipe and Peter Buck were noted mentors of Cobain.

2) I was in on R.E.M. since the first album, and I got to experience that great feeling that music fans get when they champion a young band that makes it. Hardcore R.E.M. fans will, of course, sniff that I was a johnny-come-lately having picked up the real debut (the 5-song EP “Chronic Town”) only after getting the first LP “Murmur.” I even caught a show early in the band’s career–at the U. of South Carolina’s Russell House Ballroom in 1983. One big room with a wooden gym floor, all the chairs moved to one side, small stage at one end–an indie rock sock hop! OK, so I didn’t catch the band at a frat party in Athens at UGa.–but I was pretty damn close.

3) I feel badly that I drifted away from the band at the end of the 1990’s. Bill Berry, their drummer, left in 1997 after suffering a brain aneurysm while on tour. The band was playing the enormo-Domes and seemed to be drifting away from the fragile balance of its original sound: a mixture of jangly guitar pop, lush strings and straight-ahead rock. The band that had popularized indie rock and seen it become mainstream had seemingly lost its way. The band that had mentored so many young bands, defended any number of righteous political and social causes seemed beside the point. I have not bought any of the R.E.M. albums since 1994’s “Monster.”

Since R.E.M. was named after the sleep cycle where a person is most likely to dream, the only logical thing to do is start daydreaming about the reunion show now!


2 thoughts on “Perfect Circle

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  1. I’m on the musical generation cusp between yours and the next. The release of “Nevermind” certainly woke up something new in me, but I’d already been on to R.E.M., having been a huge fan of “Life’s Rich Pageant” for its lyrics, which, to a young teen in the late 1980s, were obscure enough to feel like rebellion.

    I was disappointed in “Monster,” but I feel they really got the sound they were trying there right for “New Adventures in Hi-Fi,” much the way that David Bowie managed to really figure out the new sound he was exploring for “Earthling.”

    “Reveal” was the last album I picked up; I feel they had moved into the “aging rocker” category which so few (Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nile among them) do gracefully, trying to squeeze out the last of the teen angst they forgot about years ago.

    Nice post, Phil.


    1. @Josh Welcome back to blogging after your summer respite! As for R.E.M., I’m not really sad, since I feel like I had lost the band so many years ago. Pete Bucks’s band The Minus Five is very good–the kind of mid-level cult band that REM was prior to Document and the two big radio hits.

      One thing I forgot to mention–R.E.M. famously turned down Microsoft’s large offer to use “It’s The End of The World. . .” as the theme behind the first commercial introducing the Windows OS. The Stones, whores that they are, of course snapped it up (for “Start Me Up.”) This is another sign of how the times passed them by–their anti-corporate stand was applauded and hailed then. Now? All bands sell whatever they can, it’s all seemingly about merchandising.

      I’ve got to pick up “New Adventures…” the one album of theirs that I regret not owning.

      Hey–how did your musical performance go? My wife took me to a play that night and I’d like to get a second shot at hearing you.


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