Wednesday 21 September 2011

Take a picture here, take a souvenir

It was a Tuesday morning. Sometime in April, I think. I'd just joined a band - a band who worshipped at the altar of another, not quite famous band. In an attempt to keep up and show a bit of willingness, I'd purchased one of the not quite famous bands records...just for research purposes and to see if there were any Basslines I could steal. I picked the cheapest one, not wishing to throw money away on a dud. I played it once and it sounded alright...a bit low key and sadly lacking in the shredding Guitar solos that I loved so much. The cover was a bit murky too... some sort of bridge thing covered in weeds and pictures of four freshly scrubbed college students. "Don't these jerks know anything about packaging?" I thought as I looked longingly at David Lee Roth arching backwards on the rear cover of the first Van Halen album. I played it again. It sounded...better. What was the singer going on about? Nice Bass lines...good harmonies too. I put the headphones down and went to sleep. The next morning - Tuesday morning - I awoke and before breakfast, before brushing my teeth, before getting dressed I had to do one thing -play that record again. I've played it no less than once a fortnight since April 1986. I'm playing it now and it still sounds like nothing else.

'Murmur' changed my life. How fucking Hollywood is that? But it did - at a stroke, the REO Speedwagon and Sammy Hagar records scattered around my bedroom looked vaguely ridiculous. I couldn't bear to look at them after a while and those 'Pre REM' LPs that didn't get binned were placed on a high shelf...REM was all I needed now. I sought out everything by them- every record they mentioned in inteviews, every record that sounded like them, every record by bands which came from  where they came from. It was all so vital and thrilling and new... like drinking spring water after a lifetime of no-brand diet Cola.

They could do no wrong. They said they'd never mime in videos and they didn't (until MUCH later). They said Big Star were great and they were. Their live shows were chaotic, passionate and ever-changing. When they played 'Radio Free Europe' at the Hammersmith Odeon on September 12th 1987, I leaped out of my chair so hard I cut my shin.

Mike Mills became my hero. I ripped off his playing so much, I considered sending him a royalty cheque.

REM were my gateway into a new world and a new way of thinking...from music to dress sense to politics to Greenpeace to almost everything.

And now, they've split. I'm happy and sad at the same time. Happy that they aren't grinding on making patchy records that sound like other people, but sad that they aren't -well - a presence, I guess. A fixed point of reference. I'd have liked to have seen them once more, knowing it was the last time I was over going to hear some of those songs that altered the course of my life. The last time I saw them at some cattleshed sized venue in the UK, I was so bored I could barely concentrate...until I heard an echo of the music that made me wake up - just for a moment.

They've won countless awards and sold equally countless records. That doesn't matter. My story is not unique...I've met so many people in bands who started playing when they heard 'Murmur' or 'Reckoning' or any of those dazzling 80s albums. They inspired people. Me included. I'll miss them.

I'll miss them like I miss being 5 years old.


  1. Wonderful post and a really accurate assessment.

    I too loved their early stuff and enjoyed the paydirt when it came.

    Since Automatic For The People the returns have been diminishing. The last two albums showed a spark of life, at first you thought the form is back, but then you realised after repeated listens that it was really that they weren't as mediocre as you thought they were gonna be.

    No one can take away what they've done or achieved. They are doing the right thing.

    I'll be really interested if Peter Buck gets involved in something as long as it isn't a Rich Man's Toy.

    Interesting point by Hepworth. How many successful bands survive after the drummer leaves?

    Can't think of any off hand, can think of plenty who left before the fame.

    Spot on with your 5 year old comparison. I think most of the reformed bands I've seen over the past decade have made me wish i hadn't because I wasn't a teenager.

    The one exception was Mott The Hoople.

  2. Who knew the drummer was the key member?

    More later.


  3. Who knew? Anyone who saw them before and then after. I did.

    Oh yeah. It was obvious.

    Great post Rushbo.

    But thanks to the guys for all the great tunes and great memories...RIP REM.

  4. Uhhh, I bought Murmur almost just for the packaging. I still think it's a great looking and very cool cover. When the hip radio station played Radio Free Europe when it first came out, I was hooked and bought the album the very same day. I must have seemed like a real ass every time I went to the record store and asked if R.E.M. had released anything new. I can't decide if Reckoning is a better album. Doesn't matter. Both make my top ten desert isle LPs

    Timeline to the end:

    1. Michael Stipe hurts his back, loses his hair and then decides to shave his hideous looking head and wear really bizarre outfits on stage.

    2. Mike Mills starts wearing those ridiculous suits of three different colors. From humble bass player to rock star!

    3. (The Biggie!) Bill Berry quits (let's face it, the rest of the band were getting pretty weird by this point) and his inventive drumming is replaced by... a drum machine! His lovely vocals and harmonies are replaced by.... nothing!

    The end of R.E.M. After that, it was mediocre at best. I saw them live in the early days, but the last show I truly enjoyed was their first appearance on MTV's Unplugged. After that, I swam from a sinking ship as fast as I could. Tried to like them, but just couldn't. R.I.P.

  5. Nice post. Swap "Murmur" for "Green" and you've pretty much replicated my story.

    But let's face it - the time is right. Their last two albums were good, but we've come to expect more than just *good* from REM, haven't we?

  6. Nice post. REM changed my life as well. I first discovered them in '85, and finally saw them perform in '89, the Green tour. It was in an arena, not the 40 Watt club, which I would have preferred. When they performed "Stand" to a beboppity crowd, I knew the "Murmur to Document REM era" was over.

    There was something satisfying about listening to them when most people didn't know who they were.

  7. i just never knew what all the fuss was about. i always thought they were pretentious.

  8. There's always one!(Above) Why here if you don't feckin like it?

    Great touching piece on REM Ian. As I'm partly responsible for introducing you to them it all rings double true for me. I still play guitar in a Buck influenced style and I wouldn't want to change. I could write pages about how great it all was with the early albums and UK tours. But I'm reminded of that quote from one of the REM management guys who said the first time he saw them in a little club in Athens he thought that this is what it must have been like to see one of the early Who or other great sixties bands early gigs. That's how good they were. X

  9. REM were pretentious and raw at the same time, which is a helluva combination. Quite frankly, there is nowhere near enough pretention in modern Popular Music. Who wants to hear blokey music about mundane, artless crap?

    REM were easy to hate, but I didn't. Quite the reverse in fact.

  10. All music is pretention surely. You make it up and out it comes. Art is the key. Most rock/pop music is not even putting that in the equation. Sadly for moi. XX

  11. Saw that early appearance on The Tube and went right out and bought Radio Free Europe. Then saw them at the tiny Gallery here in Manchester (power cut out after first song, lol)
    Then several times at Poly, The Ritz and Apollo....each time growing bigger.....and they lost me after Green...great while it lasted, and got me into the other bands from the Paisley Underground back then too....Dream Syndicate, Let's Active, Bangles, Rain Parade etc....fanx ta ra....