September 21, 2011

Reach Out For Me, And Hold Me Tight, Hold That Memory: On R.E.M. Being Important

detail from the album cover of R.E.M.'s Document
Others will no doubt write more more eloquently and more passionately elsewhere about the demise of R.E.M., the band that pretty much defined "college rock," back when that was a term of art. But we didn't feel right letting this day pass without some remarks about the importance, at least to this blog's executive editor, of R.E.M. in the Grand Scheme Of Things. There are countless Important Records, but we all have those "formative" (to borrow a term from Mr. Searles) records, and along with The Cure's Standing On A Beach cassette and The Smiths' Strangeways Here We Come, R.E.M.'s Document stands out as one of those. It was a record that not only opened our ears to new sounds, but that also was a flag jabbed in the bloated gut-flab of classic rock that said to other music fans, "this is who I am." Document was an important parameter that cordoned off our subset of a subset; it situated us -- you and me, because, let's face it... right? -- in a place. Sure, we were skeptical at first of Green, R.E.M.'s first major label release, but we loved it soon enough, and it still sounds like stifling hot early August nights with nothing to do, particularly "You Are The Everything" and "The Wrong Child." And we went to the record store the day Out Of Time was released, during lunch period. And Automatic For The People was so monumentally good, it was one of the first things we agreed on with our roommate college freshman year, and we played the record every night on our four-speakered monster stereo when we'd turn in.

In the very good A/V Club interview with members of Wild Flag last week, Carrie Brownstein offers the most succinct and elegant example of something we've struggled to describe for some time, namely one's changing relationship to music over the course of one's lifetime. Ms. Brownstein said, in part, "The reason [a new band one encounters is] not The Clash is not necessarily because they’re not The Clash, but because I don’t need them as much as I needed Joe Strummer in 1990." We're probably doing a shitty job of explaining this, and of setting up Brownstein's comment to explain how we feel about R.E.M. But what we think is important to note is that no matter how an R.E.M. fan feels about everything that happened after Automatic For The People, that can't dilute the staggering importance of the right records at the right time. Our older friends can and do inevitably point to earlier R.E.M. records, but coming of age with Document, Green, Out Of Time and Automatic For The People as the soundtrack was a pretty fucking fortunate thing to be able to do. Thanks R.E.M.

Go to Bradley's Almanac and grab the recording of R.E.M.'s final area performance, June 13, 2008.

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