“A wise man once said, ‘The skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave,’” R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe said in announcing the end of one of the most important rock bands of my life time, a group that connected the dots from the vaunted fanzine/college-radio/indie-rock ’80s, to the alternative-rock explosion, and, sadly, into the “corporate brand name trumps all” arena-rock present.
The Daily Swarm quotes the statements of all three of R.E.M.’s founders upon the occasion of the band’s retirement. Me, I can’t help thinking, “What does Bill Berry think?,” since the three eras of the group rather neatly break down into the early years/R.E.M. ascendant (with “Murmur” standing as the enduring masterpiece); the alternative progenitors/arena-hero years (“Green” through “Automatic for the People,” with the latter being the quartet’s last incontrovertibly great album), and the post-Berry years/sad decline toward corporate nostalgia act.
This was a career I charted from the beginning; I’ll never forget seeing the group circa its debut E.P. “Chronic Town” at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, having snuck in underage, and being lucky enough to stick around afterwards for the “Blue Whale” party that club owner Steve Fallon threw for the group. (Man, those Georgia boys could drink!) And the potential the group once held but ultimately betrayed made the last 17 of its 28 years all the more painful.
Here are links to some of my many articles from a near-lifetime of chronicling R.E.M. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to hear “Talk About the Passion.”
“The Great Albums: R.E.M., ‘Murmur,’”Chicago Sun-Times, 2002 (Looking back at the band’s masterpiece)
“Musical Perversity,” Request magazine, 1991 (Visiting R.E.M. in Athens circa “Out of Time”)
“New Adventures in R.E.M.,”Request magazine, 1996 (Falling out of love/charting the beginning of the long, sad decline)
R.E.M. at the United Center, Chicago Sun-Times, 2003
R.E.M. at the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago Sun-Times, 2004
R.E.M. at SXSW, Chicago Sun-Times, 2008