On R.E.M., and sneaking into the pantheon

Though you probably couldn’t tell, I’m no R.E.M. superfan. I have, however, gone through periods of excess with the band – usually, sometime after a new album is released, when I throw the new songs into the R.E.M. ether and listen to how they correspond with the band’s legacy.

I didn’t even like R.E.M. until Automatic for the People; didn’t get the full breadth of their catalog until college, when I retrofitted my collection with everything I could find on Napster. I still don’t get the full allure of Murmur. I missed its freshness date by a decade, which makes it just old to me, just as some don’t understand how different Nevermind sounded, or how brilliant that first The Strokes album was, just as generations before us struggled to hear past Dylan’s voice to find his impact and importance.

But every day, I’m just one click away from launching a full R.E.M. retrospective, to listening – again – to see if there’s anything else I overlooked, as if their career was something I missed completely and my only penance is to memorize the canon.

I was always a casual listener. And then, at some point last year, I realized R.E.M. had snuck its way into the pantheon of my all time favorites.

This is no “Thank You” to the band, because the band won’t read this and y’all don’t need to be reminded. But, it’s a nod of some sort. A nod to the great albums – to Automatic and Life’s Rich Pageant and New Adventures in Hi-Fi and the Chronic Town EP. It’s a nod to Monster, which history will prove was a fantastic rock album, and it’s a nod to Collapse Into Now in all of its derivativeness.

It’s even a nod to the bad stuff – I’m looking at you Around the Sun, “I’m Gonna DJ,” side B of Document, and ESPECIALLY you, Stipe, for your incessant use of the word “proud” as a noun. Because that bad stuff helped us realize how GOOD the good stuff could be.

They dated themselves. They tried to relive the glory days. They rested on their fame.

All of that could be true. Or not. They NOW say they’ve broken up, but we all know they broke up when Bill Berry left. This has just been a decade-plus long reunion show.

It was a pretty good reunion, I’d say. And now we’ll all just have to wait for the next one.

“We feel kind of like pioneers in this – there’s no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We’ve made this decision together, amicably and with each other’s best interests at heart. The time just feels right.”

-Mike Mills

This was lovingly handwritten on September 22nd, 2011