Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.M. found their river.

Today was difficult with the big news of the day.

We knew this was coming - like Joy Division's Closer, R.E.M.'s final LP Collapse Into Now (a record suddenly seeing a critical revisit 'round these parts) telegraphed more than people would like to admit.

I've been carrying the R.E.M. torch since I first fell in love with Lifes Rich Pageant on a crappy Walkman in 1986.  They really were my gateway drug into a whole universe of unheard musics, cultures and ideas.  While I don't think anyone will disagree that the soul of the band left with Bill Berry in 1997, the band - as a whole - still really meant a lot in this ultra-disposable, profits-or-bust mentality and musical climate of the day.  Four (three) dudes from the Southern sticks, against the world, doing it their way?  Not only did they do it their way, they showed us how it could be done ethically, without compromise, and with honor to the end.

New Order, for one, certainly could learn a lot by studying R.E.M.'s playbook over history.

I like the finality and the tone of the formal announcement.  No "are they or aren't they" nonsense a la the Police, and the announcement speaks volumes for the respect the band has for their fans and peers.  I'm sad, and while (to me) they've not had a clear knockout tune in years, the fact that this little band from Athens was still there was some small comfort in my world.  On the other hand, I didn't want an R.E.M. playing out the string - if they weren't happy, at the end of the day, if they didn't think they had the motivation or want to keep going, I'm glad they had the sense and honor to know it (and say it).

I will miss the anticipation of "the new R.E.M. record" every few years, even knowing that it probably would never reach the highs of records past.  But I still have 15 albums worth of amazing material (even Reveal has a song or two I don't mind), and the memories of some amazing shows, first listens to new records, and lifelong friendships to keep me company as a result of these guys.

I leave you with this post's namesake, perhaps fitting and ending on a positive note...

Find The River (1992)

Hey now, little speedyhead,
The read on the speedometer says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve
Don't be shy. Your just dessert
Is only just light years to go

Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way
Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

The ocean is the river's goal,
A need to leave the water knows
We're closer now than light years to go

I have got to find the river,
Bergamot and vetiver
Run through my head and fall away
Leave the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

There's no one left to take the lead,
But I tell you and you can see
We're closer now than light years to go
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean

The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rows of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way


  1. I have fond memories of hearing So. Central Rain and Talk About The Passion for the first time in 1984. We were always on the lookout for new good bands to listen to and a friends brother bought the first two proper UK singles. (US bands were far from hip in our worlds at the time)
    We were into The Violent Femmes at the time and he recommended REM as the next big thing. There was a charm and warmth about early REM which I thought they lost as time moved on. I did lose interest (apart from the occasional track) after buying Murmur and Reckoning, but they did evolve into a credible rock band, rather than just stadium rock stompers.
    Interesting note about New Order, as I have always thought they lost the plot after the Low Life album.

  2. Meh, they were just trying to steal the thunder away from GBV, who announced a new album by the classic lineup yesterday as well...

  3. If they'd called it a day after "Around The Sun" it would've been expected, it's a crap album by their standards. The last two however are good, though not great, so it's the timing that's somewhat odd. As for New Order, they never had the plot, it;s still stuck in the grooves of Joy Division records(and I'm British).

  4. My first REM record was 'Document'. A college friend lent it to me and it blew me away. I was obsessed with them for 15 years or more, even marrying a fellow REM fan! But 'Reveal' was terrible, 'Around the Sun was even worse' and while 'Accelerate' rekindled my affections for them somewhat, it was never quite the same.

    I owe them a lot, but I'm glad they are no more. It was becoming a bit undignified.

  5. hmm... i must be the only person that actually likes 'reveal'. but my favorite is still 'lifes rich pageant'.

    = a dying river. this is where we walked. swam. hunted. danced. sang.

    many worlds inclusive.

    thank you r.e.m.