Wednesday, September 28, 2011

R.E.M.'s fall did not fall on me

R.E.M. broke up last week, and I must admit I wasn't that dismayed by the news. Don't get me wrong—I do like much of the music produced by those guys from Athens, Ga.; I owned all of their albums up through 2001's ho-hum Reveal; I saw them in concert back in the late '90s at what I recall was a good show. However, if I'm being brutally frank, to my ears their best days had passed them by.

That's not a criticism of them staying together as long as they did; it's merely an indication of my personal connection to their music, and how what I considered their finest worksongs came way back in the '80s, and although I grant their '90s output showed noteworthy artistic growth, the last album of theirs that I liked was 1999's Up (and that was far from a favorite). For me, they'd stopped being terribly musically relevant as a producer of new material over a decade ago, and while that did not render their older catalog any less enjoyable, it did put them out to pasture (so to speak) a while ago.

Again, that's just me; I am not dismissing those who still enjoyed their output in the 21st century.

31 years is a long time for a rock band to be together, and almost every band that can possibly last such a term (in one incarnation or another) invariably turns into a nostalgia act where they trot out their classics. Further, I'd argue that even amongst bands who do keep putting out new albums well into a third, fourth, fifth decade and their fans keep buying them, that among those fans their favorites are never anything past the second decade. It's not that the hardcore fans won't like the new stuff, but it's not going to have the same appeal as the earlier material—not necessarily the really early stuff, but whatever heyday came sometime in decade one or possibly even two.

It's too hackneyed to quote "My Generation" about the mythology of rock and dying before one gets old, but there does come a point when it's not worth lamenting that a band who has had such a phenomenal run decides they're tired of trotting out the same ol' gems in concert and don't have the same magic in the studio. I understand the sense of loss, but at some point it's the parents just staying together for the kids, and the kids have grown.

It's not sadness about losing something still as great as it used to be, but sadness over recalling that greatness.

Fans of Peter Buck's arpeggio stylings on the twelve string will undoubtedly hear some of that on future Robyn Hitchcock albums, so there's that.

And I pray that neither Michael or Mike ever ends up the judge on some reality competition show. Don't sully our marvelous remembrances of the music (whichever part of their career one considers the best) with dragging the reputation through that.


  1. I thought REM broke up a decade ago. I quit paying attention after "I Am Superman."

  2. And that's not even their song! ("Superman" is a cover of an obscure 1969 b-side by the Clique.) Boy, Marvin, you really didn't miss them.


So, what do you think?