The recent announcement of the breakup of R.E.M. reminded me of this post I put up on Facebook a while ago and thought it would be the perfect time for a cross-post… not to mention my ideal woman would love old R.E.M. as much as I do
R.E.M.’s music has it’s hooks deep into me, laying out aural bookmarks for memories, feelings of nostalgia, making me happy when I’m sad, or happier when I’m happy. Not long ago it also marked an electronic-age milestone for me, the first time I bought an entire album electronically…
One day when logging onto iTunes I was informed that there was a new version available, so I downloaded it, rebooted it, and then browsed around to see the new look and the new features. I went over to the iTunes store… and saw this album for sale:
My first thought was hmm, when am I going to have time to run by a music store in the next few days? When thinking about my schedule I realized it would probably be sometime over the weekend at the earliest. But… but… I wanted to listen these songs now!
Over on the iTunes store, the little “Buy album” button tapped it’s shoe impatiently. Oh yeah…
R.E.M. was a huge part of my musical enlightenment, when I reached out and experienced bands outside of the Top 40 and Classic Rock that ruled my middle and high-school days. My first year of college I had been turned on to bands like Squeeze, Oingo Boingo, and Roxy Music by my preppy roommate, and delved deeper into the classic rock genius of Led Zepplin and Rush by some other college friends. The summer afterwards I reconnected with some of my high school friends to party and of course we all pulled out some of our new favorites. I’d heard of R.E.M. but hadn’t really heard them until I was lying in a hammock with two lady friends, getting buzzed and listening to Murmur. Being high and laying between two cute girls made for a great total experience for my R.E.M. deflowering. The entire album just knocked my socks off with its Byrdsian rolling guitars, dissonant yet oddly perfect vocals/backing vocals, and maddeningly obscure lyrics. I quickly bought Murmur, Reckoning and Fables of the Reconstruction and fell head over heels in love with their sound.
About the same time, two friends of mine who were talented musicians (one played guitar, the other drums) were trying to put together a band. They found someone who played bass, but were having trouble finding a singer and browbeat me into standing in as vocalist while they practiced until they could find someone else (I had sang songs with them when they played at drunken parties back in high school). Both buddies were as smitten by R.E.M. as I was, and of course they wanted to cover some of their songs. The first song we did was Driver 8, and I remember struggling over the lyrics– this was before the internet and easy access to Stipes’ words. I’d listen to a line, rewind, listen. Repeat. And finally write down what I thought he was saying. It was hilarious years later to run across this site to finally see what Stipe was really saying. Sometimes I had it right, but for most of the really obscure stuff I had it wrong. Luckily for me, I could imitate Stipe’s vocal style enough so that no one knew exactly what I was saying either, so it was all good.
We also did Old Man Kinsey, Talk About the Passion, Feeling Gravity’s Pull, and Underneath the Bunker. That last song was a real hoot to play– it’s such an oddball little song, extremely short and just plain weird, and it was always funny to observe our audience’s reaction when we played it. Most of the people we played for enjoyed the George Thorogood covers we played much more than the R.E.M., but we played those songs for us.
This new R.E.M. collection really brings back the memories. Their I.R.S. years span 1982 – 1987, and I was turned on to R.E.M. on the tail end of that period. R.E.M. has gone on to make some really great songs since– I’ve been assured by many people more in tune with their modern era that they were making the best music of their lives in their later years– but for me the music they made back then is infused with the memories of my youth, when I cast aside the constrictive pop encasings forced upon me by local radio and discovered college rock (which later came to be known as “alternative”). I can remember many late night parties, surrounded by strangers, all of us way too intoxicated to want to move from the sofa or floor where we sat, and all of us gloriously singing along to Life’s Rich Pageant on vinyl spinning on the turntable. Every mumbled lyric, every rolling guitar, every infectious drumbeat resonates with that time period.
I got to see R.E.M. play once during their Document tour with 10,000 Maniacs. They came to William and Mary Hall, which is a short hour’s drive from town. The show was awesome, and I remember how surprised I was that they did a cover of Lou Graham’s Midnight Blue for an encore that just rocked the house.
EDIT: Oh wow, I ran across a set list from that tour!
9 October 1987 – William and Mary College, Williamsburg, VA
support: 10,000 Maniacs
soundcheck: Catapult (instrumental) / I Believe / King Of Birds / Welcome To The Occupation
set: Finest Worksong / These Days / Welcome To The Occupation / Exhuming McCarthy / Disturbance At The Heron House / Orange Crush / Feeling Gravitys Pull / King Of Birds / Tired Of Singing Trouble / I Believe / Fireplace / Driver 8 / Title / Superman / Auctioneer (Another Engine) / Oddfellows Local 151 / It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) / Begin The Begin
encore 1: The Flowers Of Guatemala / Fall On Me / See No Evil
encore 2: Midnight Blue / Just A Touch
encore 3: Harpers / The One I Love
Right now I don’t have a working turntable and can no longer spin those awesome R.E.M. records I have on vinyl, and the cassettes I had have long since been worn out. I have not yet had the time or money to buy the albums on CDs, so this album is an absolute godsend to tide me over until I can restore the collection on digital. Bless you, R.E.M.– I hope the sales are brisk and you guys make a bunch of well-deserved money.
1. Begin the Begin
2. Radio Free Europe
3. Pretty Persuasion
4. Talk About the Passion
5. (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville
6. Sitting Still
7. Gardening At Night
8. 7 Chinese Bros.
9. So. Central Rain
10. Driver 8
11. Can’t Get There From Here
12. Finest Worksong
13. Feeling Gravity’s Pull
14. I Believe
15. Life and How to Live It
17. Welcome to the Occupation
18. Fall On Me
19. Perfect Circle
20. These Days*
*These last two I actually added because I had room for two more on the CD I burned. I found out after I bought the 20 song album that there was a 41 song “Collector’s Edition” that I would have gladly bought instead if I had known about it. Still, getting those 41 songs would have made buying the actual albums a little more redundant, so I’m satisfied with what I have for now, and will add Murmur and Reckoning to my Christmas wantlist