Donnelly: REM Walks Away Like the Wasted Guy Who Passed Out on the Living Room Floor

REM announced a few days ago that it was calling it quits after 31 years. 

"A wise man once said–‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave,’" wrote singer Michael Stipe in the band’s official statement.  "We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it."

I understand the sentiment, but by Stipe’s rationale, REM is the wasted guy who spilled his drink thrice, knocked over a plant, and is now drooling on himself half passed out on the living room floor. 

He’s already raided your Doritos stash and taken a few chunks out of your Velveeta with his claws.  You don’t really know him because a friend invited him to tag along, and you don’t want to go to bed with this half stranger in your house. 

Stipe’s classy move would have been better executed after 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, an album that, though not my favorite, is certainly solid.  If they had just stopped there, no one would have had to listen to Around the Sun.

Bassist Mike Mills issued a similarly upbeat statement to quell any doubts about the band’s motives:

"We have always been a band in the truest sense of the word. Brothers who truly love, and respect, each other. We feel kind of like pioneers in this–there’s no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We’ve made this decision together, amicably and with each other’s best interests at heart. The time just feels right."

The announcement triggered deep reflection by us music types who wondered just where the iconic Georgia band belongs in the grand scheme of things.

I won’t pretend that I was ever a hardcore REM fan, but that’s not to say they weren’t influential in my music appreciation evolution.

I think the first REM song I remember hearing is Losing My Religion, probably on MTV back when MTV was kickass. A skinny, sickly looking dude was whining and wearing a funny little hat. But the song was catchy with the little mandolin lead line, and Michael Stipe’s singing was emotional in a way that a lot of the other late ‘80s/early ‘90s bands were not.

The next album, 1992’s Automatic for the People, is the one I really latched onto. It contained songs like Everybody Hurts, Nightswimming, Drive, Man on the Moon, and The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight – for me, REM at its best…

Make no mistake; these guys were/are heavy hitters, at one time signing the richest recording contract in history at $80M. 

And it seems they’re stepping away on their own terms according to the statement released on the band’s website:

I never saw them live, which is a major musical regret of mine.  But from those I’ve spoken with who were lucky enough to catch them several times over the years, the one thing they all said was how great the band’s overall balance and sound was, particularly guitarist Peter Buck‘s tones.  Nothing fancy, nothing particularly odd, just really tasteful, thick tones.

I think the actual quote was, "Peter Buck is a tone god!" 

So, the time just feels right for REM, I guess.  Thirty one years is a long time to do anything, even something you love doing.  

In the aftermath, I do have a few questions though:

1.       Why do bands announce stuff like this? 

Can’t they just stop playing, stop releasing albums, and then in 10 years when they get the urge, put out more material and tour again?  I mean, there will be a reunion tour, right? 

2.       Does this mean I will hear Shiny Happy People more, or less? 

Please say ‘less.’
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12 Responses to Donnelly: REM Walks Away Like the Wasted Guy Who Passed Out on the Living Room Floor

  1. Super Dave says:

    Why Not
    Lots of people announce their retirements.

    Plus I understand why they want to go out now. They had a sound we liked and as bands age they lose the ability to keep giving that sound. For starters look at ZZ Top. Their singing has gone down hill as does a lot of singers when they hit 55 and older. So REM is saying more or less we don’t want to tour and then have all you critics saying we can’t cut it anymore.

    Enjoy your retirement REM.

  2. PB says:

    They Announce It
    Out of a need of self-importance and to feed their massive egos. Similar to our own Craig Glazer posting how many squares he used to wipe his ass after a night of carousing.

    As for REM, I lost all interest in them over the last half of their existence and most of it post their IRS Records (Chronic Town EP thru Lifes Rich Pageant) output, but I will forever acknowledge their importance as THE major influence on early 80s college radio/alternative music and for that, they should be commended. Do agree for the most part with Matt’s assessment, their official end probably came 15 years too late.

  3. Ross says:

    By the way, it’s R.E.M.
    Don’t forget the periods.

    One of my favorite bands of all time. For my taste – everything through Automatic for the People was great. After that, there were definitely some good songs and some decent enough albums. Even though they passed their prime a while ago, they never put out anything that was absolute crap (in my opinion).

    I look forward to the reunion tour. They really are a great live band. Wish I would have seen the Document tour at Memorial – or even their fabled Hoch Auditorium show prior to the release of Reckoning.

  4. legendaryhog says:

    No mention of Monster? I mean….that album was, well, Monster!

    Saw REM several times…were fucking awesome. At a show in Austin they individually dedicated each song as they played it to a band or singer that “opened” (read played earlier) the festival they were headlining… I’m mean, how fucking cool would that be, to be the semi-national that played at 11:30am, and at 11:00pm Stipe is yelling, and “this one goes out to the one I love, goes out to _______!” (insert band you’ve never heard of). 50,000 people go insane

  5. Hearne Christopher says:

    Our own? You guys claiming him now?

  6. MDLQ says:

    a real band
    C’mon……give it up for……………..

    THE WHO!

  7. Mysterious J says:

    Here’s the deal:
    The facts that:

    A) Losing My Religion was the FIRST song by REM you ever heard


    B) You think MTV was “kickass” in 1991

    means your opinion about music is not something I care about.

  8. Matt says:

    Hey Mysterious J

  9. Brandon Leftridge says:

    Matt was being polite.

    A) So? We weren’t all old enough to be getting a handy the first time we heard “Radio Free Europe.” Call it ‘victim of circumstance’ if you must, but we can’t control when we’re born, Mysterious J.

    B) MTV WAS kickass in 1991. Are you fucking kidding? Early Pearl Jam, early Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Janes Addiction, Guns N Roses? LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’? Seal’s ‘Crazy’? Seriously? Rethink that, Mysterious J. Golden era, my friend.

  10. Hearne says:

    Forgive me everybody but…
    I’m about to shake things up a little editing-wise

  11. Hearne Christopher says:

    Hope you like it

  12. RickM says:

    Couple points
    It’s true that most band don’t make a big deal of announcing their retirement. The last major one I can think of was White Stripes earlier this year. Maybe that’s because with most groups the general public has moved on so far that an actual announcement seems quaint. R.E.M. had enough of a residual following to make this news.

    This is a week-old story. Why dredge it up now?

    Monster was a horrible album, a nadir in their career.

    Bring on the lavish box sets containing unreleased songs, alternate versions and live tracks, complete with the obligatory “making of…” DVD. They’ve done this before to a certain extent, but now the floodgates should really open. Same as if Neil Young announced he’s hanging it up. No doubt both have a ton of material in the vault.

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