I stole "Out of Time" from my dad. I must've had a habit of doing such things, because later, I stole "Under the Table and Dreaming" and like REM, DMB became one of my favorite bands. I imagine my dad bought such albums because he heard a single on the radio and liked it--probably XRT--and decided to experiment. I don't know when I, his daughter, came along and stole the albums. I just know that I did.
With REM, it wasn't so much an album or two (because I, like lots of other teenagers, bought "Automatic for the People" and then "Monster" and passionately loved those albums), but because of a concert. In June 1995, my parents took my sister and I to see REM on the Monster tour. The show was at the Rosemont Horizon, and as you can probably imagine, the sound was terrible. It didn't matter. I was captivated. I didn't know any of the older REM songs, but I wanted to. When Michael Stipe sang "Fall on Me" I decided that after my trig/pre-calc final, I'd go to the mall and buy every REM CD I could get my hands on. Maybe I even did that. I don't know. I do know that I did acquire all the CDs, and I fell headlong into a love affair with REM.
At various points since 1995, in these last sixteen years (which, holy god, has it really been?), I've loved some albums more than others, and have given these different albums as my favorite: Life's Rich Pageant, Murmur, Green, Automatic for the People, Life's Rich Pageant again, Murmur again, Out of Time, Automatic for the People again...and so on. The truth is, I just like REM a whole lot. In my day, I made more than one multi-volume REM "Best of" mix. On CD, obviously. My love for REM clearly considerably pre-dates the mp3 and the iPod. (However, my CD ripping patience has always been a little...haphazard, and so when I discovered that Murmur and Reckoning weren't on my iPod, and that my mp3 copy of Out of Time was, ahem, muddied, well. I bought them, clearly. By my reckoning, that's the third time I've bought Out of Time and the only other album I've bought more times is the Indigo Girls' Swamp Ophelia.)
And people will say REM's later albums weren't that great, but I defy you to say that there aren't four REALLY great songs on Reveal, one of which probably makes my list of ten all-time favorite REM songs. Speaking of:
- Near Wild Heaven, from Out of Time. Isn't it a little weird that one of my favorite songs by REM isn't even sung by Michael Stipe, but by Mike Mills? And to be clear, Michael Stipe is probably my favorite frontman EVER for a rock band. But who cares who sings this song? It's lilting and beautiful and I love the way Mills and Stipe's voices really work together.
- Find the River, from Automatic for the People. Obviously, Everybody Hurts was the song from this album that everyone knows. Everyone remembers the video, with the traffic jam and the captioned thoughts. And that's a fine song, sure. But Find the River never fails to make me FEEL something big, something I'm not sure I can name, but is there all the same. If I'm cheating, and maybe I feel like it right now, Sweetness Follows, from the same album, hits me the same way. They're just simply two of the best quiet beautiful songs REM ever made. Incidentally, I've been listening to REM this morning, as a giant mix, all of their songs together, and the song that just came on? Find the River.
- She Just Wants To, from Reveal. There was a time in my life when I listened to this song over and over and over again on repeat, in my car. Something in that song felt like Michael Stipe was speaking to me, about me. I don't think this period coincided exactly with the release of the album; I think it was later, and I think I was unhappy, and I think I wasn't sure what I wanted or how to get it. I think I wanted to, well, be somewhere.
- You Are the Everything, from Green. One thing that REM never did in a straight-forward way was release love songs. That's not to say that they've never written about love; I think this song is about love, but I think that's my own interpretation, and who can say what Michael Stipe was thinking when he wrote the lyrics? It's not a song about love in the way that I wanted to put it on my wedding mix (in fact, I do not believe there was a song by REM on that mix, unless it was At My Most Beautiful, which is maybe their most lovey love song), but it's a song about love in a way that speaks to me, Ms. Anxiety. "Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing, I'm very scared for this world, I'm very scared for me."
- Strange Currencies, from Monster. I guess this is another one of those not-love love songs.
- Fall on Me, from Life's Rich Pageant. It's unfair to say that Fall on Me was the song that made me love REM, and then not put it in this list. I really can't overestimate how much this song hooked me when I first heard it in concert, and probably one of the reasons that I often say that Life's Rich Pageant is my favorite REM album is because I listened to it so damn much because Fall on Me is on it. Sometimes you can tell that Michael Stipe really loves the song he's singing (clearly most of all with Man on the Moon; if you've seen him in concert, you know that he uses lyrics for every show, but never with Man on the Moon), and I feel like Fall on Me is one of those songs that really benefits from the full weight of his conviction.
- So Central Rain, from Reckoning. I don't love Reckoning, and I never have. But this song, how can you not love it? Michael Stipe is WAILING "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry" and I don't really even know what he's saying he's sorry for, but I like it. I like it, and I believe him.
- Driver 8, from Fables of the Reconstruction. A song about trains. Yep. I wasn't, you know, aware of music in the mid-eighties, when this came out, so I can't tell you if it was big on the radio. Or if a lot of people were listening to it. I don't know. But I know it's catchy as hell, and it's about god-damned trains. Tell me another catchy single about trains.
- We Walk or Laughing or A Perfect Circle, from Murmur. It's taken me a REALLY long time to write this post, because I seriously have no idea which of these songs I like more. I like them all. They sound very different from the later, polished REM. The mix on these old songs is a little different, and Michael Stipe does LESS with his voice than on any other album. All the same, though, these songs are immensely charming, and the fact that I can't choose should hold up as proof that I really do love Murmur, even if it does sound like a completely different band from the one that made Out of Time. (Which really is a masterpiece, by the way.)
- And lastly, Losing My Religion. From the aforementioned masterpiece. Losing My Religion is, of course, a HUGE single. Maybe the hugest of REM's career. It was released twenty years ago, in 1991, that seminal year for rock music, which seems fitting. I've probably seen the video a million times; in my head, I can dance like Michael Stipe in that video, though of course, I cannot. I've played the song a couple dozen times on Rock Band. Still, nothing is diminished. I don't know if it is my abiding affection for REM, and my blazing passion for this song, but I listen to it today, and I don't think it sounds dated at all. I think it sounds as amazing as it did in 1991. I don't quite understand how you could like rock music and NOT like this song, though I imagine it is quite out of fashion for youths to listen to REM. Maybe it's the mandolin. Maybe it's Michael Stipe's voice, which pulses with the conviction of this song. Maybe they knew when they were making it that it was going to be huge, and you can hear that in the song. I don't know. I only know that this song goes with me, wherever I go, including to a desert island. This songs goes on my list of all-time favorite songs, not just on the REM list. This song, man, this song.
Sam says REM will do a reunion tour someday and make buckets of money, and I can see them live again. I'm not so sure. Michael Stipe, even though he's a rock star, is a little different from other rock stars, and I get the sense that money doesn't mean very much to him. Maybe I'll never see REM live again. That would be okay. I've seen them twice (or three times, I can't remember now) and I'll keep listening to them probably forever. I haven't bought their last few albums anyway (which feels embarrassing to say, given my love for them), and I don't know how invested I am in them as a current band. But I am invested in them as a band, in general. I believe(d) in their music, and I don't see that ending. Ever.