When the album Murmur came out in 1983, I remember sitting on our suburban Philadelphia patio in
late summer. I’d just graduated from high school and a guy I had a terrible crush on had come to take me to a movie he thought sounded cool, called Road Warrior. We were sitting outside having Cokes beforehand and he was holding forth on the various bands he liked. I was desperately trying to appear cool, although I was anything but. I distinctly remember him saying “You know what I don’t like? I don’t like REM.” And I immediately blurted out “Me neither!”
The fact that I’d never even heard of REM, nor had I the faintest idea about the kind of music they played, mattered not one bit at the time.
REM would go on to release a total of 15 albums, and they would sell some 25 million records. And despite a career that spanned three decades, every music lover I know, no matter their age, regards REM as “their college band”. By the time I entered college as a freshman, I had purchased Murmur in both LP and cassette format and knew every mumbled phrase that came out of Michael Stipe’s mouth.
Yesterday when the band announced that they’d formally – and amicably – split up, the first thing that popped into my head was that for a lot of fans, drummer Bill Berry’s departure in 1997 had signaled same back then. The next thing that popped into my head was not one of loss, but of the colossal impact the band had upon music. As someone who owns all 15 of those albums, I can honestly say that they’re my all time favorite American band ever, ever. I also own several REM tour videos (on VHS) along with a few books about Athens, GA – unsuspecting hotbed of cool music. This is surely the most important band to come out of the US after 1980, and most music today owes them something. There would be no alternative – no grunge – were it not for REM. That’s just for starters.
When “The One I Love” became a massive hit, it seemed like the rest of the world was just beginning to catch on to what we’d all known for years. I even grew bored with REM at that point, thinking they were “sellouts” for going so “mainstream”. (Why I was so busy tossing words like “sellout” and “mainstream” around as I strolled daily to work in a sober flannel skirt, silk blouse and flats on my way to a corporate job in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center is beyond me). But one of the most spectacular things about REM is the fact that their albums are each products of evolution and reinvention. By the time Out of Time arrived I was back on the bandwagon and rarely strayed after that. REM is, and will always be, a stupendous musical force.
Now I’d like to continue on with the week’s discussion of brand new fall TV. Because last night I watched the premiere of Revenge. Which is a big, dumb soapy mess of a show all about a pretty young thing who returns to the Hamptons on Long Island to exact revenge upon the people who mysteriously ruined her childhood. This one deals with the very rich and the very careless things they do that inadvertently get people killed. Plus there appears to be a subplot about “locals” who make a living off of – and resent – the reigning summer folk. I’ve no idea if this show will last and really cannot imagine it will, which is too bad because it has some great actors (Madeleine Stowe, Henry Czerny). It would like to be Desperate Housewives but it has nowhere near the smirk, smarm, or camp of that show. The dialogue is terrible and there are far too many raised eyebrows and pregnant pauses. Still, like a lot of these newbies maybe it’ll smooth out a bit – although I’m not optimistic. For now, let’s call it a super clunky marginally guilty pleasure. Pretty soon, I suspect they’ll call it cancelled.
1) Big Bang Theory
2) Charlie’s Angels
3) Grey’s Anatomy
4) The Office
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