So Long, R.E.M.

Today, rock and roll said goodbye to R.E.M. Over the past 31 years, these boys from Athens, GA have created numerous albums, quite a few experiments in sound and style, and a unapologetic political stance. But all good things must end.

R.E.M. began with singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry. (Berry would leave the band in the late '90s.) Their first single, "Radio Free Europe," was released in 1981 and was a big hit -- and a seminal influence -- on the college radio scene. Their first full-length album, Murmur, was released in 1983, and they released albums fairly consistently afterwards, up to this year's Collapse Into Now, which would prove to be their final album. While the band had plenty of hit singles, from the weepy "Everybody Hurts" to the goofy "Shiny Happy People" to the deceptively simple "The One I Love" and "Losing My Religion" to "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)" -- the one no one knows the words to but everyone sings anyway -- they also had a remarkable consistency through most of their albums. They also resisted performing just one way, trying everything from heavy electric guitar (Monster) to mandolin and country (Out of Time).

With the band's popularity came both financial success (their contract with Warner Bros. in 1996 was for a reported $80 million) and political activism. The members of R.E.M. made no secret of their politics, from gay rights (Michael Stipe would eventually out himself) to opposition to wars to near-hatred of George W. Bush. This was reflected in their music as well, with songs like "Ignoreland" and "Orange Crush." But while the band was quite political, this never overshadowed their music, and albums like Lifes Rich Pageant, Accelerate and (my favorite) Automatic for the People were great listening experiences.

Back in the 1990s Michael Stipe thought it would be great to play a concert on New Year's Eve 1999, then break up right after they finished playing. The band managed to last another eleven years past that, but the end had come. The music landscape has changed substrantially since thy started in 1980, but R.E.M. produced 15 albums (not to mention compilations and live albums), influencing untold numbers of music fans, musicians, and the world of alternative music.

Jim Lynch

(who knows almost all the words to "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)")

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