Posts Tagged ‘R.E.M.’

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:

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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
16. Cuyahoga
17. Welcome to the Occupation
18. Fall On Me
19. Perfect Circle
20. These Days*
21. Pilgrimage*

*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 🙂

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I often fantasize about finding a woman who would find my iPod and fall in love with my music– finding that we shared a lot of the same tastes, discovering new favorites, talking about my experiences around the songs …and hopefully providing me with new tracks I can add to the mix and wrap new memories around.

I thought it might be fun to sample the eras here, music that made deep enough marks as to find a home on my iPod…  You can find Part 1 “The Early Years” here


When I went from country boy high school grad to college freshman in the big city, my musical tastes were fairly narrow, steeped mostly in 80s pop and rock.  The next three years saw my musical horizons start to expand as I became aware of so much more, so much better, out there!

Oingo Boingo, Dead Man’s Party

My freshman dorm roommate was a preppy philosophy major who introduced me to New Wave music (and to the then cutting edge CD player).  Dead Man’s Party knocked my socks off, and I immediate went to the record store and purchased the album.  I got to see these guys play at the old Flood Zone and the band was simply amazing.

Squeeze, Take Me I’m Yours

While I liked Squeeze’s few radio & MTV songs, their greatest hits album Singles blew my mind, so many cool and interesting songs I’d never heard before.  Then I went to see them play live at the Richmond Landmark Theater and witnessed probably the most talented group of musicians I’ve ever seen, playing virtuoso music while electrifying the audience with a spectacular show.

Georgia Satellites, Railroad Steel

My senior year of high school I had a couple musician friends that wanted to get a little more serious with their music and start a band.  Finding a good singer proved elusive so I was asked to fill in at parties and jams.  For about a year after graduation we actually named our band (The Hostages), practiced and did a few gigs.  I had a ball, though as a writer I longed to try our hand at originals instead of trying to sing other people’s songs.  I had a pretty limited range as a vocalist, but sometimes I could totally nail it—the southern rock band Georgia Satellites was one of them.  A few years ago I reunited with the band for a few jam sessions for old-times sake, and I’m proud to report I can still belt out some of those tunes, including this fist-pumper!

R.E.M., These Days

Another band who’s music I could sing really well to was R.E.M. (heh, quite different from the Satellites stylistically if not geographically).  Back then though trying to decipher Michael Stipes’ lyrics was brutal and involved many hours listening, rewinding, listening and guesstimating.  Years later when a website went up with the official lyrics to those early R.E.M. songs I was amused by just how wrong I’d been… though of course no one who listened to us play those songs knew I was wrong because I sang those words just as incomprehensibly as Stipe.

I think spending all that time and effort figuring out lyrics and singing a handful of R.E.M. really connected me to that era of the band.  Even after our band broke up, I ate up all those I.R.S. albums, joyfully singing along in what I hoped was a close approximation of Stipe’s lyrics.  While The Hostages never performed These Days, it is #1 of many R.E.M. favorites and a song I never tire of listening to.

Led Zepplin, Custard Pie

In middle and high-school, I dismissed Led Zepplin as music the roughneck heavy metal kids listened to.  Then I met Hudson in college, an art major and big fan of Zepplin.  He had all their albums and I spent many evenings with friends deeply buzzing and listening to those records.  Then one day I won a call-in radio contest and got the entire Led Zepplin album catalogue.  I was totally hooked.  I read Hammer of the Gods.  I bought a bootleg concert album.  I went to see The Song Remains the Same at the midnight movies.  And I lamented that John Bonham drank himself to death and broke up the band before I ever had a chance to see them.  Physical Graffiti had to be my favorite album, and the opening Custard Pie still blows me away and is just so heavy man, heavy.

Fishbone, Lying Ass Bitch

When I graduated from high school, my Dungeons & Dragons crew (nerds rule!) merged with another D&D crew that were a couple years older but we all got along famously and the gaming camaraderie quickly spilled out into partying and carousing.  One of my newfound lifelong friends brought Fishbone’s first album to a party we were at and I was totally blown away by the thumping, high-energy ska.  This song’s profane chorus was fun to sing along to while thinking about your ex.  I was privileged to see the band perform live several times and their musicianship was stunning especially given how physical they were jumping on and off the stage.  I learned the joys of moshing at Fishbone concerts.

Beastie Boys, Shake Your Rump

While Licensed to Ill was a badboy-good-time, the Beastie’s followup Paul’s Boutique was a total masterpiece album from start to finish.  It’s hard to pick a favorite out, but Shake Your Rump might be it.


Not only did college open up my musical awareness, but it also led me to my first head-over-heels love experience.  She loved music too and we spent a lot of time drinking beers, listening to music and enjoying each other’s company.

Romeo Void, Never Say Never

Before we became an item, I had a secret crush on her.  I brought some albums to a party one night, and was one of the people spinning the tunes.  When I put this great song on by Romeo Void, three gorgeous ladies (including my secret crush) jumped up and began dancing to it.  Since none of their significant others joined them, I got up and danced with them, and when we all sang the chorus I might like you better if we slept together I fantasized that all three were singing to me, hee heee…

How Can I Refuse, Heart

When my secret crush became not-so-secret and I found out she had feelings for me too I was stunned, scared, thrilled and excited.  Never before had someone I loved loved me in return.  While we saw each other several times a week, like all young love you just can’t get enough of each other so we’d write letters to tide us over to the next night together.  I remember one letter quoted this song by Heart:

Where do we take it now

Now that we caught fire?

Will something greater grow

Out of this desire?

Should I drop my guard

At the risk of being used?

But the way you do those things to me

How can I refuse?

All these years later whenever I hear this song it sends me back to those days of young love.

Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straits

All good things eventually come to an end, and when she and I started going through a rough patch this Dire Straits song that so brilliantly mixes romance and melancholia seemed to capture what we were feeling.  Time has healed the sadness to where I can now listen and just enjoy the beauty of the song.

Coming soon, Part 3 Expanding Horizons…

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