I figured it was necessary to dust off my criticism skills to review the latest R.E.M. release, Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions.
Fact #1 is that it is not the complete sessions. For the 1991 show, there were alternate takes for both ‘Disturbance at the Heron House’ as well as ‘World Leader Pretend’ were recorded as well as several covers: Tusk (Instrumental), Smiling Faces Sometimes, Spooky and ‘But It’s Alright’. In this day and age, it’s unfortunate that covers are often bypassed due to copyright issues. The 2001 show has several alternate takes as well as skipping ‘The Great Beyond’ and ‘La Bamba’.
Fact #2 is that the show does not feature much of the between song banter that some fans might have been familiar with from the shows that were broadcast on TV. Now, I do understand that the focus of the show is to be broadcast and as such it would be virtually impossible to include every bit of commentary due to how the show was tape. I also believe that the inclusion of some of the banter might have made it difficult to include on either LP or digital format, however, it would have been nice to include this as part of the digital download.
Minus these minor criticisms, the shows are still a reminder of the brilliance of the band. From the hard core fan perspective, this might not be the album that everyone is pining for. In fact, there are probably a host of complaints from fans who see these releases as an afterthought, hoping for the inevitable “Boxed Set” that promises in their dreams to be something more worthy than anything that will get put out. The problem is that fans hope big and while over a 30 year stretch there will definitely be some gems, I do not hold out the belief that it is going to be some life-changing event.
The band had chosen to go in a direction that they had not often gone before. The band had toured incessantly after every album, and a fairly new record deal still did not sway their belief that it was necessary to do so. During 1991, the band had embarked on a short promotional tour in support of ‘Out of Time’ and made the decision to perform intimate acoustic shows at a handful of locations in both the United States and Europe. In a time that the M in MTV still meant music, the station had launched the Unplugged series, which focused on artists performing their canon of work in an acoustic setting and thus the match was made in heaven.
You could make the argument that the Unplugged performance from this era holds up better than some of the tracks on ‘Out of Time’ or at the very least a perfect compliment to the album. There is something very comforting about them, without trying the Mumford & Sons formula to make pop songs but rather slow down the tempo as each word of Michael Stipe’s crooning is made visible for the listener to ponder and digest.
There are obvious songs that work better in the Unplugged format, such as ‘Radio Song’, without KRS-One shouting from the rafters. It also features a couple of songs that would have fit in nicely on Out of Time: ‘Fretless’, a track that ended up on Wim Wenders’ wonderful movie “Until the End of the World” as well as the Troggs cover ‘Love Is All Around Me’, featuring Mike Mills on lead vocals.
For me, the album offers something much more organic. After spending almost an entire year on the road for the Green Tour, playing pop songs we see a band that appears more comfortable playing on your front porch (something that they actually did for the Timepiece promo). Even though the band had begun to gain popularity with their most recent hit, ‘Losing My Religion’, the band did not focus their efforts on the bands singles up to this period. I think that this is important as it offers a clearer picture of what this band had been up to this poin. They focused on the psyche, leading off with one of the saddest tracks, ‘Half A World Away’, give life to the forgotten ‘Endgame’ and offer plenty of album tracks in-between with stellar performances of ‘Disturbance at the Heron House’ and
While my own fandom began before Out of Time, it marked a heightened fandom for me and thus the first half of the album is a reminder of that time. Unplugged was not necessarily my “Go To” show, rather the Bingo Hand Job shows or the March 22, 1991 performance at the Shocking Club in Milan, Italy.
The second half of the album, their Unplugged performance from 2001 see both R.E.M. and MTV at their decline. I remember the difficulty at the time to even watch the Unplugged performance on television as MTV began to focus more on reality tv programs and spending less time on music.
The setlists are completely different save the inclusion of Losing My Religion, a staple and obvious acoustic gem, but mostly songs from their recent release, ‘Reveal’.
The biggest complaint, in my eyes about Reveal over the years was that it was overproduced, sounding more like gentle dinner music rather than an R.E.M. album. Bright and sunny, the album has often received mixed reviews from critics although at the time it seemed to get some stellar reviews. Over time, I have come to both appreciate as well as loathe the album. If Out of Time was a summer album for Athens, Reveal feels like a summer album for Los Angeles.
However, many of the songs stripped down from how they appeared on ‘Reveal’ added a more wholesome nature to the songs. ‘Beat a Drum’ is an obvious choice as a favorite in my eyes as is Disappear, which is probably underrated in the R.E.M. canon of music.
What is missing, however, is the drumming from a certain Georgian hay farmer by the name of Bill Berry. I missed the bongo’s from the opening album which provided an added charm and maybe it is just me but the second half doesn’t have the same stripped down feel as the first performance.
But before you say, I am down on it, there are several stellar tracks from this performance of some of their older tracks. ‘The One I Love’ feels re-imagined as a somber classic. ‘Cuyahoga’, I have to say was an unexpected surprise as I cannot remember them playing this song acoustic prior to this performance.
The best performance had more of a personal meaning to me and that was the inclusion of ‘So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry). After a listen or two, my son started repeating the chorus “I’m Sorry” which for a two year old is not a bad phrase for them to repeat, especially when there are so many he says “No dada no!” So the fact that Michael Stipe can inspire my son to apologize is a good thing in my book.
Overall, I am more taken by the music on the album than I truly expected. It is true that I might be getting more mellow in age but I think that overall, the continuity of both of these albums works very well together and I didn’t even have to purchase it on vinyl!!!
Slightly delayed but never too late. I was not able to publish this on time due to life getting in the way a little bit. If the last podcast featured the old, this podcast featured much more of the new.
Download Podcast #6
1 Feeling Gravitys Pull 10/2/1985, Zeche Bochum, Germany
From the classic Rockpalast video that most fans have probably watched on Youtube, and the first song that I ever heard of the band. I still remember thinking back at the opening few chords and how unique they sounded to anything else I was listening to at the time.
2 The Wake-Up Bomb – 1/13/2001, Rock In Rio, Rio De Janiero, Brazil
3 Get Up - Green Demos - 1998
At times I appreciate these because from my ears it sounds as if there are moments that are completely gibberish.
4 The Apologist – 6/25/1999, Glastonbury Festival, Glastonbury, England
5 The Eagle Song – Mike Mills, Live 2002
I cannot say that I appreciate this song and it might also answer some of the questions as to the obvious choice of who would come out with a solo effort after the band broke up. The music is not bad but the lyrics are very cliché, almost as if Mr. Mills had lifted it directly from my livejournal blog.
6 Walk Unafraid – Alternate Up Mix
I have to say that the band made the right decision by choosing the version on the album versus this one. I have to say that it is interesting but
7 Imitation Of Life2001/10/22, Groundwork, Seattle, WA
8 Final Straw2003/8/31, Adams Center, Missoula, MT
9 Garage Rock Reveal Demos, 2000
Sounds to me like the band had channeled Spaceman 3 with this demo from Reveal. I like the direction that they went with this and it's one of those tracks that I wished that they pursued further.
10 So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry) – 6/8/2001, Museum of TV & Radio
One of those songs in the R.E.M. canon that sounds beautiful however they perform it.
11 I've Been High 5/18/2001, New York, NY
12 Spooky 4/3/1991 - KCRW Studios, Santa Monica, CA
This happens to be one of my favorite shows on the ‘Out of Time’ promo tour. The band seemed relaxed and dug deep in the archives for some fairly odd cover songs. It’s best to get a copy of the show with all the discussion vs. the unofficial bootleg versions which stripped the discussion completely.
13 Munich – 3/26/2008 – BBC Radio One
R.E.M. covering the Editors. I particularly enjoy this version, especially because I believe it was the only time the band covered this song.
14 Around The Sun (early version)
Say what you want about Around the Sun, but there are a few songs on the album that I appreciate and this happens to be one of them. This version is slightly extended from the version that appears on the album
There are some holes in the comments below maybe from laziness or lack of things TO say. At the same time this is one of my favorites I have put together.
Download Podcast #5
1) Echoes Myron – Minus 5, Butcher Covered
After putting this together, the setlist felt like something that Robert Pollard, from Guided By Voices would enjoy. Guided By Voices has been a band that I have been interested in for the past couple years, although keeping up with all their albums, as well as Robert Pollard’s solo records could be a task. I would imagine that Pollard and Peter Buck could release an album a week if it was up to them. This song is a cover of a Guided by Voices track
2) Meeting – Tanzplagen – Lost Single
Believe it or not, ‘Tanzplagen’ was the first R.E.M.-related CD that I ever bought, picking it up at the Flipside records. At the time, I had most of their collection on tape, so CD allowed me to purchase those items which were outside my listening capabilities at the time.
3) Different Girl - Demo
4) That Beat – 11/6/1981, Friday’s, Greensboro, NC
Out of all their unreleased tracks, it is a shame ‘That Beat’ never received an official release. It’s hard to think about the song appearing on any album since the albums songs in those early days are so ingrained in my psyche but I could have seen it as a B-Side quite easily.
5) Camera – 6/27/1984, Seattle, WA
6) Good Advices – 10/28/1985 – Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
One of my favorites off of Fables, and a song that was not a regularly played.
7) Time After Time (Annelise) – 11/9/1985, Beacon Theatre, New York, NY
The song that Pavement never cared for. An acoustic performance at the Beacon.
8) Jackson – 3/15/1991, Borderline Club, London, UK
9) Dallas – 3/15/1991, Borderline Club, London, UK
10) (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville – 11/24/1981, Merlins, Madison, WI
Still love it when in the earlier days the performance was sped up.
11) Romance – Murmur Demos
12) September Sang – August 3, 1982, I & I Club, Athens, GA
The band was pretty much in experimental mode for much of the year and every now and then they would pop up with something that they would be working on and the song would be scrapped pretty quickly.
13) There She Goes Again – 10/4/1980, Tyrones, Athens, GA
The early versions of this song were much more vicious in nature than the version that ended up on Dead Letter Office.
14) Motorcycle Hero 9/15/89, Great Woods Amphitheatre, Mansfield, MA
15) Harpers – 10/21/1989, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountainview, CA
By request. This is a pretty nice recording by the JEMS folks, I believe. The original was released by Hugo Largo, which just so happened to have Michael Stipe produce their debut album, Drum, and also have songwriting credits for this particular song. The original is a standout with Mimi Goese on lyrics. You have to admit that there is something that makes these Green shows so unique was some of the songs that they would end the show with, including such rarities as Syd Barrett’s ‘Dark Globe’ or ‘Afterhours’ by the Velvet Underground.
16) Betterman, 10/23/2001, Crocodile Café, Seattle, WA
The days of doing smaller shows became all the more rarer over the years but they did surprise back in 2001 with this show at the Crocodile Café. With Eddie Vedder in the audience and performing with the band, Stipe decided to honor Pearl Jam with a rendition that he compared to hearing him sing in the shower.
17) Government Center – 2/14/84, Hindu Love Gods, 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA
This Modern Lovers track is from a Hindu Love Gods performance with Berry, Buck, Mills and Bryan Cook on lead vocals, one of my favorite tunes from this show.
18) Paint It Black 10/2/85, Zeche Bochum, Germany
Classic in my eyes. The video is awesome as Stipe believes that the show is over only for the band to launch into ‘Paint it Black’ while he was finishing up ‘We Walk’, crooning from a perch in the audience.
19) Permanent Vacation – 1/22/1982, Friday’s, Greensboro, NC
Download Podcast #4
1) The Lifting – Now It’s Overhead Mix, 2002 r.e.m.IX
I have always been a big fan of remixes, or at least the concept of them. Sure there will be bad ones from time to time but over the years it was something that R.E.M. genuinely embraced from 808 State Remix of King of Comedy, ‘It Happened Today’ remix project which allowed for fans to download individual tracks from the song and of course the r.e.m.IX project for Reveal which the band gave to several individuals to see what they could accomplish. This just happened to be one of my favorite tracks from that project.
2) These Days – 9/30/2003, Air Canada Center, Toronto
There is something very timeless about this track althought I have to admit to believing very early on that Stipe was singing “I’m not eating off off you” instead of “I’m not feeding off you”.
3) Wolves, Lower – October 1981, Chronic Town Demo, Drive-In Studio, Winston-Salem, NC
4) Shaking Through – Murmur Demos
I remember getting this awhile ago and getting some correspondence from Mark Bettis who had gone through the tracks and writing from fairly detailed differences between the tracks on the Murmur Demos collection and what appeared on Murmur. You have to admit, however, that the band took a fairly straightforward track, one that they had been performing since, at least 1981.
5) Untitled Instrumental #2 – Green
Sometimes you can listen to an instrumental and think nothing of it. Other times, you realize how easy it was for a band like R.E.M. to write a fairly catchy pop song and for it to end up in the garbage. Can you imagine just how many other ditties like this are out there?
6) Jesus/New Test Leper - 8/31/1999 – Chastain Amphitheatre, Atlanta, GA
7) Low Desert – 8/11/1999 Irvine, CA
I have been trying to embrace New Adventures in Hi Fi, and don’t get me wrong, I do like this album but when I compare it to their body of work, it does not make it to the top half of the list. This is probably opposite to many I talk with, in fact I would prefer both Monster and Up, the predecessor and successor albums much higher.
8) World Leader Pretend 6/9/1989 – Saga Rockteater, Copenhagen, Denmark
Sometimes the audience bootlegs from these shows are better than the soundboards because you can hear the fans singing along during parts. This might not be the best example, but an example nonetheless.
9) Try Not To Breathe – 7/30/1995 – Milton Keynes, UK
Looking back at some of the treatments of Automatic songs, one has to question how successful they were performed in a “Monster”-like fashion.
10) Walk Unafraid – 9/5/1999 Blockbuster-Sony Music Center, Camden, NJ
I have to say that I always liked the intro to this.
11) Summertime/Born to Run – Saga Rockteater, Copenhagen, Denmark
I wonder if Stipe just changed the script halfway through and went off on his own. No matter, it’s still a great moment.
12) Strange – 11/6/98 Orpheum, Vienna, Austria
The band took this classic Wire song and made it their own and in the process pushed a couple of fans to in Wire’s direction.
13) Does Your Mother Know – 7/15/1984, Salty Dog Saloon, Buffalo, NY
14) Tusk – 7/15/1984, Salty Dog Saloon, Buffalo, NY
Listening to some fans comment about the lack of copies of the recent R.E.M. Unplugged reaching their destination, Chuck Eaton had complained that only 2 copies made it to Buffalo and after listening to these two tracks, you have to wonder if the distributors meant for the two copies to go to the fans that made it up onto the stage on this particular night.
15) I’m Gonna DJ - 6/3/2005, Rock AM Ring, Germany
This is one of those tracks that benefited from plenty of live performances during the Around the Sun tour.
Happy Easter Everyone.
Download Podcast #3
1) Stipe Introduction – 9/20/86, Fairpark Bandshell, Dallas, TX
As the venues got larger, the pushing up front would sometimes get pretty bad and it seemed the appropriate introduction for this show.
2) What’s the Frequency Kenneth – 7/4/99, Werchter Festival, Werchter, Belgium
One of my favorite memories was seeing the ‘What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?’ video for the first time and when Stipe had the big reveal when he had shaved his head.
3) Where’s Captain Kirk – 1992 Fan Club Single
This was the first fan club single that I had ever received via the fan club and still probably my favorite because of it’s relative obscurity as well as this was the freebie during 1992, right after Automatic for the People came out. If anything it might have given fans an idea of what direction the band was heading in the future.
4) Superman – Clique Original
I have always loved the original, maybe in certain ways moreso than what R.E.M. had done to it. The singing, I have to admit has a certain cornyness to it and definitely was improved with Mike Mills, pipes.
5) Me In Honey – Out of Time Demos
One of the underrated gems on Out Of Time.
6) Fascinating – Reveal Advance 2001
I never understood why this song was left off of Reveal as there were probably songs such as “I’ll Take the Rain” which could have been omitted instead. I am not sure if it would have saved Reveal for me. (In my later years, I have come to admit that Reveal was a natural progression for the band, however, it’s just not an album that I can connect with. I am not sure whether this song would ever fix that for me)
7) Orange Crush – 8/19/87, 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA
A very early and rough version of this song. Sometimes I think that demos can be overrated when it’s regarding songs that have been performed live already, and in the case of Orange Crush it was consistently played throughout the Work Tour,
8) Kohoutek – 9/26/84, Page Auditorium, Duke University, Durham, NC
I still believe that there is an underrated population that always had a certain apprecation for this song. Not the first song you think about when you think about Fables, but a classic nonetheless.
9) Black Boys on Mopeds – 7/4/99 Werchter Festival, Werchter, Belgium
10) I’m Not Over You – 7/4/99 Werchter Festival, Werchter, Belgium
11) Why Not Smile – 7/4/99 Werchter Festival, Werchter, Belgium
During the Up tour, we were blessed with the expert guitar playing of Michael Stipe who would head out during the guitar with his acoustic guitar playing. There was something authentic about his performances as he would walk out and often times struggle through the songs and definitely offered something different on the Up Tour than had been accomplished prior or even future tours. After Michael would struggle through, then Mike Mills would head on and they would come through with a stunning version of ‘Why Not Smile’.
12) Nightswimming – 11/18/95, Omni, Atlanta, GA
A fan favorite.
13) Time Is On My Side – 8/25/85 JB Scott’s Theatre, Albany, NY
As far as I know, and I could be wrong about this, it would be the only time that they performed this song that was popularized by the Rolling Stones. I have always felt that R.E.M. was more of a Stones band than a Beatles band, as the elements from the Rolling Stones are more pronounced. It might be the simple fact that the Rolling Stones featured a full time lead singer/frontman like Jagger vs. the combo of Lennon/McCartney who were often behind an instrument when they were singing.
14) Walk, Don’t Run – 12/5/85, The Mosque, Richmond, VA
“Michael Stipe on Acid!”. The end of the Reconstruction Tour seemed to have brought out some of the more raucous events, but I guess after you have been pretty much on tour for 9 months that things can get a little crazy onstage.
15) Man On the Moon – 1/13/01 Rock in Rio, Rio De Janiero, Brazil
I would be hard-pressed to omit Man on the Moon for it has become one of my son’s favorite songs. For a two year old who likes to use the word “No”, it is refreshing to hear him sing along “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah”.
16) Stumble/Skank – 4/24/82, Merlin’s, Madison, WI
Always one of my favorites, and a combination that would appear to not have been played all to often, this version maxes out at over 13 minutes, not very common for an R.E.M. song.
It's spring. The ground is thawed, the flowers are blooming, it's time to get out and about, particularly with headphones.
Download Podcast #2 Here (Right Click)
1 ) Catapult – Stephen Hague Demo
When R.E.M. were checking on the services of possible producers, there was the suggestion from Jay Boberg, the head of IRS that Stephen Hague might be the appropriate producer for the band. Fortunately, for the band they did not go this route.
For one, Hague’s expertise was in the synth sound that was just beginning to hit in the early 80’s. From the finished product, you can hear that make it’s way into this recording and to be god honest with you, it is pretty comical.
Second, Hague attempted to inject a certain style on Bill Berry, which made the process just that much more frustrating and also added a certain level of distrust in the recording process since Hague added the synths afterwards.
It is still a very telling artifact of how the band pushed against the machine and made the album that they wanted to make a classic in Murmur.
2) Lotus -11/06/98, Orpheum, Vienna, Austria
With the glam rock of Monster to progressing to Hi Fi, a more straightforward record, at least in my opinion, Up feels like waking up and reminiscing about the previous nights festivities.
This particular track was taken from the Up Promo Tour and I still remember the day that these shows came in the mail way back in November of 1998. They were the first time that I had received copies of CD-Rs in the mail (Getting this and the Hamburg shows). It was only a matter of time that I went out and purchased my own CDR Burner and began an obsession that lasted years.
3) Aftermath (Faster Version)
There is a lot to be said about the failures of Around the Sun. In retrospect, I still believe that there was a good album in there somewhere but it just never felt like they pinned down what they wanted to do. This early version is faster and more abbreviated but gives the song a little bit more energy.
4) King of Birds 9/15/89 – Great Woods Amphitheater, Mansfield, MA
In the midst of a fiery Document, the band still can change the tempo and pull out an instant classic. As much as you could discuss the bands ability to write catchy pop songs, it was also this era that came out with some slower ballads that for fans like myself felt hopeful rather than corny.
5) Angel – CMJ Awards, Beacon Theatre, New York, NY
This came from a unique show, the CMJ awards where the band started off playing an acoustic set playing some covers as well as originals. Angel was originally written by the The Neats, who actually had opened for the band on several dates in both Fall of 1985 as well as Spring of 1985.
6) Jazz Lips (This is Jazz Blow Nose) (Demo, October 15, 1981)
A nice little interlude of a little ditty which shows off the bands ability to write a great pop song. Actually it just seemed like the perfect “Intermission”.
7) Old Man Kensey – 10/12/84 Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ
Finding a good copy of Old Man Kensey on shows at times was somewhat difficult as it always seemed as if tapers would cut the song short. While this version does not include a story that Stipe would often recite before the song about something crazy that Kensey would pull, it’s still as it would appear on the album.
It is not often that you can combine the idea of songwriting and folklore and create an album’s worth of material, not just a song about “Rocky Raccoon,” and in that sense this is often forgotten about this album. I love the fact that the album is not clean sounding rather feeling a little cold and dense but yet very familiar. I would also be hard pressed to find an album that carries these same unique qualities.
8) Sweetness Follows – 7/6/1999, Stravinski Auditorium, Montreaux, Switzerland
If ‘Country Feedback’ was the standout moment for the Monster tour, Sweetness Follows played that role for the Up Tour. Admittedly, it is not the first song that you think about on Automatic For the People with such hits as Drive, Everybody Hurts and Man on the Moon as well as fan favorites like Find the River and Nightswimming. Listening to the album version you get a sense of the haunting nature of the song mixed with that droning guitar sound. The live album replaces that with organ work in the background that gives it an even more ethereal approach as well as expanding the number out a couple minutes.
9) You Aint Goin Nowhere - 03/15/91, Borderline Club, London, UK
A song about the mongrels.
10) Auctioneer (Another Engine) – 10/01/1986, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA
Stipe would often make up a story about Caroline before they would launch into a powerful version of the song. This story is much more straightforward, with Stipe thanking Dr. Seuss among others. These stories kept on adding to the mystique of Michael Stipe the lead singer.
11) Life and How to Live It – 10/29/2003, Avalon Hollywood Theatre, Hollywood, CA
I realized that after getting to this point that there are three Fables tracks in this ‘cast and suffice to say they just sorta fit. Live and how to Live It is a song that, as the years have progressed, I have found more enlightening, such that our society has often looked at life through two different viewpoints rather than looking at the context and complexities of life.
12) It’s The End of the World As We Know It/People Have the Power – 10/23/2001 - Crocodile Café, Seattle WA
A powerful version from the Crocodile Café, in Seattle Washingtion, Peter Buck’s home base in 2001. The song features Eddie Vedder as well who was in attendance and performed on a couple of tracks during the show.
The first one is a mixture of oldie but goodies and a couple of oddities. You can download it here. Right Click.
1) Radio Free Europe – 1981 Cassette Tape
In the spring of 1981 R.E.M. laid down some tracks (Sitting Still and White Tornado among the others) , mixed them and sent about 400 copies to clubs, journalists, .etc to promote the band. Hell, Drew does a better job explaining it here. It seemed the appropriate place to start this process off with.
2) Burning Down – (5/12/81 Tyrones, Athens, GA)
I mentioned Burning Down above but this is a better copy, and only a month later and seemed appropriate.
3) Academy Fight Song (1989 Fan Club Single)
This Mission of Burma classic was played on their 1989 Green Tour but more importantly for me, it introduced me to the band. Their album ‘Signals, Calls and Marches’ is still one of my favorites.
4) Stand (Demo – Green)
Sometimes demos sound a little out of whack. This is one of those moments.
5) Summertime (1990 Fan Club Single)
Stipe kills on this Gershwin classic.
6) Radio Song (Demo – Out of Time)
At the time, the KRS-1 inclusion on Radio Song might have thought to have been a good idea, but over time, it seems to feel more dated. For this reason it’s good to check out the demo, which I think is superior.
7) Shine (Reveal Demos)
This song always gives me a chuckle due to the fact that it set off a firestorm on Murmurs.com when its esteemed webmaster gave it such a glowing review that you would think that R.E.M. could have supplanted Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ by just finalizing and releasing this track. As far as instrumentals go, I have to say that I like it but not at the great lengths it was initially described.
8) The One I Love (5/20/88, 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA)
Bizarro Rock meets R.E.M. This is easily the most fucked up version of this song that you will ever hear performed by the band.
9) Hello in There (3/15/91, Borderline Club, London, UK)
This John Prine cover song features Michael at his best and one of the better moments of the few shows the band played to promote Out of Time.
10) Country Feedback (11/21/1985, Atlanta, GA)
The band regarded this song as their favorite on the Monster Tour and I would have to agree with them. As much as I appreciate the version that ended up on the album, I have to say that the live version gave it more power.
11) Gardening at Night / 9-9 / Windout (10/12/84, Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ)
For me, this is still about me and this is always one of my favorite 3-song combos of their early days. It was a seamless transition from song to song and if we were lucky a little interlude before Windout.
12) No Matter What (2002 Fanclub Single)
This Badfinger cover is dedicated to Mike Mills who has found a new career in breaking news stories. If you have been sleeping under a rock, you would know that Mike Mills tweeted that David Letterman is planning on retiring after this season.
13) Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars) (7/13/83, Paradise Theatre, Boston, MA)
A perfect way to finalize the show.
R.E.M. for me is listening to “Burning Down” with my Ipod and earbuds while traveling on public transportation and taking in the big city in the morning. It might be because I was taken back by the energy of the song the first time that I heard the bootleg, ‘Georgia Peaches – Ripe’ an early concert recording of the band in April 1981, a year after their formation. Through the hiss and possible speed issues with the recording itself (I believe it was mastered too fast, although I fixed my copy), there was an energy that I was immediately piqued by. While the song is not listed as one of their best, only getting so far as an early B-Side, it’s never faulted for giving me a happy vibe. The song is just an example of where the music can take you, such as it on random and letting those moments speak for themselves.
I have thought about moments such as this as I considered the thought of REMring back in my life. When I had abruptly stopped blogging about R.E.M., it was after ‘Collapse into Now’, an album that I was just not too keen on to say the least. It was ‘R.E.M. By Numbers’, which of course was exactly what it was trying to be and for that, you might be able to give the band a couple brownie points for. My question was, could the blog function in the same manner that it had previous to this, a fan like myself that might have been sitting too close to the speakers drinking the wrong flavor of koolaid, or did something have to change?
Since I had stopped, the band chose to stop as well, only a couple short months later, which threw everyone for a loop. While I had commented publically that the band should throw in the towel, it was still a shock because I didn’t expect them to do it. Time was necessary to clear my mind of some of the emotional hang-ups and reconsider their place, not only in my own life but try to do it the proper way.
I had thought briefly about turning the site into an “R.E.M. Tour Watch” as a joke whereby the site would be the first to break any news about a possible R.E.M. tour and I would encourage fans to check back regularly for any developments regarding a tour. There would have been the perpetual “No R.E.M. is still not going to go on tour, check back later” banner and that would have just stayed up there for perpetuity. Since I was not really active in checking the site and the band is not going to ever tour again at least the site would always be “Up to date”.
I considered other thoughts about leaving where I stopped but that was just not in the cards. The band is not active anymore so there is not much to speculate on. There are plenty of sites right now, which do a fine job in relaying any news bits of what the members of the band are up to and news about albums are typically few and far between.
Locally, here in Chicago, a popular radio personality by the name of Teri Hemmert, hosts a local program on WXRT called “Breakfast with the Beatles”. In it, she digs deep within the recesses of Beatlemania to find the rarer moments that give the fans a deeper perspective of the band. At that point it dawned on me that this would be the direction that I would take it.
So I have decided to put together weekly hour-long podcasts, which catch our fearless foursome and cohorts at their best and worst. Instead of offering my own rambling commentary in-between the songs, I figured it would be better to just let the music lead the way with my notes outside the columns for the readers to digest what they just heard. I did this because 1) I ramble and 2) I did not want to break away from the music.
And so, I have been on the verge of putting together several podcasts at once, each offering a glimpse of the band via live, demo and rare tracks. These would be weekly installments that would be best listened to per your discretion, whether it is with bacon and eggs or a bottle of whiskey lying on the floor staring at the ceiling in your underwear.
As we progress through the weekly shows I would expect in the future to see shows featuring a particular album, era, person or theme. Between the shows you might see me pop in with an opinion about this or that or some other thoughts from the worlds 3,207th biggest R.E.M. fan.
A couple of other announcements before I proceed:
Contact/Comments: If you want to contact/comment on anything that I have posted/written, feel free to use the Contact option at the top of the screen. I have closed the ability to comment on the site itself after receiving so much spam, my website host started complaining. I am always open to criticism as long as the thoughts are well thought out. My opinion is just one of many and it is not the right opinion. I will plan to post in REM Fans United Facebook page as well.
I do take requests. If you are looking for a particular era, song, .etc, I will try to appease you the best I can, however, since I am planning many of these beforehand it might be a couple weeks before you actually hear anything. Quality is important as well. If it’s from a show that is subpar, it’s probably going to get vetoed.
Happy Birthday R.E.M. – Yes, I got this in under the buzzer! A beginning on the day they formed. Through thick and thin, good and bad, your music has always been a constant in my life and I hope that this project allows for individuals to appreciate the band for years to come.
First podcast will be tomorrow (Sunday) and happy to be back again!
This was being talked about on Facebook so I figured since the story was lost from a long time ago I should repost....
Athens Historical Society to Screen Rare R.E.M. Videos and Examine R.E.M.’s Athens History and Impact
On Sunday, October 21, 2007, the Athens Historical Society will present “R.E.M. in Perspective: An Athens History.” The event will be held at 2:00 p.m. in the historic Seney-Stovall Chapel at 201 N. Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia.
The program will feature two previously unscreened vintage videos of R.E.M. and two panel discussions.
REMring Note: I am already looking up flights. Anyone in the states that is interested maybe we can have a mini REM Fan Pow Wow at one of the local clubs Saturday Night? This looks to be an amazing program and of course contains the earliest video footage of R.E.M. available. It should be an amazing treat!
I stepped outside my Athens Hotel Room door around 2:00 am on Monday morning. The drought stricken Georgia was seeing a reprieve in the form of a light rainshower that was falling overhead. For Georgians everywhere it would have been a sigh of relief; and for a second I felt like an Athenian, smiling as I saw this parched small college town get the reprieve that it richly deserved.
My two short days in Athens were coming to a fruition. I felt sad for leaving its hallowed southern lore behind me and heading back to the city of Chicago. I regretted the fact that I had not been back in 6 years to visit the place and have already thought that this is not going to happen ever again.
My initial purpose in going to Athens was to see the program ‘R.E.M. in Perspective: An Athens History’, that was being sponsored by the Athens Historical Society.
(Click Here to view a copy of the program and I would also encourage you to do so as the names and faces that I refer to later in this article would probably be better served for your comprehension. First off, they did a great job on the bios and, secondly, if I wrote them out, this would take forever.)
Blair Dorminey had emailed me about this program with the intent of publicizing it to R.E.M. fans everywhere. What was different about this program in my eyes was the very rare videos of R.E.M. taken by Dan Wall of Wuxtury Records. These videos had never seen the light of day to the public so this viewing was the incentive that made me think that truly a vacation in Athens was calling me.
I did ask myself that question. “What am I doing? I am going all the way to Athens, Georgia to watch some silly videos of a band?” (Of course I say “Silly” in terms of any non-obsessed R.E.M. fan would look at my trek as being.)
Well, I should probably be honest that it wasn’t just about the videos. It was about Athens. I missed this town. Coming from the north, coming from Chicago and going to Athens you realize that there is a spirit that exists on the streets, in the bars and the restaurants and clubs. A commune, a group of people looking out for themselves, in the same way that they looked out for R.E.M. In a way the program turned out to be a way for R.E.M. to look out for the same place that nurtured them.
With all the influence, political, economic or otherwise, R.E.M. did not create that spirit. When I spend time here I realize that it is the people.
Saturday night I decided to check out a local act, a shoegaze band by the Psychic Hearts and found the event gravitating. I watched as everyone there seemed to know each other and I would not be surprised if everyone in the audience was in a band. I observed that it was like someones house party. It might be true that everyone was there was just “friends of the band” but it speaks how much the community is out for each other. Compare this to the events surrounding R.E.M. Without that community to nurture them they would never be where they are now. It was the friendships and the commaraderie and the commune-like attitude that music is a community-based event.
I really did not know anything about this band other than reading a write-up about them in Flagpole, it became my entertainment for the evening and they were tight, melodic and yet powerful. I stood close to the stage and felt the music rush over my body. I think I spent part of Monday evening wondering about any releases that were available online of this band.
The next day I woke with a handful of nervous energy. Of course any morning in Athens for me is not right without a nice cup of Coffee and some breakfast from the Athens Diner.
In getting to the highlights of the event:
Keynote Speaker: Tony Fletcher
Tony opened the afternoon with a stirring speech that set the tone for the afternoon. While Tony might have felt that he was not the proper person for the job, in fact, I think it was the complete opposite. I have always felt that there is a bubble around Athens, and the perception of what Athens is to the person that is not covered in Kudzu is much different than the mood and atmosphere within. From Tony’s perspective, R.E.M. was a band that was different than the rest.
I had spent the morning reviewing the article that I had put on the site that Tony initially wrote almost 25 Years ago about the band. Tony reviewed his initial impressions of meeting the band, and seeing them live for the first times in the UK.
Tony was very frank about the pompous nature of the UK Music Scene during the day, making cracks about bands like Flock of Seagulls and Culture Club and from his impressions, what R.E.M. had done was make critics realize that there was an music scene in America worth investigating. Athens, along with other scenes in Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota could not be ignored anymore by the UK Press or the audience. R.E.M. was not just sitting there playing their songs but preaching the gospel to the critics.
Tony was always impressed however with the way that R.E.M. had treated him. As he put it, when he was working on writing his book about R.E.M. it was they who sent him a thank you note after he visited, totally opposite of what should have happened, i.e. the author sending the thank you note to the band.
Wuxtry Demos, Wuxtry Records, Atlanta, GA, June 6, 1980:
First, it must be understood just how much gratification that this writer is imparting to Mr. Dan Wall of Wuxtry Records for allowing these videos to be shared with an audience.
My first impressions of the band during this era was just how young and green they looked, with the exception of Michael. The others looked like clean cut college kids, Peter and Mike especially, who had the look that he just ditched their High School Calculus class. The power of the recording of course is that this video was shot almost two months to the day after their first show. At first I had my doubts as to the quality of this shows performance versus the already distributed Wuxtry Practice Session Demos that are popular among bootleg collectors. After further review, my belief is that those Wuxtry Audio Tapes have possibly gone through the ringer too many times for their comparison to be valid.
The video however, offers the showmanship of Michael Stipe at an early part of his career. It was interesting to note that an audience member of the previous generation, not having the same understanding of R.E.M. and their influences during the panel sessions immediately pointed to Elvis when she saw Michael. What a very clever catch! Tony Fletcher had remarked during the keynote address of the Tube performance that Michael Stipe was still during this entire performance, giving fans a different point of view of the original Michael.
Mike still offers Opera-like backing vocals, similar to the early 1980 show (May 30, 1980?) which had surfaced a couple years back. In fact, that show and this videotape would have been a week or so apart which would make some sense.
As mentioned by Paul Butchart, a panelist during the first session, he noted there was a difference in the way that Bill Berry held his drumsticks; (since I am not a drummer and did not take down perfect notes you will just have to work through this.) The second video shows Bill holding the sticks more as he holds them now.
It was funny after the audience watched the first video ‘Narrator’, I could not help but notice the oohs and ahhs from the crowd. As the first song finished there was an extremely appreciative applause after ‘Narrator’. The best way to describe it for me was like the applause I heard when I saw Star Wars Episode 1. The same could be said for Dangerous Times.
As far as the video quality of this performance, from a bootleg standpoint I would have to rate this up at around 4.5 out of a 5 point scale. We are not watching a “Pro-Shot” performance, but it can be said that the quality of the video has held up over all these years and it does not look as if the camera was being hand-held but on a Tripod. Very solid indeed.
The sound is solid. As stated earlier, you can pull much more out of this audio recording than widely circulated “Wuxtry Recordings” that have surfaced.
688 Club, Atlanta, GA: (Date Unknown)
(Approximately 2 Months After Wuxtury Demos as determined by Dan Wall and Mark Methe however I think that they are quite a bit off and would put this somewhere circa 1981.)
I Don’t Want You Anymore
Gardening At Night
Radio Free Europe
In my opinion this was the real catch of the day. While nothing can understand the importance of the first video, the second shows the band in its infancy in front of a live audience. What we see from this is a mesmerizing account of just how powerful R.E.M. was on the stage in those early years.
This is something that has been grossly understated. While written accounts have tried to describe this in detail as far as memory and history will take us, the fact of the matter remains is that this demonstrates more often than not that Michael Stipe was at a very early point a powerful frontman. While watching this video, the first words that came to mind were ‘Whirling Dervish”. Never to take the words out of someone elses mouth, in discussing this with Tony Fletcher later on in the evening at the Globe, he has to be credited for actually using that phrase, and it was funny however as I was writing my notes while watching these videos that was exactly what I had written.
There is an edited version of what is referred to as “The Pier Video”, taken on October 10, 1982, at The Pier in Raleigh, NC which was the closest we have come in the past of recapturing that image of R.E.M. Those that have viewed all or parts of that video could comment on Michael Stipe’s stage antics then would be blown away from the events here. The amount of energy that he exhibited onstage at the 688 club blew this writer away. In conversations with those that were around during this era of R.E.M.’s history this brought them back to that time.
What also was apparent was the tightness of the rhythm section already. Bill and Mike had it going. Include Peter Buck, while still learning his instrument had already begun his stage antics, in one case getting back-to-back with Michael and arching his head backwards and putting it on Michael’s shoulder only to see Michael push Peter away and smile and laugh in the process.
The real reason of course this tape is so special is Stipe. He is showing early on the energy, the power and the ability to be a lead singer as if by the grace of god he was designed to be exactly that. This is not a shy kid that hung out with his sisters for a year and didn’t talk to anyone. He commanded the stage. One look at him and you knew why R.E.M. is where they are now.
Dan Wall and Mark Methe had announced during the showing of this video that it was approximately two months after The problem that I have with the timeframe that was given as being “Two Months Later” however I think that this recording is actually several months later if not a year after the Wuxtury Tapes. The reason being is that ‘Radio Free Europe’ was a song that had not been performed live at this time. It would make more sense that this video took place sometime after January 1981.
The video and the sound are solid, the audio moreso than the Wuxtury Sessions. Again, it looks as if the footage has not suffered much degradation over these years which is a good thing. The lighting and sightlines are also solid and while there are times the camera might sway off the audience it is not jumpy and also looks like they are using a tripod.
This is history. From this writers standpoint it was the closest that I have ever come to witnessing what it must have been like in the early R.E.M. years. This was a treat beyond treats and at this point in the program I could have gotten up from my seat and left satisfied that the trip was a success. However, the day was just beginning. There would be additional tricks and treats along the way. . . .
To be continued
Panel: R.E.M.’s Musical and Artistic Roots in Athens
Panelists: Paul Butchart, Curtis Crowe, Tony Fletcher, John Keane, Kathleen O’Brien Layson, Maureen McLaughlin, Dan Wall, Frank White and Mark Mobley, moderator
This was a very interesting and diverse panel. Mark Mobley, the moderator of the program allowed each of the panelists to point to their impressions of R.E.M. and Athens. Outside of going into a complete dialogue of the panel, it felt like a Town Hall Meeting on R.E.M., that related a sense of history.
What I found intriguing was that the participants on the panel, most of which have spent a good time in Athens not only offered their own conclusions but raised their own questions in the process. It was a panel that looked not only at their southern roots, but their unique beginnings in the town. I have never been in the same room with so many individuals that were at the first show and in some cases before the first show.
John Keane discussing his relationship with R.E.M. over the years, how they record, play, etc., and the vast amount of influence that they had on other bands as well. He described how the band members would normally bring in other bands, acts to record there as well, claiming that it seemed that Peter was bringing in other artists on a weekly basis. He also, humerously, brought up the aspect of having a band wanting to record in his studio and making the distinct point of “Not sounding like R.E.M.” and only to realize that the first instruments they brought in were a Rickenbacker 12-String to the studio.
Maureen McLaughlin discussing a situation where while walking down the street with Vanessa Briscoe Hay, the lead singer of Pylon that they ran into a shy and humble Michael Stipe stumbled his way in asking if it was alright if he started a band. This received a hearty laughter from the crowd and as Maureen aptly put it, Vanessa was thrilled and offered her support in any way possible.
Don Wall’s account of Peter’s desire to move to Athens based on the music scene that was flourishing there at the time. Don also was renting out apartments at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at the time and set Peter up with both an apartment.
Kathleen O’Brien Layson’s account of the early days of R.E.M., living in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Athens and her account of how she got the band together. Kathleen O’Brien had wanted to live in the Church and had contacted Dan Wall who had told her that Peter Buck was going to move into one of the apartments in that building. Kathleen, already knowing Peter previously then asked Peter if it was alright to move in with her. By this time, Peter had already met Michael and they were dabbling in writing songs. Kathleen had known Bill via her connection with WOUGGERZ, as Bill was a temporary replacement drummer. She put 2 and 2 together and basically told Peter and Michael that they had to meet Bill and Mike. She also described the early rehearsals of the band. The Chapel at St. Mary’s where the band practiced as well as held their first show was blocked off from the apartments and thus to reach it you had to crawl through a hole. In a way, I picture it was almost magical, like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, crawling through this hole to reach this magical realm. While the band never felt they were ready, Kathleen felt otherwise when she asked them to play at her birthday party. Her last minute inclusion on this panel was a welcome surprise.
Paul Butchart’s: His overall musical knowledge of not only R.E.M. but Athens in general. I was not aware that not only was April 5th the first show of R.E.M. but the Side Effects as well. As Paul was a drummer as well he was the one that noticed the fine detail of Bill’s unique drumming style mentioning that he was holding his drumsticks differently.
Curtis Crowe: Another Drummer! The legendary Pylon drummer was also at the first show and also put his unique perspective in what Pylon as well as other bands in the area would do. For Pylon, it’s intent was just an “Art Project” and was not supposed to be anything more than that. But this offered also a glimpse into Athens which encouraged expression rather than discouraging it.
Frank White’s impressions of R.E.M. offering an element of southern music that was unlike what was being played at the radio at the time. It felt southern without falling into the clichés of what Southern Rock was supposed to sound like. For him, it was a band that immediately spoke to him and he could immediately relate to. I think his story brought a lengthy discussion as to the “R.E.M. Sound”.
Taken From Rolling Stone Article
"We're not a party band from Athens, we don't play New Wave music, and musically, we don't have shit to do with the B-52s or any other band from this town. We just happen to live here."- Michael Stipe
"Basically, we're just four pretty vague people. We’re definitely not writing in one specific tradition, and I can't think of any one group or attitude that we subscribe to. Rather than join a particular club, we'd like to be free to join them all" - Peter Buck
While the first comment might draw laughter from this crowd the second comment seems to be more diplomatic in its approach. Sure, Michael Stipe was getting tired of being compared to every other Athens Dance Band that was around. At the same time it was the band that focused their attention on stating that Athens, GA was more than just a dance band city. Like the label “Grunge” got attached to Seattle, Athens was in danger of having the same thing happen to them years before Kurt Cobain made is way of sniffing out High School Locker rooms.
While it is true that R.E.M.’s own success could in part be attributed to Athens they were quick to point out that Athens was much more diverse than what the media was making them out to be. As I had pointed out earlier, there does exist a bubble around Athens and R.E.M. had a lot to do with popping that bubble. Today more than ever, Athens exists as a musical oasis that attracts a very diverse musical crowd. Spending a day in Athens will make anyone realize that the musical talents at some times sound psychaedelic, other times country, blues, jazz, or punk.
I think there were a lot of ideas as to how to pinpoint the sound of R.E.M. Live their music sounded like the Who, however, their albums often had folksy, country roots.
As the panelists went on there was a feeling that R.E.M. played to the crowds. R.E.M. was in some ways looked down upon or frowned for their less than artsy movement, but at the same time there were elements of the dance movement in Athens at the time. Judging from the video’s Stipe was all into the dance craze, but it was the bands ability to take various elements of the southern culture mixed with their own brand of folksy post punk rock and roll to launch them where they are now. Other impressions that I was left with was how the songs represented quite a bit of Athens. As they mentioned, Rockville was a song about Ingrid and thus friends of the band saw these songs as having a time and place.
It was also stated that while R.E.M. was an Athens band, after their initial success in Athens, they began touring more which meant for long periods of time, R.E.M. would not be around Athens but they never forgot their roots.
Panel: R.E.M.’s Social, Civic, Political, Preservation and Economic Impact on Athens
Panelists: Jared Bailey, Tim Johnson, Gwen O’Looney, Dexter Weaver, Smith Wilson, and Milton Leathers, Moderator.
R.E.M. had more of an impact not just in music but also established an element of social consciousness that began with the city of Athens. The participants discussed the various ways that the band has fostered this consciousness in Athens. Milton Leathers did an amazing job of moderating this group setting a tone of Athens not being just another southern town.
Gwen O’Looney mentioning her run for office and how Michael and the band was so instrumental in not only offering ideas as to how to improve it but always came up with a plan in order to accomplish those ideas. O’Looney discussed how R.E.M. wanted to bring upon an equal platform for all Athenians and not just for those that had power. O’Looney described how the band would not just provide an idea to the residents but show them how it would work including studies which was helpful for all Athens residents to understand alternatives.
Jared Bailey discussing the economic impact that the band has made on Athens claiming that R.E.M. is most likely the cities second biggest export outside of the University of Georgia. This includes the amount of record sales, tourism, and an element that the band has encouraged people not only to enroll at the University of Georgia but move to Athens. He also discussed that it would be interesting to find out if there could be a way to do a true study on the economic impact that a band like R.E.M. has had on the city of Athens as there are no true numbers.
Smith Wilson’s account of the amount of preservation that the city has gone through. It was remarked upon how Athens had a lot of empty decrepit old buildings and R.E.M. always tried to encourage preservation over demolition. Wilson remarked that R.E.M.’s input has brought a huge economic impact in terms of his own business as well as raising the standard of living for
Tim Johnson discussed in detail all the nonprofit groups that have been given aid by R.E.M., a list that was not complete by any stretch of the imagination.
Dexter Weaver went into detail his relationship with R.E.M. back during the Automatic for the People era commenting on how R.E.M. has directly aided his restaurant Weaver D’s. Dexter Weaver has a way of offering an account of a story with plenty of laughter along the way, including the day that after much of his success a publisher called him about wanting to do a book deal with him. Dexter not being in a good mood on this particular day told him to call him back in a couple days only to hang up the phone and second guessing himself for saying that. Of course the publisher called back and they were able to secure a book deal.
I used to say that R.E.M. was a political band but I think a better word for it is socially conscious. I have never felt that R.E.M. was the next Midnight Oil nor did they put themselves on a pedastal like Bono, however, they have been understated and humble when it comes to social issues. The panel was a reminder for me that R.E.M. shouldn’t just go onstage to “Play the Hits” but attract an audience that is aware of the world around them. R.E.M. at their best is not shoving words down your throat. R.E.M. at their best is challenging the listener to not only go out and listen to their records but look into preservation, the environment, and causes that are important to them.
Rock music is about change, its about revolution its about in the words of R.E.M. “We are concerned, we are hope despite the times”. We should be concerned, we can make a difference and that difference that R.E.M. has always exhibits is that education is the best way to do that. I.E., lets not rush to tear down a 100 year old structure to turn it into a parking lot but better yet, see if we can come up with an alternate solution to keep the building standing and allow for the space to be enjoyed for society in the future.
As much as I have read about R.E.M. doing this and that for Athens, I got a better grasp of that listening to the participants of the panel discuss their particular stories about R.E.M. with the audience. It brought a personal connection for me seeing these individuals describe all the improvements the band has given to Athens over the past 25+ years.
Afterparty at the Globe:
The Globe would most definitely be my favorite bar in Athens, from the eclectic music, the relaxing atmosphere, and bread and cheese setup, the Globe was the perfect place to have an Afterparty for this wonderful event.
From my perspective the Afterparty at the Globe served for me an opportunity to thank those people that not only made a difference but to continue the discussion of the panelists that had already begun. Honestly, I am an R.E.M. history whore that could probably sit and listen to these people talk all night bringing up their stories, accounts, thoughts and details of the small chestnut details that went on in this small town.
In speaking of the economic impact that R.E.M. has had on Athens, as much gratitude must be given to Jared Bailey, the founder of both the Flagpole Magazine and Athfest. When Murmurs.com had first created their messageboard and fans began to flock to the site, it was decided at the time it would have been cool to meet up in Athens and stay there when R.E.M. was playing on the Up Tour. Our time in Athens was so wonderful we decided we needed to do it again. So I had done some research and thought it would be a great idea to meet in Athens for Athfest. What a better way for R.E.M. fans not only to get a sampling of this great city but allow the festival to be the background for their tastes. Of course Jared was too quick to mention Jeff from www.athensmusic.net for his accomplishments in improving the Athens scene. I cannot forget going to their booth at Athfest and scouring through all those Athens bands and snatching every band or album that I could not find at the time. They are a great source for any and all Athens music and offer affordable prices for the albums as well.
For me, it was an honor to meet and thank Tony Fletcher, a man that began my R.E.M. quest so to speak. I had found out about his book way back in the early 90’s as it was advertised in the “Best of R.E.M.” an import UK CD that was being sold. At the time, this was the only book that was available on R.E.M. and there was no internet at the time where I could just point and click and find out about this band that I had already grown to love. I still remember writing to his publisher in the UK about a way to get the book shipped to me, getting that book in the mail and reading it from cover to cover. Sitting there and discussing music, his feelings and thoughts about R.E.M. as well as the music scene in the UK back in the early 80s when R.E.M. came to London for the first time was a treat indeed.
He also relayed a funny story about how the band had confused him with John Platt. When John Platt had initially met Peter around the same time as Tony did. John had written a piece about R.E.M. that had remained unpublished. However, in a follow-up meeting with Peter the next year, Peter had enjoyed the article that John wrote about him, especially the point about Peter talking like he was a “Chipmunk on Speed!”.
For Tony, I could tell his relationship with R.E.M. was finding the similarities of how R.E.M. reminded him of what the Who must have been like, as his article referenced as well as informing him that was one of his life-long passions.
Blair Dorminey was as gracious a host as there could have been. A bright smile and southern gentleman through and through, Blair was not only a fan of Athens through his work with the Athens Historical Society but also a fan of R.E.M. pretty much since the beginning. I think what Blair was able to showcase during this event was providing the right people to discuss R.E.M. and their influence on Athens as well as Athens influence on them. In many cases, R.E.M. and Athens have a symbiotic relationship now, something that has not been discussed enough. Musically, what R.E.M did was open the door in maintaining that Athens was more than just “Dance Music”, but a town of folk, jazz, country and blues.
If anyone is the true Athens Guide to Music, that title would have to be held by Paul Butchart. I am promising myself that the next time I make it down to Athens I am getting the full Athens tour from the man who should write a book about it. He knows the ins and outs of this city and could only imagine sitting down with him and just listing to him discussing the stories that are not included in the books, the magazine clippings, etc.
One of the best shows that I ever saw in my lifetime was a triple bill at the now defunct Lounge Axe in Chicago with Elf Power, Super Furry Animals and Olivia Tremor Control so it was in my opinion a great honor to meet Laura Carter, the multi-intrumentalist of Elf Power/Elephant 6, as well as Orange Twin Records and Orange Twin Conservation Community .
Last but not least, quite possibly my most pleasurable moment was meeting Kathleen O’Brien Layson, for which I can only imagine how my life might have been different. If it was not for her getting Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe together in the same room, how would our lives be different, how would Athens be a different city, how could anyone that is reading this website and this article claim that their lives would be exactly the same as it is now?
Would I still feel as strongly about music if it wasn’t for R.E.M., the band that made me search out other artists like the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Stooges, etc.? R.E.M. had shaped my mind and they were the band that I followed. They were the band that mattered and she was that point where it all started.
Her name is name-dropped by every music writer who wrote about R.E.M. in the early days; her infamous birthday party.
The articles, the books, the stories do not match what it is like to actually meet and spend time with her. Just from the first couple minutes talking to her, there are people that you can just tell have the ability to bring people together. Just hearing the stories such as the one where she claimed that R.E.M. saved her life. She had been in a car accident and feels to this day that if it were not for R.E.M. amps being in the back of her car that she would be dead.
I found solace in the fact that I believe that Kathleen’s party was not about “Her” but about “Us”. It was about bringing people together. To this day, Kathleen finds pleasure in pleasing others such as the daily tasks of cooking dinner for others. I found an inner strength in her as well, something that was necessary before that first show. It was her encouragement that R.E.M. should to play at her birthday party. There are times in all of our lives that we look to others for strength and she is one of these people.
The stories tell the facts, well sometimes they do, but there are those emotions and feelings between the lines that are lost. Her last minute inclusion on the panel and this event was a great surprise and something that I will never forget.
Through all this name-dropping, I guess I also should thank Athens as well. These were just some of the moments on this weekend journey and cannot begin to state just the amount of warmth and friendly atmosphere that I witnessed.
Vacation in Athens will be calling again.
Evening old friend. It has been a long time since we last wrote to each other publicly. You are looking dapper in that oversized Derek Jeter uniform. Yes, the Boston Red Sox are not in the playoffs and the Cheatin’ Yankees got booted in the first round but there are more important things to discuss.
Let’s go back to that “Oh Shit!” moment of R.E.M. breaking up and having to reconcile our lives for a moment. They decided to do the admirable thing and come out with another Best Of set. I seem to remember when we were getting loaded at the Empty Bottle a couple months ago, your pleas to have another “Best Of” collection seem to have been answered. The first single from that is called…
We All Go Back Where We Belong
My first thoughts that came from listening to this song was that it felt like an extension of ‘Collapse Into Now’. Quoting another friend of mine, ‘Collapse Into Now’ became R.E.M.’s ‘Suicide Note’ aka ‘That’s It! We are breaking up the band!” The event was ‘Kaufmanesque’ in nature, a true, let’s commit Seppuku in front of the entire world and the only response back being . . . “But you are not going to tour?”
I think I will save the full review of Collapse into Now for our future podcasts but I think my initial response of putting this site on hiatus was due to the material that was written. The album did not delve into new territory. Obviously, that was never the point.
Back to the song at hand. The lyrics match some other themes, especially a certain song off of Out of Time (aka Belong) and seems to try to capture the mood of that baroque chamber pop sounds of the 60’s. I commented on your Facebook post at the time that I thought after the first listen it sounded like Belle and Sebastian. It seems to be one of those songs that was left off of Collapse into Now but included on this release for a purpose, to end this story properly.
Like anything else, it is the end of an era, 31 years of music and eons to contemplate their role on the Rock and Roll carousel. While listening to the song I decided to take a trip down memory and listen to their first ever single on the Hibtone label, “Radio Free Europe/Sitting Still”.
As I listened and contemplated further the sound of this song, I decided to go out on a limb on this one and not use some of the typical shout outs such as “The Beach Boys” or “Burt Bacharach” but rather The Monkees. The band had covered “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” in their first show and became a regular in early setlists. Honestly, what better band would you want to emulate? The Monkees were considered a joke at the time, their “Made for TV” pop band that fought for their rights to produce their own material. 31 years ago, the band R.E.M. were not necessarily the greatest musicians at the time but fought for their right to become successful at what they did.
Sure, the song does not fit the more jangly formula of some of the Monkees’ more notable hits, but the similarities remain.
Death is difficult and somehow a band that is trying to “Wrap it up” as they might say, cannot come out with a rock anthem as a final release to begin decade three of trying to change the world. The goosebumps that I get from listening to “Radio Free Europe” are not evident on “We All Go Back Where We Belong” and I am not sure that would ever be the point. The last chapter is often an Epilogue long after the climax has already occurred.
The Epilogue ties together the loose ends. It weaves the story back to the beginning.
At some point the true R.E.M. conspirator will connect all the dots, figure out the true reasons for the weird packaging, superimposed 4’s and albums “Filed Under Water” and come out with a true narrative.
From “Radio Free Europe”
‘Straight off the boat, where to go?’
Consider this: ”We All Go Back To Where We Belong”
‘I can taste the ocean on our skin
That is where it all begins….’
I have always felt the bands albums have followed a certain narrative and at times that can be frustrating since the narrative can at times be a little boring. So I cannot say that this song has any rating per se. It’s a cog in the puzzle, a piece of the machine and we have to judge the machine as a final product rather than the sum of its parts.
If you look at the 31 years and play them out there is a definite storyline going on.
Boy, if we ever did a podcast, I could imagine that this could get pretty interesting. . . hmmmm….