Saying goodbye to my youth
R.E.M. have been around for more than 30 years, and more often than not shrouded themselves in a bit of mystery. They could be as hard to decipher as some of Michael Stipe's early lyrics.
So it's probably not a surprise they decided to announce the end of their run not with some huge farewell concert, but rather through a brief statement on their website.
They've decided to call it a day.
Some people no doubt think they should have done that a while ago, maybe after drummer Bill Berry left the band. It's true their latest records don't live up to their earlier releases.
But those earlier records? Come on, from Murmur through to Automatic For The People, that's some of the best pop music ever made, consistently excellent and always changing, a good enough run to lead me to wonder if R.E.M. can make a case for the best American band ever.
Mind you, I can't really be objective on the matter. R.E.M.'s music is incredibly important to me.
I was a music fan when I entered university in the fall of 1984, but the music I preferred was heavy metal. The louder the better. For some reason, I had chosen to attend a small liberal arts school in Nova Scotia, the kind of place that handed you a worn black sweater and a Violent Femmes record when you enrolled, just so you would fit in.
R.E.M.'s second record was just out, and there's no way I should have enjoyed Reckoning. Maybe it was because I wanted to fit in, or maybe the record was just really good, but I couldn't get enough of that record. Even today, 7 Chinese Brothers takes me right back to a room in North Pole Bay, the late afternoon sun cutting through the cigarette smoke and bullshit.
Those afternoons made me a fan of the band, and as new records came out and as R.E.M. style and sound changed, I changed along with them. They were never shy of changing their sound, of turning up the guitars when they wanted to, adding strings to their arrangements, and whenever they released a record and it sounded different, I thought it sounded great.
They lost some fans along the way, of course, people who thought the band was selling out. But I don't think that was the case. As more and more people got turned on to their music and they started to play bigger places, they adapted the sound to reach to the furthest corners of those stadiums. It was different, louder in some cases, but it was still R.E.M.
You can make the argument that this band or that band was great, but I think R.E.M. was the greatest band to come from the U.S. in part because of their willingness to change. They didn't remake Murmur or Reckoning, they made new and original music every step of the way.
My one regret? I never saw them live. A bunch of kids piled into a van and drove to Toronto in the 80s to see them at Massey Hall, and I didn't go. Idiot.
Peter, Michael, Bill and Mike, thanks for the memories.