I’m sitting here very bitter, sad & frustrated as I try to bang out this REM obit. Bitter about the idiots who took the time to post on Facebook how happy they were that REM had called it a day, sad because I’ll never see them in concert again, frustrated because I really didn’t care for them for the most part for the past 10 years, and now they’re gone.
I always explained my love affair with REM this way: there are bands I like, bands I love, and then there’s REM. Here’s why:
* I first saw them around 1982 at a club in West Hartford CT, opening for the English Beat.
* Since that show, I missed exactly two REM tours.
* In my REM 7″ vinyl singles collection, I have three copies of every IRS single: the domestic release, the import release, and the promotional-only release.
* Every set of stereo speakers I’ve bought over the last 30 years have been christened with an REM LP or CD
* When “Chronic Town” came out, one of my best friends bought 10 copies & handed them out as Christmas presents that year. I got one of them. We ended up going to see the band countless times & shared our “we liked them before YOU did!” glee. When this friend was dying of cancer in 1999, I got in touch with the REM fan club and told them about my friend & his love of REM. The band sent an autographed picture to him, on which it read “get better, we’re pulling for you”. He didn’t, but he passed away knowing that his favorite band took the time to do something that made him very very happy.
* The last time I saw them was October 2003 in Philadelphia, the first concert I took my now-wife to see with me. They ended the show with “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”, and we all sang along.
I didn’t even bother to buy the last REM album, I was so over them. Their albums sounded forced, they almost never toured, they seemed more interested in their side projects. Bands like Steely Dan were selling out concerts across the country, performing their classic albums in their entirety. DAMN, I thought, how many people would pay to see REM perform “Murmur”, “Reckoning”, “Fables Of The Reconstruction” and all the rest? Did they not want to be considered a nostalgia act? Were they simply burned out from 30 years in the music business?
Here’s a theory as to why REM did what they did, when they did: their Warner Brothers contract is almost up, and they knew they’d never be signed anywhere, major label or not, for even a fraction of the money they got from WB. They’re all millionaires, in their 50′s, settled down, and rather than frantically get an indie label to pony up a very modest sum to sign them, they decided to release a statement on their website, calling it quits. No press conference, no year-long farewell tour, no milking their fans for every last cent they could. REM showed more class & dignity for bowing out the way they did than any other band I know.
So people like me are left with 30 years of really good memories. Listening to “Murmur” still puts me in a place that no other album can. I watched with awe as they went from clubs to small theatres to arenas, always believing that this little band would reach a much bigger audience. I’ve never liked a band as much as I’ve liked REM, and never will again. Will the 20-somethings of today embrace bands the way I have REM? I can only hope. There are still a lot of REM albums to listen to that will remind me of what a big huge deal these guys were.
Thanks for the memories, guys.