My (in retrospect, very short) love for R.E.M.

(Un)relaxed Dad wrote a post a couple of days ago about his early love for U2 & R.E.M., and a very scary-sounding concert that had both of them playing together in 1985.  As a gross generalization, English folk, to me, seem to be a weird contrast of the absolutely reserved and the absolutely manic/insane.  Anyways, the whole post got me thinking about R.E.M., and the music I liked when I was in high school (and beyond).  It made for some great recollections, as I folded laundry last night.

I don’t really like R.E.M. now.  I mean, I can stand them, and I’ll always find their music compelling on some level, but rather like (u)rd mentioned about U2 becoming self-important and pompous, well, the same thing happened, in my mind, with R.E.M., in the early 1990’s, and that ended the love affair for me.  Well, that’s not quite true.  It was their becoming mainstream that turned me off, then everything that followed was a confirmation to me that R.E.M. wasn’t, anymore, quite what they were, quite what had drawn me to them in the first place.

I can’t claim to be one of their earliest fans;  my acquaintance with R.E.M. started with the album Eponymous.  It was 1988 and I was 15.  For the life of me, I can’t remember how I came by it.  I had it on tape…  I think I might have picked it up at Zia, which was a new/used music shop that I got most of my music from.  Thinking hard about this time in my life, I think maybe my cousin Heather introduced me to R.E.M. (along with Ten Thousand Maniacs, Sinead O’Connor, and other little-known musicians of the time).  This would have been on one of the family trips to Illinois, where Heather, two years older than me, lived with her parents…  I must have been 13 or 14.

Anyhow, some way or another, and for some reason or another, I procured Eponymous, and fell hard in love.  Every song was fantastic.  It seemed to me to be “music for music’s sake,” and not like the band was trying to say anything profound.  It was like they caught a snippet of a lyric and built a song around it, and whether or not the lyric made sense to anyone other than themselves seemed an afterthought.  For some reason, I really liked that.  Really liked it.  Maybe that’s because so many people around me at the time were absolutely obsessing over the Deeper Meaning of songs, and R.E.M. was totally antithetical to that.  To me, their songs were nearly all meaningless, just a collection of beat and melody and harmony and poetry, and that was perfect.  Maybe they were trying to say something, but it was too deep and/or obscure, or I was to immature to pick up on it, or something…  But almost all of their lyrics just seemed random to me, and I was completely OK with that.

Later that year, in 1988, Green came out.  My favorite song from that album remains Orange Crush, which I still think is one of the best pop/rock songs of all time.  Stand became a huge hit for them from that disc, but I didn’t like it nearly as much.

Then, I started going backwards through their repertoire, buying Lifes Rich Pageant and Fables of the ReconstructionFables is probably my favorite complete disc of R.E.M.’s…  well, favorite of the ones with which I am familiar;  admittedly, I haven’t heard all of them.

In 1991, I graduated from high school, the spring of which R.E.M. released Out of Time.  Weeks after graduation, I attended a Christian leadership/worldview camp in Manitou Springs, Colorado, which was a great experience.  Something happened there, though, that burst my R.E.M. bubble.  There were all sorts of people at the camp, which wasn’t really a camp at all;  it was held in a historic hotel that had been converted to house and educate a couple hundred teens at a time.  Still is held there, in fact.  I hadn’t yet purchased Out of Time.  But, for some reason (or maybe the particular reasons of the hits Losing my Religion and Shiny, Happy People) that disc was THE music that everyone was listening to.  After my whole teenhood of being virtually alone in “my” music — it just wasn’t shared by any of my friends…  I didn’t like any of my music JUST to be original, but I liked the fact that what appealed to me only appealed to a very small subset of people my age.  I liked to be unique.  So, I found it very disconcerting to me to have… well, tens of people going around singing R.E.M. songs, including sorority types — the sort of popular, painted, blonde girls who, a year previous, would have ridiculed me for liking R.E.M…. and now, here they were, singing it with gusto.

Of course, that wasn’t purely the band’s fault;  I don’t know if they crafted Out of Time to be more accessible, trying to garner a wider audience.  But, after those couple of weeks at The Summit, the band lost its sheen for me.

And, afterwards, it seemed like Michael Stipe and co. were doing their best to be “responsible” with their world stage, becoming extremely political and outspoken and inflatedly self-important.  I couldn’t hang with that.

Looking over the track list from Out of Time, I know all the songs.  I don’t think I ever owned it, though.  I probably borrowed it, and probably from John.

I haven’t bought an R.E.M. disc since.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on November 7, 2008, in Colorado, Introspective Musings, Memories, Music. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. That’s funny what you say about going mainstream turning you off. I often feel the same way. I used to listen to Virgin Radio London (online) and “discovered” The Verve and Snow Patrol there, before they hit it big in the states. I was kind of bummed when they did. I kind of liked having my cool bands all to myself. 🙂

    It’s not just you … Michael Stipe of REM is a pompous jerk.

  2. Hey…I’ll actually be writing about REM in a post or two (this whole NaBloPoMo thing) when it’ll be about ‘Reckoning’ which was the first album I bought (that would have been when I first discovered them).

    It’s odd, this possessiveness we feel about certain bands. In defence of Stipe, I would say that compared to Bono, he’s modesty incarnate. I lost interest after New Adventures In Hi-Fi (which I think was very underrated) but after hearing a set from SXSW this year on some internet radio station (I think it was NPR), I picked up the new one – short, sharp and rocks largely like the old stuff – like Monster, mostly, but a lot better.

  3. I don’t remember owning that one. I had “Green” and a couple of earlier albums, and the later “Automatic for the People” (all on cassette) though. “Everybody Hurts” was a lovely song, I thought.

  4. “As a gross generalization, English folk, to me, seem to be a weird contrast of the absolutely reserved and the absolutely manic/insane. ”

    Being married to a Brit, I can confirm that this is absolutely true. I’m glad I’m not the only one to notice!!

    I liked REM in high school as well, but after seeing them live once I got over it. They were dreadful!

  5. It’s funny that you mention “my” music. That is how I have viewed my taste in music since I was 14. I am 37 now, and first heard of R.E.M. in 1986. I was an early fan until the Green album. Eponumus was basically a “get familar with their old stuff” album so they could get a jump start after signing with Warner Bros. I stopped being a fan when they “sold out”; much like with U2. I loved U2’s October, War and Unforgettable Fire albums, but felt they sold out as well. I went to a R.E.M. concert in 1989, and wish I never had. It was at a large coliseum, and I would have much rather it had been at the now famous 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA where they played to college students.

    I was an 80’s early 90’s new wave fan and still am. We called it “progressive” back in the day. Nirvana and the others followed with the grunge scene and then “alternative” became a popular name. My musical interest doesn’t go much beyond 1992. Some bands that I liked back then, like New Order, still record and perform, but they just make realize how old I am. I have never sincerely liked mainstream, although I have tried. I too like to be unique and sometimes I even refer to myself as weird, but that’s ok with me. One group I absolutely love are the Cocteau Twins. No one I know has heard of them…and that’s just how I like it.

  6. Melanie ~ Hah! I knew I liked you. A friend of ours who is from Scotland brought us Snow Patrol’s The Final Straw from the U.K. before it was released over here. Dunno why, but I didn’t really like them that much. You may like this: (It’s real alternative Christian music, not cheesy-alternative-pop a la Air 1.)

    Michael ~ “compared to Bono, [Stipe]’s modesty incarnate” HAHAHA! That made me laugh out loud.

    John ~ Hm… you’re the one I mooched tapes from most often. But, it must not have been you… “Everybody Hurts” is indeed a lovely song.

    Leslie ~ You have an avatar, but aren’t linked to a blog. If you leave another comment w/ your addy, I’ll edit your original comment to include the link. …I’m glad you found my stereotype to be true!!!! 😀

    Tammy ~ It’s funny — I’ve never seen U2 or REM, but my husband did see a coliseum show of The Joshua Tree tour (at Arizona State’s football stadium) and was so smitten… It’s still a great memory for him, and he’s glad he got to see it. He was a new wave fan, too, like Flock of Seagulls type music. 🙂 I’ve never liked the “progressive” tag, because it reminds me of bands like Yes and Dream Theater, which are “classic” progressive type bands. Yuck. (Except for “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” a song I’ve always liked.) I liked Nirvana, too. My friend Holly and I rocked out to that when we were in high school… Good memories. I liked the Cocteau Twins, too!!! I never owned a tape/disc of theirs, though. I was just thinking along the lines of your comment, earlier today. I remember being in high school/college, and NOT understanding why people would listen to music from the 1970s on purpose. Now, I challenge myself to stay up on current music, and it’s too hard!!!!!! There’s SO MUCH music out there, and not enough money… 🙂 I pop in a Toad the Wet Sprocket or Fugazi disc from time to time, and usually, I find that I still love my “old” music as much now as I did then.

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