Friday, June 20, 2008

Everybody Here Comes from Somewhere

Last night I saw R.E.M. play at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time I’d seen them in concert since the summer of 1999. They played these songs:

Living Well Is The Best Revenge
These Days
What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
Bad Day
Hollow Man
Man-Sized Wreath
Leaving New York
Disturbance At The Heron House
(Don't Go Back To) Rockville
Driver 8
The One I Love
Until The Day Is Done
Let Me In
Horse To Water
Pretty Persuasion
Orange Crush
I'm Gonna DJ

Supernatural Superserious
Losing My Religion
Begin The Begin
Fall On Me
Man On The Moon

It was a great show. Lots of old chestnuts, including three songs from Reckoning, my dark-horse favorite early-period album of theirs, and “Let Me In,” off of 1995’s much-maligned Monster, done up in multiple acoustic guitar and organ (the original is just a ton of melodic feedback). Michael Stipe is a consummate showman. The crowd was pretty good, but you could tell some people were annoyed that they weren’t playing “their hits” (i.e., “Losing My Religion,” which they did play during the encore, thus allowing the two mooks in front of me to leave).

Which kind of leads me to this: To have such a huge fanbase, even if it’s leftover from the mid-90s when they had hit albums Automatic for the People and Out of Time, is bizarre for a band as weird as R.E.M. I mean they are a really fucking weird band: They are dorks. Weird dorks. Mike Mills is a dork, the kind of guy that the mook in front of me probably used to beat up in high school. Michael Stipe is gay — not usually a cheered-for-by-jocks demographic — and sings about summer camp and aluminum tasting like fear. I suppose Peter Buck is relatively normal. But how did this band ever get this big?


Anonymous said...

R.E.M. is a weird phenomenon for sure. I mean Mike Mills was in the marching band in high school-- I'm fairly certain that is the DEFINITION of dork. I'm also fairly certain that 50 percent of that crowd couldn't name a song off of Murmur.... which is fine.... to each his own.

I don't know though, R.E.M. lost me somewhere along the way. It was around the time that Bill Berry left the band... although our relationship had been on the slide for some.

I fell pretty hard for REM. I'm not sure if people who aren't music obsessive can understand what it means to fall ass over teakettle in love with a band. You come across a band at a certain point in your life (like your 19 or something)and it's just like the perfect conjunction of time and space and afterwards you're never the same. And if it happens purely by accident it's even better. Like it was destiny. The first album I bought was Murmur, and it was just an impulse buy... I just like the way the cover looked. Just a total fluke. And then you go home and shut your bedroom door and listen to it. Jesus. Just like falling in love. Falling. That's the feeling. Your stomach in your mouth. Like being at a summer carnival when your 14 and you get off the Scrambler and your head's spinning and you see this girl across the way... see her for the first time... standing in line waiting to order cotton candy... you see her and you just want to vomit because she's the loveliest creature ever to walk on two feet. Pure doe-eyed bliss.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I felt about REM. And this was before they went mega; they were still fairly obscure so it was difficult to even find a photo of what they looked like.... which only made it that much more wonderful. I mean Athens, Georgia? Who the fuck comes from Athens Georgia? How strange and wonderful is that? It was like they came from out of he ether. enough to make you swoon. Shit.

But nothing lasts. They did it longer than most, and then they didn't. Which isn't to say they're not still a great band. They are. They have enough talent and charisma and originality that they could probably sit in a room and bang on pots and pans and something interesting would come out. But it's not magick anymore. I've thought about this a lot. It's something that's more than the sum of its parts. You have it for a while and then you don't. It happens to everyone. It's not something that's really under your control. It's spooky. Uncanny. Like channeling. And no matter how great you are, it leaves you... sooner or later. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" Like Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea is a great book-- the work of a master-- but it doesn't have the weird magick of his early stuff. He couldn't do it anymore. That must have depressed him. Of course they gave the Nobel prize for it, but that was really just a lifetime achievement award. Like when they gave Paul Newman an oscar for The Color of Money. They just realized they had fucked up by not giving him one for the Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke etc.

Anyway, I just couldn't follow them anymore after they lost IT... which probaly has to do with some major defect on my part... Anyway we were doomed from the start-- we had nowhere to go but down. It's like the Fitzgerald story "Winter Dreams." That pretty much says everything there is to say about my relationship with R.E.M.

Sully said...

I don't think they went anywhere. Sometimes just bc you're not obviously at the top of your work game doesn't mean you're life's in the crapper. Personally I loved all the "in between albums" the Lotus album, the Beachball album, the Leaving NY album wasn't my fav, but you know, fuck it. We're all allowed to be human, aren't we?

So do you think the 2 mooks were the same obnoxious guys in front of us in St Louis? Their twins? PS Mooks is a horrible word.
PSS or is it PPS? I'm so jealous!

Anonymous said...

I dig what you're saying Sully. I agree with you that they're still good. I'm just saying that I can't follow them anymore because-- for me personally-- it retroactively detracts from the purity of the original experience. But again, that's just me.

However, I will say that I think they should have changed their name after Berry left.... because they really aren't REM. They're something else. That's totally impractical of course.... but I always admired them because they were impractical... obdurate even.

There are bands-- even great bands-- that can lose a member and continue on under the same banner... The Stones for instance. But there are other bands-- like the Beatles-- that would be completely altered. the Beatles without Ringo aren't the Beatles. Zeppelin realized this when they lost Bonzo.

Bill Berry's eyebrows were a major component of R.E.M.

But hey that's just my totally unsolicited opinion.

Joe said...

Pretty Persuasion is the song Jawbreaker covered and said of it: "It seemed like a bad idea at the time....and it was."

Mike Mills looks like John Denver

Anonymous said...

Meaning it was too good a song to cover??