I heard on NPR this morning that R.E.M. broke up. For years, I've been saying "one of these days I'm going to go through that band's catalog." Now seems like the right time.
I never would have called myself a fan of R.E.M. back in the day, because I was too interested in slab-guitar work, first in hair metal and later in the alt-rock explosion of the early Nineties. But R.E.M. songs, when I heard them, always got caught inside my head. They always reminded me of U2 a little bit - not that they sound similar, but they both have very distinctive guitarists, interesting vocalists, a touch of politics, and a certain vibe that they're to be taken seriously. I once called them "the American U2" and I still think it's a fair enough comparison.
Somehow I ended up with a copy of Green in the very late Eighties. This was about the time I discovered the Pixies' Doolittle and began to suspect that, just maybe, the commercial hair metal I'd been listening to (lacking any hip elder siblings) didn't speak to me on an emotional level (it's pretty hard to take songs about "cherry pie" seriously, after all). Anyway, I know I didn't buy Green, but I had it, possibly from a punk-rock girl I was friends with and later dated. I don't even remember listening to it that much, but when I encountered the album again a few months ago I listened to it and found I remembered every single song on it. It's one of those big influences that I needed retrospective context to appreciate.
I certainly admire the way R.E.M. managed their career. If they were a little too artsy or political from time to time, well...that's their right. That sort of thing doesn't bother me at all these days, and I recall with horror making fun of Amnesty International kids in high school (all of whom virtually worshiped the band).
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's a nod of approval and a heartfelt salute to a band that, at the very least, has conducted its art and business with integrity over the last 31 years. Those guys have a lot to be proud of. Wikepedia has a really thorough article about them here, and here is the band's web site with their official announcement.