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Memories of R.E.M. from a (then) young fan

R.E.M.: Peter Buck (left), Bill Berry, Michael Stipe and Mike Mills. AP photo

R.E.M.: Peter Buck (left), Bill Berry, Michael Stipe and Mike Mills. AP photo

This is a piece I wrote back in 2007, as R.E.M. was about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

The first time I saw R.E.M. was in June 1981, and I didn’t really like them.

I had gone to Athens to see angular punk-funk pioneers Gang of Four. But in retrospect, the night’s most memorable event was the set by the opening band. R.E.M.. was just one month from releasing its first single, “Radio Free Europe”/”Sitting Still.”

The set went by in a deafening, Ramones-like blur, with little to distinguish this young band from any number of punky pretenders. It could have been the less-than-stellar sound at Tyrone’s, an Athens club that burned down a year later, or it might have been my 17-year-old ears. Either way, I promptly forgot about R.E.M.

The moral? First impressions are sometimes wrong, a lesson brought to mind this past week when the band was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It wasn’t until the next summer, when I heard the new R.E.M. EP “Chronic Town” in a Clemson, S.C., record store, that I heard the band again. The dark jangle of “Wolves, Lower” filled the air, and I was converted.

Soon, everyone I knew seemed to be an R.E.M. fan. My friends and I awaited every new release with youthful enthusiasm. We trekked to see them play, and if we had to choose between them and school, R.E.M. usually won.

Some of the best shows were at Georgia’s Legion Field. The first time, about six months after “Murmur” was released in 1983, we stuffed cars full of people and coolers for the hour-and-a-half drive. The road between Clemson and Athens would become very familiar.

During one of our many road trips, I had the fan-boy thrill of meeting guitarist Peter Buck at a DB’s show at the 40 Watt Club. Another memorable show was a goofy joyride through some cool cover versions by the Hindu Love Gods (made up of R.E.M.’s instrumentalists and Time Toy frontman Bryan Cook) at a sometime strip club in Athens called Bourbon Street.

Since the band broke big in 1987, I’ve been a less-than-devoted follower, but I’ve collected every subsequent album.

Still, it’s those five early, magical years of music I treasure. Whenever I hear those songs I become that zealous young fan again, getting caught up in a legend, unknowingly watching R.E.M. grow into one of the best bands the United States has produced.

SUGGESTED ALBUMS

R.E.M. has released 13 full-length studio albums, but only the diehard fan needs them all. Here’s a list of those we like best, highlighted by the most essential downloads from each. (Most of the tracks listed below are available on “And I Feel Fine: The Best of 1982-1987 — The I.R.S Years.” The later years are covered by “In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.”)

“Murmur” (1983) Keynote: The murky jangle that helped define ’80s college rock. Download: “Sitting Still, ” “Radio Free Europe, ” “Perfect Circle, ” “Talk About the Passion”

“Automatic for the People” (1992) Keynote: The mature masterpiece. Download: “Find the River, ” “Man on the Moon, ” “Nightswimming, ” “Everybody Hurts”

“Document” (1987) Keynote: The breakthrough. Download: “The One I Love, ” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine), ” “Finest Worksong”

“Reckoning” (1984) Keynote: What sophomore slump? Download: “Harborcoat, ” “So. Central Rain, ” “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville”

“Fables of the Reconstruction” (1985) Keynote: Underrated turning point that added new textures to the R.E.M. sound. Download: “Feeling Gravity’s Pull, ” “Driver 8, ” “Maps and Legends”

“Out of Time” (1991) Keynote: The album that solidified the band’s place in the mainstream. Download: “Losing My Religion, ” “Shiny Happy People, ” “Half a World Away”

“Lifes Rich Pageant” (1986) Keynote: Rumbling drums and riffing guitars announce the hardest-rocking R.E.M. album aside from the spotty, forced-sounding “Monster.” Download: “Begin the Begin, ” “Fall on Me, ” “Swan Swan H”

35 comments Add your comment

The Reverend Baby Doctor Bedpan

September 21st, 2011
3:44 pm

Blah…..Their music was uninspiring and monotonous. All they had to do was get enough air play to trick the drones of this planet in to thinking they were good. If it is on the radio….All the time….It must be good…..Right?

Jeff and the Camaros

September 21st, 2011
4:11 pm

I saw REM at the Piedmont Park Arts Festival — I THINK in ‘82 or ‘83, at least in that time period, and saw them again at a kind of Punk rock club almost next door to the Varsity–can’t remember the name, but then there were a lot of things back then I can’t remember…

Drake

September 21st, 2011
5:32 pm

I like when i was young and full of grace and spirit as a rattle snake?
lol

weaseal

September 21st, 2011
6:40 pm

I dug & still dig some REM saw 2 great shows at the FOX the night before Thanksgiving while in college 87 & 88 great shows and then family the next day… great memories ….. drive 8 take a break ….

David

September 21st, 2011
6:51 pm

Like many bands, you have to understand what else was popular when REM came out. I for one could never take guys in skin tight spandex and hairspray. REM came along at a time when a change in music was absolutely needed. Look at Run DMC, rap listeners kill them as terrible but at the time they changed everything. REM changed the music scene completely. I loved their early music. REM to me is one of the most important bands to ever come of America.

Michael - Melbourne

September 21st, 2011
7:20 pm

I saw REM twice in Melbourne when they toured Australia. The first show was in 1989 when they were touring the “Green” album and the second was 1995’s “Monster” tour. Both were great shows. REM were an outstanding band and Life’s Rich Pageant / Document / Green would have to rank amongst the greatest three consecutive album releases by any band. Right up there with Rubber Soul / Revolver / Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in my book.

TTT

September 21st, 2011
7:21 pm

The club next to the Varsity was 688.

Didn't we miss anything?

September 21st, 2011
7:24 pm

Jeff and the Camaros…….that club was called the 688 if you’re talking about the one I think you are.
I remember seeing them at the Fox in 1988-1989. Man they were good live. Listening to them on Album 88. Chronic Town, Murmur, Reckoning, Fables…..really great albums. I agree David, they are an important band.

Leo Frank Jr

September 21st, 2011
7:31 pm

REM DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE

On this of all days, they choose to deflect attention from the execution of Troy Davis?

Why? Are they that insensitive or just ignorant, as big as has-beens on current events as they are in music?

TL's Dawgs

September 21st, 2011
7:35 pm

I saw them at the fox and wow what a memory!!! 1984 Fabulous Fox Theater!!!!!!!!!!!!! Legendary!!!!!!!

Mansonlamps

September 21st, 2011
7:37 pm

I loved REM up until 1986. Something changed after Life’s Rich Pageant. I will always associate them with shows in front of 1,000 people or less. They got big and I just lost interest.

brock

September 21st, 2011
7:44 pm

I saw them the first time in 1980 in an old green Victorian in Athens on Millege Ave we called the zoo (across from the Taco Stand). In a back bedroom. Absolutely horrid, but when Chronictown came out, I was hooked. May have to spin Dead Letter Office on vinyl tonight!

I was also at the 688 show, and I’m pretty sure it was in Jan ‘83, because there was an icestorm brewing that night almost 1 yr after the big ‘82 snowjam. Jason and the Nashville Scorchers opened, and rumor has it that their song Hot Nights in Georgia was inspired by this show (though it was cold outside). Just an incredible show by both bands. So many good 688 memories, but this was the best.

jeas3

September 21st, 2011
7:46 pm

@Leo Frank Jr: Wow, you are a complete and utter idiot. Are you really implying that REM got together and intentionally chose this specific day to purposefully try and distract people from the Troy Davis issue? Please keep you conspiracy theories to yourself and go practice being ignorant somewhere else. Just for your information, what they chose to do was to post a small message on their website thanking their fans for all the support over the years. That’s it – no press release, no news conference, no appearance on Good Morning America. What the press and other people decide to do with it is not the fault of the band. Get a life.

Pala

September 21st, 2011
7:52 pm

REM have way too many songs that have made my life a landscape worth exploring. Their crap song count is very low. Love REM. They were 27 when I saw them first. The power they have is astonishing yet totally deserved. Thank You.I hardly ever comment online but I wore their T Shirt today…and then they split !!

Pala

September 21st, 2011
7:53 pm

Oh…New Adventures In Hi Fi…UP…Accelerate…Come on….come on…get with it

GA PEACH

September 21st, 2011
8:10 pm

Saw REM at the I & I Club (Formerly B& L Warehouse) in Athens, GA in 1982 as a young co-ed. They were so happening, and so was Athens music scene, with the B52s and others. Good times. Make that great times (what I remember).

eric

September 21st, 2011
8:15 pm

I remember when i saw them in 87 , and I saw Michael being gang fu**ed by about 6 hard-core leather dudes outside the dressing room. Ruined it for me…

blazerdawg

September 21st, 2011
8:22 pm

GREAT band! Many great memories of their music, similar to those previously stated. Thank you REM!

Anita Lynne

September 21st, 2011
8:42 pm

Eric..dude you are a degenerate sicko……REM will always have a place in music history and my soul! Thanks to them for their contribution to music and putting Athens, Ga on the map!

Biffy McBoinkington

September 21st, 2011
9:00 pm

They were original, poetic, a blur of dreamlike beauty when everyone else’s music sounded like electronic farts, ear-champagne for yuppies. They crawled from the south, and forever proved not everyone there chews tobacco, loves guns and sings about pickups, one-night stands and whiskey.

UGA 78

September 21st, 2011
9:05 pm

With a group of friends, I saw them in 1979 in a warehouse club next to the tracks downtown. I don’t remember the club name, but I remember the energy and about 400 people dancing wildly to thier music. In the early 2000’s I grinned when my teenage children would tell me “dad, you have to listen to this band from Athens…..”.

brock

September 21st, 2011
9:11 pm

UGA 78, was it Tyrones? But I’m thinking it was later than ‘79. Either way, I bet you’re a hero to your kids!

I saw Mike Mills all alone at a Dogs game in ‘05 or so. Left him alone, but thought it was cool that he appreciates UGA football still.

john c

September 21st, 2011
9:29 pm

one of the most overrated awful bands ever. Forgetful dull good riddence.

Trip

September 21st, 2011
9:33 pm

One of the best concerts I ever saw was REM in St.Pete in the fall of 86. Let’s Active opened and Peter Buck came on stage and finished their set on guitar. Then Roger McGuinn of the Birds came out, he lived in Clearwater, and played with REM on a few Birds covers.

Anne W

September 21st, 2011
9:35 pm

REM was the music for a Generation. “College Radio” was defined by REM. At a time when the Music landscape was looking for a new voice, a new sound… along came REM. I met them in Seattle while they were making “Automatic for the People” and it was one of the most memorable times in my life. So many songs and now their Songbook is full. Bravo Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe.

Rectal Bleeding

September 21st, 2011
10:00 pm

Now if Bruce Springsteen would quit…….

jenn

September 21st, 2011
10:08 pm

I grew up listening to REM and have connections to their music across all seasons of my life. They have inspired me, given me hope and perspective, challenged my thinking and soothed my soul. Michael’s lyrics and conviction have been a constant over the past three decades. I will miss hearing new REM music and seeing shows. I look forward to following the future creative endeavors of the band members. love and squalor to REM.

Jaime

September 21st, 2011
10:39 pm

I started listening to REM over a decade after they came out, in 1999 when i was in high school. I loved the band. Peter Buck was one of the reasons I wanted to learn guitar. I really liked all of their early music. New Adventures in Hi Fi was quite stellar, along with Automatic For the People. I even liked the experimental sounds of Up. Then, they started declining severely. Perhaps it was because the sales of Up were not that “up.” But I felt the band took a downward spiral for the worst. When they tried to get back to their “old sound” it sounded worn out and trite. Maybe I can hope for a Michael Stipe experimental electronic album with Moby? Now THAT i would buy.

7Spider Rico

September 21st, 2011
11:10 pm

This, of course, can mean only one thing: The band’s original four members will gather in 2013 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. — the band’s hometown and springboard to stardom — to kickoff an international, multi-media, super-colossal, mega-tour.

http://7spiderrico.blogspot.com/2011/09/rem-quits-super-colossal-reunion-tour.html

Ghost of Troy Davis

September 22nd, 2011
12:04 am

REM DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE

why the eff was this announcement made today?

as if anyone but their accountants cares.

has-been rock star “cocoon” or mere arrogance?

Manvi Gandotra

September 22nd, 2011
1:33 am

A music with perfect and intoxicating mix of melody, harmony & Originality. What they created was something real and deep, something that transcends everything. A band which focused just on one thing-MUSIC. Here are my fav 5 songs by REM.

http://muziknotes.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/this-one-goes-out-to-the-one-i-love-rem/

Chuck Reece

September 22nd, 2011
4:23 pm

I was at that Gang of Four/R.E.M. show at Tyrone’s. I’m glad you said it might have been your 17-year-old years that caused you not to get it. Because it was, in fact, your 17-year-old ears. I remember that night very well, and I remember the rush of R.E.M.’s opening set still. It did go by fast, but not without a lot of nuance, spirit and hints of far greater things to come.

world leader pretend

September 23rd, 2011
2:12 pm

Talk about the passion :’(

TomK

September 23rd, 2011
5:45 pm

Loved REM going back to the early days and a group of us even did a few of their songs for an air-band competition back in ‘84. The funniest part was that we couldn’t find the lyrics for their songs and Stipe would slur words and make up non-sensical phrases so the guy who played Stipe just made up shit to match what it sounded like. We didn’t win but had a blast…I guess it didn’t hurt that we “performed” this at an all-girls college :-)

MaryMc

September 26th, 2011
6:32 pm

By the time Gang of Four played Tyrone’s, I think I’d seen R.E.M. in Athens over at least two or three dozen times. When they first sold R.E.M. t-shirts, we thought how egostistical is that! I thought PYLON would be the band to go big time next after B-52s. Even so…didn’t change how amazed I was to see Murmur in the window at a Minneapolis record store after I left Athens. (When Tyrone’s burned down, I took that as a sign it was time to go….)