Now I Am Going to Talk About R.E.M.: A thread about time travelling

edited September 2011 in General
I think the best place to begin is the beginning. Of course, 'beginning' is a fuzzy concept sometimes, but I think I can make it work in the environment of a two-dimensional forum thread.

I was in high school when R.E.M. came out on IRS. I should be able to say, "I was there." I was not.

I didn't like them in high school. Much of all that passed me by. By the time I liked REM, I had already dropped out of high school.

It began with Green. And, yes, it was "Stand" that got me thinking that maybe there was something to these guys after all.

I got the cassette for Green pretty soon after, but I'd trace my real love and appreciation of REM to Out of Time to one year later when I was driving through Colorado.


  • So, I was in a parking lot of a Dominos pizza atrocity, in my car in Glenview, IL where I lived at the time, and I was waiting for a pizza to get cooked. The snow was coming down like mad and I left work late that Friday night. This was 1989, I think but damn the details are pretty fuzzy right now. Honestly, before I started typing this thread, I would've sworn that Out of Time/Losing My Religion was what got me into REM, but no, there's no doubt that it was Stand. Listening to the radio in that Dominoes parking lot right nearby my awful Glenview apartment and a blizzard settling in for a long stay, and "Stand" played on the radio. It struck me as so damn cool. I loved that wah-wah peddle action in the middle of the song (the bridge?). Soon after, I bought the cassette.

    Sure, why not an album cover...


    Now I'm driving to Milwaukee. Why? Just to get out of Chicago and because people from Milwaukee went to Chicago for the weekend, so that left me alone in their town. I could go see a Brewers game at County Stadium. It was great. I love baseball and loved going to other ballparks, and County Stadium was conveniently right off the interstate and plenty of free parking and plenty of cheap tickets and cheep dogs and beer. Mater's german restaurant was still pretty cheap back then, and so was the, hm, I forget the name of the downtown hotel I stayed at, but it was like a Mariott.

    I was addicted to "World Leader Pretend". I thought it was so deep, and I still do. To my ears, it's proof of how amazing Stipe is as a songwriter. As overused as that word is, Stipe truly is a songwriter. I would listen to all of Green, but I'd probably rewind World Leader Pretend at least three times before letting it go to the next tune. I'll always associate that tune with the parking lot of the Brewers ballpark. When I heard the track tonight, I felt like I was twenty years younger. I guess I was.

    I liked pretty much all the songs on Green, but Stand will always be thought of as the spark for my love of REM, and World Leader Pretend as the proof of my respect.
  • edited September 2020
    There were other albums between Green and Out of Time, many many albums, almost all vinyl and some bootleg live albums, but I'm a little drunk and running out of steam way faster than I thought I would. Besides, if I really am time traveling, then I can skip around as I damn well please.

    An album cover...


    I was back living in Chicago when Out of Time came out. Losing My Religion totally sucked me in. It must have, because I'm still kinda convinced that it was the first REM song I ever liked, even though there's no way that could've happened. This album came out in 1991, but I was nearly in Colorado when it happened and my trips to Milwaukee (and Glenview parking lots) were over.

    I thought both the song and the video of LMR were wicked cool and deep. I still do. Well, at least the song; the video not as much, though it's still pretty in its way. I listened to the album a bunch. I think "Half a World Away" is Stipe's second best song (after World Leader Pretend). Katie and me were singing it on the car stereo as we drove home tonight. It was like a celebration. What a beautiful song. I remember I had just started playing guitar back then and I learned how to play that pretty little instrumental tune from the album.

    There are several albums I associate with moving to Colorado, but the first time I visited (with plans to move, but not yet sure), Out of Time will always have the strongest association for me.

    I am a Chicago kid. I always will be. I was pretty sure that I'd spend my whole life there, working some dishwashing jobs and maybe become a decent fish monger, but likely always be working in or around restaurant kitchens. It wasn't my dream job or my dream life, but I fashioned some pretty happy lives with my imagination that might come of it. It was a bit surprising to me when I found myself driving to other states to search out a new home. Mountains were something new for me.

    Leaving the Kansas flatlands behind me and heading into Colorado, the whole landscape changed. Not just the shape of it, but the thing that most stuck in my mind was the way the sunlight blanketed and shaded the land of Colorado. And oh my god, the sky was even bigger than my future. Even now I have to fight back the tears of disbelief at how close I felt to achieving dreams I barely could admit I had.

    I remember driving down the interstate, south from Colorado Springs to Pueblo (I65?). It was mid-afternoon. The sun was out and the land was shady in cinematic flourishes and patterns. There was one song on Green I never could stand. I think it's called Hairshirt. God, I hated that song. But I was so much in love with everything I saw as I drove through this magical place that I let the song play. And then it hit that violin section in the middle and the entire song was the prettiest thing I'd ever heard. I'll always associate that song with the stretch of Colorado between Springs and Pueblo when the sun is just right in the sky and the shadows are playing games over the earth.

    But heading over La Veta pass between Monte Vista and Alamosa, in both directions, that will be Out of Time. What's the song the bass player sings on that album that's something like Half Way to Eden (EDIT: Song = "Near Wild Heaven"); it fit too perfectly. I crossed over the pass the first time at night with just the faintest hit of mountain ridges and forest and steep drops. On the return trip, it was early morning and the snow was thick and falling like mad and as I inched my Chevy Nova up and over the peaks and valley of the pass, it was more christmas than any disney movie could ever capture or even Thomas Kincaide. I knew for certain that I would be making southern Colorado my home. I'll always think of Out of Time for that trip.
  • edited September 2020
    So, I'm living in Southern Colorado and going to college as a 22 year old freshman. It's a big change going from a town of five million to one of ten thousand. Automatic for the People was an odd album. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have recorded it if I were living somewhere else.


    "Drive" was the first single from that album. I really wanted to like it, and the song was plenty ok, but that video was depressing, though I tried to ignore that. I can't remember all the songs off that album, and I don't really have any interest in revisiting the album any time soon. But I do recall driving through the backroads of southern Colorado while listening to AFTP.

    I did this paper recycling program when I was living down there. Basically, it was just an excuse to drive through the backroads and get my gas reimbursed. I'd grab stacks of newspapers from a central location on campus, then purposefully take backroads (instead of highway 285) to the county landfill, where there was also a recycling dropoff spot. I drove through tiny towns called Moffat and Mosca and Center that had maybe 500 people living in them and a tiny school with graduating classes measured in the tens and a gas station with a diner, a tiny grocery store, a post office, and lots of (literal) tumbleweed. This is the San Luis Valley. We're surrounded mostly by the Sangre de Cristos. The Great National Sand Dunes park was nearby. I used to drop acid after leaving my dishwashing job at night and hiking out into the middle of the dunes and lay on my back and stare at a billion stars and watch UFOs bounce off every one of them. In the morning, as the acid wore off, the sun would light up the Spanish Peaks and the de Cristos and their red rock and snowy peaks and I'd know that life was beautiful. I'd then go home and crash before having to go back to my dishwashing job. I had already dropped out of college at this point and was now working at a crappy restaurant washing dishes. The irony didn't escape me. But irony is a lot easier to digest when you're surrounded by mountains and not Chicago depression.

    Anyways, back to AFTP... I'd drive through the backroads to the recycling drop-off and all these tiny towns that, at the time, i wished that I had grown up there instead of Chicago and all the contradictions of loneliness while surrounded by millions of people. I've since outgrown the belief that lonliness and depression have anything to do with census counts and per capita statistics. But AFTP really fit the strange land and strange faces and heavy imagination of lives I never lived. Damn, did I use to daydream like mad as I drove past those towns of lives that I might live, of how I got there and how I stayed and how/if I left and what the rest of my life looked like. Star Me Kitten was my favorite song from that album.

    I'll always associate Automatic for the People with southern Colorado. It's one of the few REM albums that doesn't have any secondary associations.
  • edited September 2011
    Where to next, where to next... I'm thinking maybe this one...


    I had been living in Denver for several years by the time this album came out. I was learning things. Even though I went through some pretty tough shit as a kid and began working at very early age, it had more the effect of teaching me to detach myself from life than excel at it. I am a product of ugly realities, yet there was so much about common life that I was clueless about. When New Adventures in Hi-Fi came out in 1996, I had gotten pretty caught up on lots of stuff that common life had to offer.

    I was sitting in Pablo's coffee house in downtown Denver, right next door to the Denver Center for Performing Arts (where I'd see the Dizzy Gillespie all-stars on New Years Eve later that year). It was a cool summer day. It was a shady part of town. Pablo's was a pretty austere coffee house, perfect for the area and clientele. The staff played some great music. Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, Lush, Chemical Brothers, anything I had with me at the time, Hendrix, just great music. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. I was there drinking coffee, maybe I was playing chess with some of the regulars, but mostly I was sitting there with a book in my lap that I ignored as I daydreamed. About three songs into an unfamiliar album, I came to and realized how much I was loving it. It was New Adventures in Hi-Fi. There was something sublime in the sense of incongruity which each song enhanced further. When I learned that the album was written and recorded during an REM tour, it made perfect sense. It fit with my life, too. I was doing very well in many aspects of my life, but there was still sadness and I was getting mixed up in some bad habits and I was on one of those precipices where life could go either way for me and the view from that point of unpredictability was a fucking rush. I think I became addicted to it and I've had problems with destroying things just enough to make things uncertain. New Adventures had a whiff of that, too, to my ears. It's definitely not the album of my time then, but when it comes on, I do think of that day at Pablo's when I first heard it and then inescapable associations with where life was at that point in time.

    All of my music from those days is long gone. I've repurchased some of it. I picked up New Adventures at this weird music kiosk on an interstate overpass mall (y'know, the ones that stretch over the interstate) while we were on our way to Galena for a long weekend. I can't remember if Katie had heard it before then. New Adventures is a very free album for me; I can listen to it regardless of the time or mood. That makes sense to me now that I think upon it. It seems right that an album written and recorded on the road should have an ability to transcend life to sound right no matter where things are at.

    The song Electrolite still breaks my heart when I hear it. Back then, even more, too much to contain at times.
  • edited September 2011
    I just remembered that "Country Feedback" from Out of Time was another strong tune that helped me get over La Veta pass on that first dark trip over it. I still love that tune, even though the lyrics are pretty ridiculous.
  • edited September 2020
    So, there were albums called Reveal and Up...


    I was back living in Chicago now. I still wasn't sure how I ended up there or how I made it out of Denver and Portland. Sometimes it felt like a dream I made up, but there was too much evidence that it wasn't. Somehow I'd convinced a company to hire me and pay me lots of money as a managing accountant. I had been homeless for the first 24 hours before getting my first paycheck. I rode the Blue Line all night, stopping to nap at O'Hare airport for awhile. The next evening, I was headed to a bodega to cash a $2,400 dollar check and went and spent the night at a hotel. Weird how things turn around sometimes.

    Anyways, I was still at this job a year later and hating life and working 100 hours a week (9am - 2am five days a week, 8 hours on Saturday, 6 on Sunday). I was back to old habits. I remember picking up both Up and Reveal. It didn't sound like the REM I knew. There weren't even the faintest remnants of Life's Rich Pageant (my favorite REM album at the time) or anything resembling originality. They sounded like a lot of the music out those days, but groups like AIR were doing it better. But there was something smooth and calming about the tunes on these albums. I don't know. Life sucked back then and these albums kinda sucked, too, as far as REM albums go. I guess I'll always associate these albums with being strung out in a cubicle in a downtown office tower, wondering how the hell I ended up there and how the hell I was gonna get out.
  • edited September 2011
    It's weird... I can't come up with any strong memories for albums like Life's Rich Pageant or Murmur or Dead Letter Office of Fables or that live bootleg album with that awesome version of The End of the World As We Know It. After Green, Life's Rich Pageant was the next album I bought, and after falling in love with it, I picked up everything else I could. It was a whirlwind of REM listening. I hated life back then, but mostly it was because I just didn't know what to do with myself. I was 19 years old, a high school dropout with an okay job, but nothing to brag about, a girlfriend now and then and an okay apartment, but the thing is, I didn't know what the hell I was supposed to be doing with myself. I could've used some guidance. I did, however, listen to a lot of music, which I'll always be grateful for, and I went to bookstores and read even if they were mostly crappy books, but I also developed my imagination, which has been invaluable all my life.

    I listened to a lot of old-school REM during that time. But I can't really set the scene for you. It just happened and that was that.
  • I still can't listen to Monster.
  • edited September 2020
    I see there's an album called "Around the Sun"...


    Cool cover. I haven't heard anything off of it, as far as I know. I think it will be the next REM album I buy. It's been a long time since I heard something new by them. Maybe ten years.

    Maybe it'll earn a post here one day.

    Heh, earn.
  • edited September 2011
    Okay, I think that's it. I could probably come up with more, but I'm exhausted. Besides, it's not like the internet ends tomorrow or anything. At least, I hope not.

    I end, for the time being, listening to, appropriately, New Adventures in Hi-Fi. What a beautiful album. Bittersweet just ended and now it's Be Mine. I love how the songs flow so clunkily into one another and yet sounds so right.

  • Jonah, thanks for writing this. Enjoyed reading it. Always like reading about what other folk are finding in their music; would love to see more of that on here. And you capture well the way certain pieces get tied to places and life experiences. As someone whom R.E.M. totally passed by this makes me want to listen to some of the songs you mention.
  • edited September 2011
    Thanks Jonah, I enjoyed this too. You are an excellent and evocative writer. My memories of R.E.M. are more fragmentary.

    I remember listening to Murmur in college when one of my roommates started playing it, and I remember getting wasted with him and trying to figure out what the hell Stipe was singing about. Two headed cow? WTF?

    I remember driving to Greensboro, NC to see them at the Greensboro Coliseum [edit: turns out it was Winston-Salem] during my first year of grad school (1985-86), when the opening band was this hardcore outfit called The Minutemen. As with most opening bands, they probably had to make do with a sound system that was set up for the headliners, and the sound was awful. I had no idea what I had seen and didn't give them another thought until a few months later, when I read that D. Boon was killed in a car crash. Went back to them many years later and now regret failing to appreciate the opportunity to see a great and hugely influential band in its prime. I remember nothing about R.E.M.'s performance, but I'm sure they were great because they came back to NC a year or two later, to play Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University, and I went again. That time the opener was 10,000 Maniacs, who were supporting the one album of theirs I actually like, before Natalie Merchant turned into one of the most annoying artists on the planet. Seriously, is there a worse cover than her version of Because the Night? I don't think so. Anyway, I do remember R.E.M.'s performance at Duke, and they rocked.

    The last R.E.M. album I can remember getting excited about pre-release was probably Automatic for the People, which was almost 20 years ago. I have a few of the albums since then, but haven't listened hard or found enough reason to go back for more. I did enjoy the live one from a couple of years ago, Live at the Olympia, which I picked up cheap at eMu and provides a great career overview. In fact, I think I'll have to listen to that one again this weekend.
  • I got Automatic for the People at midnight on the release date from the House of Guitars my freshman year of college. It was my birthday, or at least close to it; it was a birthday present. The last REM album I cared about much was Monster, but I cannot for the life of me call up a single tune from it in my head. I think my favorite might be Fables, but I haven't listened to any of it in a long while; most of my favorites (Document, Fables, Murmur, Dead Letter, Pageant) never made the jump from tape/dubbed tape to cd. Anybody else ever here the REM tribute album surprise your pig? I used to like that a lot too.

    Love your writing Jonah. Can't wait to get my hands on one of those books.
  • My wife is a far bigger REM fan than I am, and is the primary reason they are the top listened to act on my page by a significant margin. She's also why we have, I believe, every studio recording of theirs.

    Automatic for the People was my first REM album and I still love it. "Nightswimming" in particular is just beautiful.

    I'm a big fan of Monster.

    Up and Reveal are mostly terrible.

    Accelerate was a return to greatness as far as I'm concerned and that tour was the first time I got to see them live. Opening were The National and Modest Mouse. Good show, even if it was an arena show.

    The most recent album Collapse Into Now was a letdown after Accelerate but it has some good moments.

  • edited September 2011
    I hate to be like this, but I first heard REM as a volunteer DJ at a college radio station in 1981. We were opening the new releases, which were obviously all vinyl back then, and one of us opened an envelope from "Hib-Tone" and inside was one of these:


    I forget who took it back to his/her dorm and played it (I wish I could say it was me), but that person made the decision to "cart it," which meant recording the single onto a tape cartridge (about the size of an 8-track tape, but only 2 tracks, i.e., stereo). The carts were more likely to get played because the rack containing them were directly in front of the DJ's face as he/she talked into the microphone, so if you had a "technical emergency" with one of the turntables, you'd simply reach for a cart, shove it into the cart-deck, and play that instead. So I heard the original version of "Radio Free Europe" on that cart a couple of days later, and I bought my own copy about 2-3 weeks later. I still have it, along with most of their other early releases on vinyl.

    I even met REM in person once, when we interviewed them for the aforementioned radio station. I didn't do much of the question-asking, in fact hardly any, but they were really nice guys. They must have had to do tons of college-radio interviews around that time, which must have been substantially all the same ("How did you guys get started?" "What are your influences?" "Are you actually singing pre-written lyrics, or are you just mumbling whatever pops into your head?"), but they never showed any sign that they were annoyed by it, at least not with us.

    Nevertheless, I stopped being an REM "completist" (another word we used to use back in those days that's almost never used now) fairly early on, when Fables of the Reconstruction came out. I kept buying most of the albums though, just not the singles and other stuff.
  • edited September 2011
    @jonahpwll, I'm not sure whether you've said too much, or haven't said enough. I remember thinking Losing My Religion was so deep. Consider this:

    Consider this
    The hint of the century
    Consider this
    The slip that brought me
    To my knees failed
    What if all these fantasies
    Come flailing around
    Now I've said too much

    Yeah. What if the stuff in my head escapes into the world? It would be an interesting life, as the old Chinese curse says. I think I mentioned on another thread that I don't have a lot of time-place associations with music. This is not to say that e.g. I don't remember anything about concerts I went to, but rather that the "soundtrack of my life" seems to be one of those art film jobs that has no apparent relation to the action. I'm on the beach in the sunshine. Walking in the Rain by the Ronettes swells up as I sit in a chair and sip a Diet Pepsi. It isn't even ironic, just Dada. Thanks for this thread and your recollections.

    @ScissorMan, I remember being blown away by that record. I would have put it on all the carts. This phrase just popped into my head: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Maybe this is a song you should mishear the lyrics to.

    @cafreema, Nightswimming. The lyrics should be in the dictionary in the entry for melancholy. Such great imagery. So much said in a handful of words:

    Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
    The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
    Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
    Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse

    Any Indian movie director worth his salt could get 20 minutes out of that. I love the way the time is ambiguous. Some lines seem to be referring to the time of the photograph, others to the present--or is it the other way around? I definitely agree that nightswimming deserves a quiet night. It deserves a whole bunch of them.
  • @jonahpwll - Great writing there. Sometimes I wonder if I can really tolerate reading about music, but when it's one like that I certainly can.

    I have a strange relationship with R.E.M. They were kind of the first pseudo-underground band that lots of suburban white kids my age were introduced to. The kind of band that made teenagers think they were cool simply because they listened to them instead of the typical mainstream pop spewing over the radio at the time. After all, they were "college rock".

    Regardless, I alternately loved/hated their releases. Every song that convinced me I should totally get into them was followed by one that screamed stay away. Eventually I broke down and picked up Eponymous and started to fall in love for real. I remember that one becoming a staple in my car and Green being a frequent spin in college to show off how retro cool I was...

    Saw them on the Monster tour. Fun show, but it was not nearly as memorable because my sisters and I were not that familiar with the album yet (and even though I enjoyed it, it never got the play time of their earlier material).

    If you're interested, my friend in the gray flannel suit started a series of posts as he made his way through all of their albums. Hopefully he'll get around to finishing it sometime soon.
  • Thanks Jonahpwll - I've always liked REM but must admit to not owning too much of their music - you've made me want to listen to more!
  • This thread convinced me to pick up a used copy of Fables when I was at the cd store today. It was between that and Life's Rich Pageant; I'm glad I picked Fables; not to say it's better, but I have more history with it, and it's been longer since I heard it. So thanks Jonah, and all.
  • I'd have to say that despite my having listened to them from the beginning, I consider Automatic for the People to be their best album. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to Chronic Town and (to a lesser extent) Murmur, but they're not as cohesive or as well-played/produced, and the songs aren't as consistently good.

    I just wanted to say that, I guess... not sure why.
  • Speaking of Automatic For The People, has anyone ever eat at Weaver D's? My stomach is eminently curious...
  • Wrong thread?

    RIP R.E.M.
  • Goodnight, farewell. Man, I loved this band once.
  • Normally I'd say "they'll be back," probably within 3 years, for the inevitable reunion tour and possible reunion album. But these guys, I dunno... they have a history of avoiding the easy/cliched career move, so they might actually be serious about this.

    Anyway, in the near term this should at least help clear the way for Peter Buck to participate in another Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 album/tour, so the news isn't all bad.
  • ScissorMan: I was thinking about that too, and reached a similar conclusion for this particular band. The one thing I could see, though, is a one-off show for a cause they believe strongly in.

  • The one thing I could see, though, is a one-off show for a cause they believe strongly in.

    "The Mike Mills Personal Retirement Fund" Proudly Presents . . .
  • I was thinking more along the lines of "The Campaign to Kick Michele Bachmann Out of Office", but yours works too.

  • Awww, that's too bad they're breaking up.
    First song I ever heard of theirs was "Gardening at Night" on college radio. My middle brother came up to Lawrence (University of Kansas) and we saw them at a real dive. Was a mild fan ever since seeing that show.

    Hahaha, the things you can find on the internet: the setlist of that 1982 show!
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