I have taken so little time to reflect on REM’s break up in the midst of recent chaos and upheaval. They were that band for me, the one that set me on a particular path at an impressionable age. Because I saw this video on MTV:
I was in 7th grade and had just turned 13. I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard in my life, and I needed to hear it again. And again. It was a physical craving.
I bought Out Of Time on cassette and wore it out. It then became the first album I’d own on CD, back when they came in longboxes. REM had attempted to counter the environmentally problematic waste of the long box by including a postcard on theirs which purchasers could cut out and send in to…whom? About what? I can’t recall. Demand and end to longboxes, perhaps? If you remember, please comment. It was something kind of political, and I liked that. I liked that Michael Stipe was vegetarian, like I (almost) was. I liked that talked about condoms, because that was against AIDS and also exciting. I liked that the cracks in his lyrics could hold so much of my angst.
So post-REM I was alt, and there was no going back. I was (temporarily) through with pop: goodbye Paula Abdul and Milli Vanilli. My musical tastes became self-consciously anti-mainstream, and from my musical tastes I forged my adolescent identity. I amassed REM’s entire back catalog. I started listening to the college radio station. Soon I was also obsessing over They Might Be Giants and The Pixes and anything catchy and weird and exciting. By the time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit I’d been primed, and jumped from Nirvana to Riot Grrrl almost immediately, and all this music made high school more bearable and helped to radicalize my politics, and that’s a different post.
It all started with REM and a beautiful, sad song.
I like Collapse Into Now. I liked that they were always there, somewhere, working on something that would in the very least have moments of intrigue. Yes, I’m partial to their work up through Monster, but the later years had their moments. Wonderful moments. All those Patti Smith collaborations in particular, they do my heart so much good:
Like Al Jazeera, I was also partial to 2003’s single, “Bad Day”:
Here are a few more hastily chosen from amongst my favorite REM videos:
Fittingly, for this 20th anniversary month of Nevermind, and for me personally, I’ll end with REM’s Kurt Cobain tribute/mourning song: