“The soundtrack for a generation” (The New Yorker). “An indelible footprint on modern music” (Spin). “Songs that won’t be denied” (NME). And “the band who saved american music” (Uncut Magazine). Those are just a few of the many things that have been said about the R.E.M., one of the most influencial alternative rock band of the the past three decades. But as the ‘sleep’ cant’t last forever, and the Rapid Eye Movement stage – from where they took their name – has to stop, then the R.E.M. phase have reached the end of its long and succesful jurney, after 31 years. The band announced the broke up on 21th september through the official site, with these words: “As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening”. And they’ve actually accomplished a lot, considering the over 85 million albums sold during their long and succesful career.
Their start is similar to many other bands: the members met at Georgia University, in Athens. The frontman Michael Stipe and the guitarist Peter Buck discovered they had similar tastes in music, and formed a band with Mike Mills (bassist) and Bill Berry (drummer) in april 1980 to perform at a friend of them’s 20 birthday party, Kathleen O’Brien, under the name of Twisted Kites. During the next summer, they changed their name with the actual, and met their first band manager, Jefferson Holt. They all left the university to concentrate just on music, but their songs invaded the socalled college radios. The next year they published their first lp with an indipendent label, and just a year later signed a contract with the I.R.S., gaining good critics from the famous magazine NME, and their album Murmur was even considered by Rolling Stone Magazine as the best album of the year 1983, before the notorious Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Their career continued to grow, until 1991, when they defenitely achieved success all over the world and sold 15 million copies of the album Out Of Time, trained by one of their most famous song, Loosing my religion.
After just a year and a half, they came out with an other album, Automatic For The People, an acoustic sound based, wich sold 18 millions copies. Then in 1994 they released a totall different album, Monster, which was dedicated to two friends of them recently gone, the Nirvana frontman Kurt Kobain and the young actor River Phoenix. Their succes had become global, but in 1997 happened two important episodes: they entered the R&R Hall of Fame, and the drummers Bill Burry left the band after an aneurysm. But the rest of the members continued on their way, and wrote part of the soundrack for movies like Vanillla Sky an Man on The Moon.
With their refined and distinctive sound, the happy mixture between Buck’s poetical and arpeggiated guitar and Stipe’s “wailing, keening, arching vocal figures” singing style (as dscribed by their biographer David Buckley), the R.E.M. have always ensured to public a really good, original and high quality music, which has led them always on the top until the end. But that time is over. As Michael Stipe himslef declared on their official site “this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way. A wise man once said: ‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave’. We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it”. As a farewell gift to their several fans, on 15th November they’ll release a Greatest Hits double album, “Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage”, with their major successes from 1982 to 2011 with three bonus new tracks. Stipe & Co. might won’t come over with nothing more than this, but what really matters is that songs like Loosing My Religion, Everybody Hurts, Shiny Happy People, Imitation Of Life, The Great Beyond, Bad Day, Leaving New York and the recent Uberlin have been played and sang all over the world, and have given a great contribution to contemporary music and to the development of alternative rock.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
- Before Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Stipe tried to take him out of his depression by preparing a music project with him (as he confessed in a commemoring video). Kurt was a great fan of R.E.M., up to tell Rolling Stone in a 1994 interview: “I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music”. The R.E.M. song Let me In, which refers to Cobain without mentioning him, is played with one of his guitar, a Fender Jag-Stang, given to Peter Buck and Michael Stipe from his widow Courtney Love.
- Great bands such as Oasis and Blur started theyr career as R.E.M. supporting bands
- In 1994 with questions still swirling about his sexuality, Stipe described himself as “an equal opportunity lech,” and said he did not define himself as gay, straight, or bisexual, but that he was attracted to, and had relationships with, both men and women. Stipe described himself as a “queer artist” during an interview with Time in 2001 and revealed that he had been in a relationship with “an amazing man” for three years at that point.
- In 2003 Bono said about Stipe “That voice. It’s an extraordinary voice”.
- In 2004 they participated with other famous musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and the Pearl Jam to a campaign against George Bush, during the presidential elections.
- Stipe is noted and occasionally parodied for the “mumbling” style of his early career, as well as his social and political activism. He was in charge of the band’s visual image, often selecting album artwork and directing many of the band’s music videos. Stipe’s work extends outside of the music industry indeed: he runs his own film production companies, C-00 and Single Cell Pictures.
- The song Everybody Hurts from the 1992 album Automatic For The People, probably their best song ever, have had many covers from artist such as Paul Anka, Patti Smith, Annie Lennox, Alicia keys, Joe Cocker, The Corrs and many others. As a matter of fact, in 2010 the song has been chosen by Simon Cowell (asked by first UK minister Gordon Brown) as a charity single to help Haiti population after the terrible hearthquake. The single was called “Helping Haiti”, from which R.E.M. agreed to waive all royalties. The song was released on and was performed by 21 artists, in order of appearance: Leona Lewis, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Cheryl Cole, Mika, Michael Bublé, Joe McElderry, Miley Cyrus, James Blunt, Gary Barlow (Take That), Mark Owen (Take That), Jon Bon Jovi, James Morrison, Alexandra Burke, Jason Orange (Take That), Susan Boyle, JLS, Shane Filan (Westlife), Mark Feehily (Westlife), Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Kian Egan, Nicky Byrne (Westlife).