This week has been a collision between my real life and my fake one. In the midst of realizing I’d been neglecting my real life I heard the announcement that R.E.M. broke up and really jolted me into reality. It was like someone I loved had died. I know how melodramatic that sounds but there are two bands in my life that have mattered more than anything else to me, R.E.M. and The Beatles. The Beatles weren’t mine really, they belonged to the generation before me, but R.E.M.; they were mine. The first time I saw them perform was on David Letterman (a show I watched rabidly) and from that moment they had me. My friends who were Journey, Styx and Loverboy fans teased me about liking ‘country rock’. It certainly was different from Adam and the Ants and the Dead Kennedys which I had been listening to… but from the moment I discovered them I decided Michael Stipe was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, Peter Buck was the coolest guy ever and Bill Berry and Mike Mills seemed like the kind of guys I’d want to hang out with.
I loved that you’d have to listen to each R.E.M. song at least 30 times to decipher what the lyrics were and even then you’d have to figure out what Michael meant by it. I love that they didn’t sound like anyone else. And if I’m honest, I loved that for many years loving R.E.M. was my thing, the lone R.E.M. fan in a sea of butt rocking suburbanites.
Here they are when I saw them for the first time, October 1983, I was 14.
“Radio Free Europe”
“South Central Rain”
The first time I saw R.E.M. in concert was October 7, 1986 and they opened with a song from my favorite album ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’
“Fall on Me”
“Driver 8” – the only song I’ve ever sung in public with an actual band backing me (I was the only one who knew all the lyrics)
Also from the same album, my absolute favorite R.E.M. song
The next year ‘Document’ came out and I have a very clear memory of the day I bought the record. For some reason I don’t recall I’d taken off from home and grabbed a bus and traveled an hou south to where my grandparents live. The bus dropped me off close to a record store where I bought ‘Document’, I ended up listening to it in my uncle’s old bedroom most of the night, then on the bus home the next day.
Every party I seemed to go to for the next couple of decades involved the R.E.M. sobriety test. Assemble drunken crowd, put on “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” and see who can finish the song. Even drunk I still know all the lyrics ;)
R.E.M. did a couple of amazing covers IMO:
The first is “Crazy”, written by Pylon. I was fortunate and saw Pylon open for R.E.M. on the Green tour.
The other amazing cover was for a compilation called “I’m Your Fan” a tribute to Leonard Cohen, “First We Take Manhattan” is one of my favorite songs anyway, covered by R.E.M. it’s even better.
R.E.M.’s Green tour was a couple of months before I started working at Tower Records. The show was really well produced, it was obvious that Warner Brothers was spending some $$ on them. Here’s my favorite track from Green.
“World Leader Pretend”
Our WEA rep had given me the advance copy of R.E.M.’s ‘Out of Time’ a couple of weeks before release date and as it happened that night I flew to Sacramento to spend the weekend with friends. The first time I heard the album we were driving into San Francisco. I always see the San Francisco skyline when I hear “Losing My Religion” It’s still a favorite, even if it did become hugely popular.
The last time I saw R.E.M. was in 1999 I think, I was in the second row, right in front of Peter Buck. I heard his floor amp and little else, I didn’t care, he is still the coolest guitarist ever. From their later stuff, here are a couple of favorites to round out my ultimate set list. They still rock. You will be missed gentlemen.
“Find the River”
“Living Well is the Best Revenge”