Friday, September 23, 2011

Automatic for the People

     I have a couple of R.E.M. compact discs packed away in my box of compact discs in the garage, and I have a couple of more bought from iTunes on my home computer, and I have never turned R.E.M. off of the radio.  That being said, I haven't felt the desire to listen to any of their music for a long time, yet I feel a distict sadness now that they are breaking up.
     That's right, Company, the band that you never knew was still together is breaking up after 30-something years making music.  From the day that they came on stage for the first time for a friend's birthday party at a converted Episcopal church in Athens, Georgia, to when they leave their chairs in the studio after putting finishing touches on their final compilation album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 (long fucking title, isn't it?), the band that was formed with "never any grand plan behind any of it" as frontman Michael Stipe once said will go down in history as being the only band to ever share a sound with R.E.M.
R.E.M. released Accelerate in 2008,
and I bet neither of us have it.
     I think.  I could be wrong, but I have never experienced another band with a sound like theirs, and I have never really read about a band that fit the mold.  For sure there have been lots of musicians who have been influenced by them, but R.E.M. always took pains to just do what they want to do, and they never seemed to give a thought to what other people were doing or wanted them to do.  That was kind of refreshing because at a time when everyone was whining about something and wearing flannel, or dancing like the they were between skits on In Living Color, R.E.M. stuck out like a sort thumb.  And that was a good thing because it never seemed like they were trying to be different, they were just trying to be themselves.
     I think that one of the reasons why I am feeling a little deflated about the breakup of R.E.M. - although it feels more like a retirement than a breakup once you think about it - is because they were popular as I went through my formative years of middle and high school.  And as such, I had an incident and moment that has always sort of connected me to the band.  Wanna hear about it?  Okay, but I am warning you it is not a very good story and it makes me seem like a whiny emo bitch.
      And I suppose that is because I was at the time.  I was in college, and I just wasn't feeling right about something.  I don't know what happened to lead me to do this, but something was askew in my head or my heart or my mind and I was driving across town and "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" came on my CD.  It just felt right, and it just sounded so good in my ear going into my brain, that I drove around for hours listening to that song on repeat.  Just over and over and over.  Wasting gas, listening to R.E.M. on repeat and just not being available.  And I felt better when it was all said and done.  I don't know why, but I did.  It was the right song and the right situation for my mood, and I don't think I will ever forget that night.  I think I was a sophomore when that happened.
    So there is my R.E.M. moment, and my R.E.M. connection.  And I am sad to see them go, but I am happy that they are doing so on their own terms.  Just like when they were making music.  So I wish them the best of luck in whatever they do.  I am sure Michael Stipe will continue to show up all sorts of charity events looking like he is deathly ill because he is pale and has no hair, and I am sure that they will reunite for the right reasons when the time is right, or even just to jam for jamming's sake.  A fitting end to a great band.  We will miss you R.E.M.

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