Out of Time: R.E.M. Says Goodbye

By on Thursday, 22nd September 2011 at 11:00 am
 

Yesterday afternoon, R.E.M. announced on their official Web site that after 15 studio albums and 31 years of being together as a group entity, they would no longer continue as a band. Their collective thoughts as a band were as follows:

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.

The individual thank yous and goodbyes from Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe can be read here.

I never considered myself a huge fan of R.E.M., though oddly they figured prominently a couple times in my life. I remember, very vividly, sitting in Mrs. Hannah’s English class, trying to distract myself from the stifling heat of the classroom and instead engage a classmate in a conversation – any conversation to forget the DC Indian summer. I thought it would be a good idea to befriend the only girl in class who shared the same surname as mine. We could be bezzies, we could go out shopping together, it would be perfect! So I thought. But ultimately and sadly, we never became friends. Why? She was obsessed with Michael Stipe. Had his pictures plastered all over her bedroom. Back in the ’90s there was much speculation, at least in my grade, as to Michael Stipe’s sexual orientation and I guess at that age, it was all innocent speculation anyway…

It’s interesting the timing of their break-up, since this week is also the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. Nirvana’s followers were dirty, unwashed young people with greasy hair and ugly plaid shirts. If you liked R.E.M., you didn’t have to be anti-establishment to fit in with their crowd. They didn’t really have a kind of crowd, to be honest. If you were ever feeling left out of any sector of society (or perhaps feeling excluded from certain friendship circles, as was in my case), you could join R.E.M. and be a misfit, just like them.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJ6Kh8klM4[/youtube]

They could rock out like any other good time rock ‘n’ roll band (‘Pop Song 89’), they could be silly (‘Shiny Happy People’, with their buddies the B52s), they could write ballads that made you cry (‘Nightswimming’). I think the kids of my generation will remember the twanging of that lone mandolin on ‘Losing My Religion’, because at that moment, everything in music changed for us. (Those of us who had not been born in Athens, Georgia and did not know the existence ‘Document’ or their other earlier albums.) The music video itself was weird. (Rotten milk in a pitcher on a windowsill? Icarus falling down to Earth? Sure!) And we liked it that way.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if-UzXIQ5vw[/youtube]

Years later when I was university, I found a friend in a fellow college kid who was born in Athens. He often boasted about their clubs and R.E.M. But what comes to mind about this particular friend was that he had mentioned to me that one summer he was depressed and had wanted to kill himself. R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, which understandably been linked to numerous suicide prevention campaigns, has stood the test of time and will probably be the band’s best known song, simply because it went above and beyond what we thought pop stars should do and think and what pop songs could mean to people. Literally, the song saved lives. We’ll never know how many lives were saved of course, but this power sure challenges the notion that pop music doesn’t mean anything. It does.

While many will say that R.E.M.’s best years have been far behind them already, I think if you’re going to quit, going out after putting out so much great music and giving so many fans great concert experiences is the classiest way to do it.

Goodbye, R.E.M. It was nice knowing you.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijZRCIrTgQc[/youtube]

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