1987 at a restaurant in Jackson, Minnesota (USA): I was having pizza with my family at a family restaurant in the town’s small business district. Families of kids my age were playing arcade and entertaining each other while stuffing our faces full with pizza, which includes the restaurant’s special, a three-meat, three cheese pizza, when the song “Stand” started blaring the speakers. The electric organ and the guitar danced hand-in-hand, the sound of three tenors very striking, like the sound of three college students completing a degree in electronics taking a stand and making a statement to the audience. At the end of the song, the faces of impressionism stoked the faces of many including myself, who had hoped that more songs like these would show up soon. This was the sound of R.E.M. and they were six years in infancy when the song was released.
Forward to 1992; their heyday. I was eating pizza with a bunch of friends in high school at a popular pizza restaurant chain in Marshall, just 180 km up the road from Jackson, losing track of the number of songs that were released by R.E.M. and were playing by the radio station by the hour- must have been three or four. But “Losing My Religion” was stuck in my head as I was chomping away at my taco pizza, as the song relates to the search of identity despite hard times, as the singer stated. For a 15-year old, the theme fitted our age of adolescence quite nicely. The 1990s would be when they reached their peak, even though the band’s drummer, Bill Berry had to leave the band because of aneurysm of the brain and was subsequentially replaced. At least two dozen songs were in the Top 40 in the US, half of them became internationally renowned.
Forward to the present, 2011! After 31 years together, the band will release their last album in November, containing the best songs of their career, plus various ones unreleased. And while the band has decided to hang it up, they will not be forgotten for the music people like me grew up with. The decision of disbanding caused a split among the fans who were taken by surprise on one hand but was not unexpected because of their long periods of hiatuses from others. From my point of view, the only way to leave is quietly and with dignity, allowing others to talk about the band and their successes and shortcomings. There was no farewell tour, no ending celebrations, no interviews announcing their break-up, nothing. There was simply a short explanation saying that all things do have an ending and the time was right to call it quits, right when they were in their prime. This is the type of exit that people like- leave quietly and let the music play for itself. And they will definitely leave footprints in the hearts of many and a legacy for those wanting nothing more but intellectual tunes and some food for thought, a theme found in much of R.E.M.’s music. This is something that is missing from today’s music, dubbed as too stupefying, too techno, and too cheesy for the taste of many, like mine.
Regardless of their reason for leaving, the timing was right to move on and leave the music up to those who grew up with them and those who want a better alternative to the mainstream music they are used to. This applies to the younger generations, including that of my daughter’s. 31 years worth of songs that will be heard on the speakers at an Italian restaurant in the city center of a medium size German town by her and her friends. The music will be around for many years to come thanks to their music and how it has shaped society as we know it. R.E.M. will not be forgotten for this!
Link on the band’s history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.E.M.