R.E.M. is calling it quits. I don’t blame them – they’ve been at it for a long time, and even lost a member several years ago. I’m happy to know that they’re not going to be amongst the oldies but moldies (cough, The Rolling Stones). At the same time, I feel saddened – like a dear friend decided to move away to a place where I can never visit. I’ll never see them live, and they’ll never produce another album. But instead of mourning, I’m choosing to remember all the memories – and oh, there are so many memories of R.E.M.
My first memory of R.E.M. is from the late 80s. I will admit, my musical tastes were not that wonderful back then. My musical diet consisted of Christian Rock and whatever the top 40 stations played. Even then, I knew subconsciously there must be more. So one day as I’m riding my bike with my headphones on, I hear the song Stand playing on a top 40. My emotions swelled up – it was such a great song! I felt such hope, such joy – all from one song. From that day forward, anytime I heard Stand, I had to blare it as loud as I possibly could! I remember some of my classmates saying the song sucked – my pre-adolescent mind didn’t know what to think. I wanted to fit in, and thus I had to hate the song because my peers hated the song. On the other hand, I freaking LOVED Stand. Looking back, this may very well have been my first experience in liking a song that wasn’t “cool.” I may very well owe my musical tastes today to that one experience.
Fast forward a few years – I was a junior in high school, and a fundamentalist Bible thumping conservative republican. I still listened to top 40 radio and Christian rock, though I was a little more open to other types of music. The song Loosing my Religion was being played everywhere. As a fundamentalist, I disapproved of R.E.M. encouraging people to give up their religion – little did I know the song references a Southern term meaning to lose one’s temper. But my hatred for R.E.M.’s (alleged) anti-christian stance did not stop there. One day as I was sitting in Bible Study discussing sin or something, I popped up by saying “Yeah, that song Shiny Happy People is a good example of how New Age is just old sin because it’s just what the hippies did.” A couple years later, I’m watching TV and a commercial for a radio station comes on. I hear “they put a man on the moon…man on the moon.” My thoughts were, “what liberal junk is R.E.M. moaning about now?” If I ever own a time machine, I’m going back in time and slapping myself silly at each of these moments.
A couple years later, I hold the same beliefs, but I’m less dogmatic. I’m in a pizza parlor. I listened to mostly alternative rock, with a little Christian Rock mixed in. I shunned top 40 music (and I still do). I’m sitting in a pizza parlor with some friends, and the song What’s the Frequency Kenneth comes on. One of my friends starts to sing along, but changes the lyrics a little – lampooning the style change between Automated for the People and Monster. The second line of the song, “I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed,” was replaced with “grunge is dead, now gotta relearn electric guitar-ar.” We all laugh. Maybe you had to be there, but trust me – it was funny.
It’s the year 2000, and I’m working graveyard. There was really nothing to do, and so I kind of slept most of the time – everyone who pulled a graveyard at that job did the same. We all kind of joked about “being in the zone,” meaning we were mostly unconscious, but awake just barely enough to know when something needed our attention – but I digress. I had my CD player and a copy of Up. I’m listening to the song Daysleeper repeatedly. I’m not sure if it was the half-conscious feeling of graveyard, or just the subject matter of the song, but I was in the song. I was living the song. I was saying “Good morning Taipei , good morning Hong Kong!” At 7:00 AM, I’m riding the bus home with a bunch of people going to their day shifts. I kept dozing off. My bed was indeed calling me….gravity.
About a year later, I went back to school. Every finals week, I would make a mixed CD called my “Stress Mix.” There were certain requirements for a stress mix, among them, a different version of It’s the end of the world as we know it. I’m happy I graduated when I did, one more semester, and I don’t know if I could find another version of the song. Looking back, I’m surprised I found as many as I did – as I know I found more than the wikipedia page lists. I think my favorite was a salsa version sung in Spanish.
When I first heard the news that R.E.M. decided to call it quits, I wondered if this is how people felt when the Beatles broke up. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I wasn’t alive at the time, so I couldn’t really compare the two band splits. I have the feeling comparing the two splits is a bit of comparing apples to oranges. The Beatles split due to internal strife (and Yoko Ono). They just couldn’t make it work. R.E.M. lasted a lot longer than the Beatles did, and split because it was time. I wanted to call this article It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine), but I figured a hundred thousand other bloggers had also used the same title. It does, express the way I feel about R.E.M.’s break up – it sucks, it’s (semi) life changing, but I’m ok with it. However, given the fact that this article is more about memories – more about where I am, or where I was, I think this title fits the article better anyways. In each of these memories I write about, I’m standing where I am. I’m being myself. In some cases, I wish I had been a different person, but I was being true to myself nonetheless. There are a lot of bands that can write a decent song, but not all bands can influence their listener’s lives so much. So long R.E.M., and thank you.