The differentiation of fans

Since it’s release, I’ve been getting a lot of play out of the newest REM album, Accelerate. It’s good. Not Automatic for the People or Life’s Rich Pageant good, but good all the same – a return to when REM was making their style of music, when Out of Time and Automatic for the People had propelled them into the rock stratosphere.

REMThough I am one of the few who enjoyed Monster, I understand how many didn’t care for that album. For those people, Accelerate may be a godsend – it seems to be the album that was meant to come between Automatic for the People and New Adventures in Hi-Fi. This is what Monster could have been. What it should have been.

Listening to the album, and in turn filtering throughout the entire REM canon, I’ve been thinking about the differentiation of fans, and how the longer a band has been around, the more diverse their fans become.

In the early days of a band, most fans are similar. They like a band because they like the first album, or the first single, or whatever. There’s less to choose from, so every fan is essentially a carbon copy of the next. They’ve all been brought together by one set of songs, creating a community of support for the band that’s near fanatic.

Take that band and look 20 years into the future. The fans aren’t carbon copies anymore. Some have left. Others have grown. The bandwagon has taken on more and more fans until the originals are shoved to the back. Tastes diverge and branch out again, until one fan is hardly recognizable from next.

There are currently three generations of REM fans. The first generation is filled with lifelong fans – those that caught on with REM when they were still a smaller, more independent band – the IRS years through the initial major label signing; Murmur through Document.

The second generation – my generation – caught on somewhere between Green and Automatic for the People. We’re the generation that grabbed a hold of them as radio classics and hung on for dear life. We’ve held on because we still hold great memories from those songs and from the band at its peak.

The new generation probably views REM with a longing nostalgia. I doubt many fans are created through the albums alone, instead relying on an older sibling or coworker who loved the band in the 80s and 90s, or though rock radio (or classic rock radio).

Even with fans grouped together like this, there’s a vast differentiation. If you ask 100 REM fans what their ten favorite REM songs are, you’ll get 100 completely different answers, with the total number songs reaching the hundreds.

It shows the power of a non-tangible creative outlet. There are no right or wrong choices – it’s all dependent upon tastes. Though fans are often lumped in together, the longer a band has been together, the more every fan is different. Like a musical fingerprint, every fan is unique.

What it comes down to is that the larger you get, the more wide sweeping your fan base becomes.

And the harder it becomes to satisfy everyone.

Someday I’ll talk about the REM mixtape that set me up as a fan – and why my favorites are so heavy with IRS year classics even though I’m more of a second generation, Automatic for the People guy.

Until then, here are my choices for the 15 best REM songs. How different are they from yours?

“Begin the Begin” – Life’s Rich Pageant
“Belong” – Out of Time
“(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” – Reckoning
“E-Bow the Letter” – New Adventures in Hi-Fi
“Electrolite” – New Adventures in Hi-Fi
“Fall on Me” – Life’s Rich Pageant
“Find the River” – Automatic for the People
“Finest Worksong” – Document
“Man on the Moon” – Automatic for the People
“Perfect Circle” – Murmur
“Swan Swan H” – Life’s Rich Pageant
“Try Not to Breathe” – Automatic for the People
“Walk Unafraid” – Up
“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” – Monster
“World Leader Pretend” – Green

This was lovingly handwritten on May 16th, 2008