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R.E.M.’s breakup isn’t getting the attention that it deserves


It’s kind of ironic that the first song on my iPod when I walked into the gym today was R.E.M.’s  ‘Orange Crush.’  Little did I know that earlier in the day, the trio of Buck, Mills and Stipe announced they were "calling it a day as a band”  after 31 years together.
I must admit (and I’m probably going to catch a lot of crap for this) that most of us can agree R.E.M. hasn’t been relevant in the general public consciousness for the last decade and change. In saying that, it was still a surprise to hear what I heard today. It’s almost like part of my youth has been put to rest.
After all, R.E.M. was going ‘mainstream’ as my adolescence began. ‘Automatic for the People’  and ‘Monster’ were the two R.E.M. albums released during my high school years, and there was a definite buzz in the school cafeteria on the day those LPs were released.

It’s true to that music is the soundtrack of your life, and R.E.M. was there for some important, if not so pleasant moments during the early to late 90’s. Like the time I heard ‘Losing My Religion’  for the first time on Memorial Day 1991 in a record shop (remember those?) in Ocean City, New Jersey, or when my sister played ‘Automatic’ on our way to high school almost every day in 1992-1993. ‘Monty Got a Raw Deal’ blared in her Oldsmobile Cutless the day I broke my finger the first day of baseball tryouts, I would try to do my best Michael Stipe impersonation with ‘Crush With Eyeliner’  when my old band covered it, and I just had to watch the ‘E-Bow The Letter’ video before I walked out the door to go to college for the very first time back in 1996.

Unfortunately, I missed the concert in Philadelphia on October 13th, 1995 because I had SATs the next day, or maybe I would have grabbed their setlist (Instead of you, Downsy!) On a side note, I made sure to see their Labor Day concert in 1999 in Camden as well as their Temple University show in 2003.

R.E.M. was SO big back then that it was pretty much them and U2 in a battle of supremacy for the title of the world’s biggest band. Keep in mind that this was at the dawn of the grunge era. Oddly enough however, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain praised the band, citing them as major influences. And in turn, they even seemed to influence R.E.M. as well (just listen to 'Monster' and you’ll see what I mean).

Unlike U2, R.E.M.’s popularity as well as record sales unfortunately seemed to wane as music changed. Although their albums were generally well received and they continued to have successful tours up until the end, a ‘Backstreet Boys’ and ‘Puff Daddy’ ish dominance of the charts in the late 90’s pushed R.E.M. out of the commercial realm of the music industry. Many say that it was the beginning of the end for the band after long time drummer Bill Berry left  in October 1997. I must admit, their last few albums definitely seemed to lack some spark, as Berry was a bigger part of that band than people seemed to realize.

 From their days as a popular college band with their pre-mainstream catalog of such classics as ‘Murmur’  and ‘Reckoning’  to their major success in the 90's to the Berry-less years, R.E.M. did it their way. They had come full circle, but their impact on the music world as well as pop culture should be celebrated because a band like theirs doesn't come along every day.

In a way, R.E.M.’s exit is just as quiet as their entrance.

But in between, they made a lot of good noise.

R.E.M. - Tongue by Warner-Music


Contact Joe at jvallee@philly2philly.com 

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