Talk About The Passion


I’ve only cheated once in my life and I’m not sorry. I was 15 years old, the same age as my oldest daughter. I told all my friends I liked the same music they did in 1985. Motley Crue, Van Halen, Def Leppard, and that ilk filled my cassette case. Sometime in that summer of 26 years ago, a friend of a friend asked me if I wanted to try “other” kinds of music. I was young, impressionable, eager, and curious. I said yes. I was given Murmur, R.E.M.’s 1983 debut album, on vinyl. Kids, vinyl is a record; round, you play it on a record player. Yes, I’m old.

When my parents weren’t paying attention, and my friends were away, I would play it in our living room on my parents stereo. It was completely different than anything I’d heard before. Guitars jangled, drums percussed hard and soft, and the singer alternated between mumbling oddly and singing personal lyrics about hurt, loneliness, caring for others, and wondering about the future. This wasn’t Diamond David Lee Roth screaming about chicks and booze. I continued the affair for years.I went to college with my infidelity until I finally came clean. Those other bands got stale. That popular music gave way to  other artists like R.E.M. Suddenly, it all didn’t seem so sullied and sly. By 1988, I was a college radio DJ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama paying my respects to the deity of the low wattage airwaves.

R.E.M. broke up today. By the time this posts it will officially be yesterday. They met as college students in Athens, Georgia, which is 40 miles from where I grew up. Thirty one years, fifteen albums, a rock and roll hall of fame induction, and more accolades than musical artists probably deserve, my teenage “other band” makes me feel good for knowing them. My personal relationship with R.E.M. turned into something more like a marriage or deep friendship. We had ups and downs. I couldn’t stand their late 80s foray into pop music with songs like Stand, Shiny Happy People and the overrated Losing My Religion. I loved their march into arena rock with the Monster album in 1994. I saw them live three times, 1989, 1991, and 1995. They actually got better each show. Most acts are amazing at the start, and suck at the end. R.E.M. aged like Bordeaux wine in an old French woman’s wine cellar.

My favorite band member, drummer Bill Berry, left the group in the mid 90s after brain surgery. He’s a humble farmboy with a wicked sense of dry humor. I met him twice. He treated me like he knew me and I almost felt like giving him my autograph. After his departure the group lost focus. They didn’t replace Bill and enigmatic singer Michael Stipe got more political and less artistic with his writing. I kind of had a falling out with the band after that and didn’t buy a a CD until 2007 when Accelerate came out. Suddenly guitarist Peter Buck was jangling again. Stipe was actually singing and not preaching. Bassist Mike Mills contributions to the band, so vital in the early years, were visible. The group was playing rock music and playing it well. I rediscovered every thing that I lusted after when I first heard R.E.M. so many years earlier.

For many, R.E.M. was a college radio icon full of integrity that traveled in a beat up green van, asked people to vote, and looked like they hated selling more than 12 records. The truth is R.E.M. cared. They cared more about things that rock bands ever acknowledged. They promoted other acts. They worked behind the scenes to help other artists become famous that wouldn’t have otherwise. R.E.M , especially Michael Stipe, could be frustratingly pious. Their passion was always evident. I said to a  friend who is more a Metallica guy, and never really dug R.E.M. “do you think if Metallica acted as socially conscious as R.E.M., would they have been successful.”, without hesitation he responded, “if every musical group acted the way R.E.M. did, people would elect rock stars for public office and the world would be a better place.” I think R.E.M. created the template that U2 uses for fame and fortune today.

Everything ends. Marriages, affairs, and rock bands. Thirty one years is longer than the first two of those usually last. R.E.M. leaves a legacy of well written songs, amazing musicianship and unbridled passion. That passion is their greatness.

Today’s song is cut four off the Murmur album. It’s the first thing I ever heard from R.E.M. because the person who gave me the vinyl record told me it was the best song. All of the songs on Murmur are good. Every one of them. I just think Talk About The Passion sums up why R.E.M. is one of the most important rock and roll bands ever. Thank you Michael, Peter, Mike, and Bill.

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20 responses to “Talk About The Passion

  1. You were a DJ, huh? I can totally see that :) This was an excellent write on a great band. Makes me sad, but you’re right. There is an inevitable end to all things. Thanks for sharing a great song from a great band. And, now you’re making me wish I still had my record player :(

  2. I’m of the opinion that all good things must come to an end, lest they become a caricature of themselves. I never saw REM fall into that trap, and for that I am glad.

  3. I was introduced to R.E.M. with “Orange Crush,” and I watched the video, endlessly, on MTV.

    When I’m running a marathon, I try to time my playlist to put on “Everybody Hurts” for the 22 mile mark. Once you hit 23 miles, it’s “only a 5k,” and before then is the 20 mile barrier . . . but 22 miles, it’s dreary.

    It’s a sad day — but there was a whole lot of good, fun music paving the way.

  4. yes, lance. i too played them on college radio and saw them in the mid-80′s in a fantastic venue that was long ago razed to put up a parking lot. literally.
    i’m also so, so grateful for michael stipe introducing us to vic chesnutt. so grateful.
    and i’ve always been interested in his relationship with patti smith, and that book of photos is simply wonderful.
    thanks for sharing this.

    • Yeah, I didn’t want to get into the list of smaller named artists that benefited from REM because I wasn’t out to be a music snob know it all with this post. But, you and I know a lot about REM and their friends. They were just a band that wanted you to maybe like them and defintely liek their buddies.

  5. I wish I wrote this.

    I saw them in ’89 in Boston and Knoxville. They were better in Boston. Anti-Army rhetoric does not fly in Tennessee and I was surprised they didn’t know or care.

    My step-mom went to UA. Delta Gamma, like that means anything,

    Consider this Stumbled. Well done.

  6. Sigh….. I am sad. Michael and I have been engaged in a rather licentious, tawdry hetero affair since I was in the 6th grade. I know, it was totally illegal on his part, and I’m not even quite sure he knew about it, but I was so in love. With him. With Mill’s genius, oft-overlooked harmonies (“gonna miss you boy….oy……oy……”) , Buck’s mandolin,…. oh, the soundtrack to every milestone in my life can be written with their lyrics alone. People made fun of me. But I knew better. I knew genius when I saw it. I knew LIFE when I saw it. I will forever be in love. Now, the waiting game begins… a decade, maybe two, until their raucous passion reignites in the form of the come-back album of the century! Yeah…. wishful thinking…..I know.

  7. Lance,

    I had not heard this song. It really touches me. I miss music like this….the bands that told stories with their music. The ones that reminded us of our connection and our responsibilities. You don’t get to hear them too often anymore. Now you make me want to go and get some of REM’s music. I don’t think I’ve listened to it. At least, I don’t remember this song.

    Your post was very informative about the band. It’s makes me sad that they have broken up, but sometimes it’s just time.

    I grew up with Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Moody Blues and Jim Croce. among others. It tended be a wild time, mellowed by substances we never want our kids to touch:~) My kids introduced me to U2 and many other bands. They both have very eclectic tastes in music, which I’ve always appreciated. My youngest daughter regularly gives me CDs of the music she enjoys and always it’s a mix of old and new. She’s a great fan of Bob Dylan.

    Thanks for this post!

    • send your youngest daughter over…my kids aren’t as informed and eclectic with their tastes…yet

      Thanks for the passionate post about a passionate youd didnt even know. It worked.

  8. Not gonna lie, I’m young enough that Green was my intro album, but it send me back to Murmur and all the subsequent wonderful. I haven’t missed a release since the day I bought Green, and I don’t regret a single purchase.

    They are, were? my favorite band. But I think of Peter Buck joining forces with bands like the Decemberists on their latest album, all his jangles shining through, evoking all the beautiful garage noise of those early Atlanta years. Stipe will keep caring. Buck will keep playing and fostering the dreams of other bands, as hopefully so will Mills.

    I’m looking forward to the magic these guys will spread on their own. But I am going to miss REM something fierce.

  9. A very nice tribute to a wonderful, and as you noted, very giving band. I will be forever grateful (for many reasons) that I was in Athens from 1984-1989. Like you, I was a college radio DJ. I played softball on a coed team with Mike Mills, had the opportunity to intern at Jefferson Holt’s (R.E.M.’s former manager) record label and hosted a local music show–once with Peter Buck and Mike Mills at my side as guest DJs. I will always think of them as the guys who wanted to blend in. I remember seeing Peter Buck at many shows–big and small–during that time. He would stand in the back of the club, never seeking attention, always supporting his fellow musicians. Every time I hear R.E.M. I am immediately transported back to Athens, a place I dearly love, and to a time I would relive in a heartbeat.

    Thanks for writing this Lance.

  10. I saw them live at my college with 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant opening. Stipe and Natalie were dating at the time. Poor girl didn’t stand a chance.

    I loved them in college, and then they lost me around Shiny Happy People.

  11. I love REM.
    I love REM.
    They are my teen years. When I was 14 or 15, before they were big, they would play at The Pub in Sewanee. I would sneak off with my best friend and we were the rebellious girls for making the drive to the college town to see this unknown group.
    I’ve seen them in concert several times with other people bit those intimate gatherings in my early teens at The Pub with about 50 people are the best concert memories I have.
    Side-note — The Indigo Girls played there as well. We would sneak away to see them so many times.
    Those shows are mine. :-)
    Thanks for the reminder.

  12. awesome comments everyone…i like what you all wrote better than what I wrote.

    This is what a great band and great music is supposed to do. Make us, feel, make us write, make us wonder.

  13. I love this post (and REM, even though I didn’t know all the very cool stuff about them that you put in here). And I think your friend’s answer about what kind of people made up the band is so great. Gotta go dig out my CDs. (I don’t even have Murmur! Love Talk About The Passion.)

  14. I am not as deeply familiar with REM as many here, but I did start listening to them in about 1989 when I was starting my senior year in high school. It was part of my discovery of what was then called “alternative” in my area – The Smiths and Depeche Mode and the B-52s as well as newer bands I would later think of as being a bit of a Manchester revival. I know REM has little in common with those bands, but it was sort of a branching off of the prevalent pop music/R&B stuff that was played a lot then. I especially remember listening to my cassettes at college and rewinding over and over to Orange Crush and I Remember California. Not sure what that says about me!

  15. I too kept my REM in the shadows along with my Monkees, Broadway shows, Huey Lewis, and Disney records and tapes. Heck, I probably would have bought some B-52s as well if I would have known prior to college.

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