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.’