I have received a couple comments so far regarding my challenge. Andrea Musso wrote this before my commentary and has stated very eloquently, in fact, an opinion of being a fan of R.E.M. but also a fan of being a fan of music in general. Unlike some of my barbs directed at R.E.M. I think she is very fair regarding her commentary. I also want to compliment her use of the English language as she is from Argentina so be kind in that respect.
I've been questioning for quite a while my 'fandom' for REM. I don't like to say I'm a fan, because to me that implies a blind praise to an artist’s work, so I rather consider myself an admirer with the ability to discern between good stuff and utter crap.
I can't blame Collapse into now for my 'losing my faith' in the band. I guess it's something that has been gestating in my mind for some years (at least from around the sun on) but when the track list for CiN came out, with names as 'me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I', 'every day is yours to win' -out of a self help book, I immediately thought- and the other crappy ones, it just didn’t feel right to me, despite knowing I was prejudging them. Then Discoverer came out, I downloaded it and I think I must have heard it no more than 10 times. Chatting to other murmusians I sort of felt bad at the moment because they implicitly questioned my lack of interest. Truth is I couldn't spot any of the other released tracks if my life depended on it because I haven't listened to them more than ten times.
So I started wondering why wasn't I interested in them as I had before. I've been listening to their music since 1998 and for most of my late teenage years and early adulthood they were the ones that, with their music, kept me sane in my hardest moments. At that time, I admired their artistic integrity, and their choice to put music over business in a world that in general terms put money over music. Very naive of me, I know.
I think I can define my relationship with music in three stages. The first one took place during my childhood, with my approach to local artists, which to this day are one of my favorites (namely the greatest Argentinean songwriter of all times, Charly García). The second one was my REM era, where I would only listen to all of their CDs most of the time and nothing else. The third, and definitive one, came when I was in college and met a guy who was into a wide range of music, while simultaneously getting Internet access at home. That really opened my mind and I began exploring a lot of different artists and genres, up to today.
Back in September I came across with a Vampire Weekend song (cape cod kwassa kwassa) while I was listening to some 'indie' radio. Something struck me right away about their music, and I think it was the African beat. I’ve always had a thing for that kind of music and really enjoy the Eastern vibes, so I was kind of curious about them. I got their albums and discovered a richness, both in lyrics and music I couldn't get my hands off. I'm no music expert and I only guide myself with what I like, despite the hypes and critical acclaim, but to me it was one of the greatest discoveries I made this year.
I've been wondering ever since what made this band so appealing to me. At first I guess it was the ‘music of the world’ beats mixed with string arrangements, that sort of east meet west kind of mash up, but then (and specially in the second album) I discovered the complexity of their music, the multiple layers of instruments and samples, all and the (machinery like) mechanisms that makes it work so perfectly, going from a flawless rhythmic base to the baroque works of the keyboard, guitars and voices. I am aware that it’s not like they invented TNT, I can acknowledge their influences and I know they’re not the greatest band in the world either, but mesmerized as I was, I began searching on these guys and found out that they had a self produced album (the keyboardist is the band's producer) and had toured the US for quite a while by themselves. At the same time, they were sending their demos to blogs and such. Pretty much, it was four smart guys hanging out who ended up making decent music, recording it/mixing it with a laptop and consequently hopping on a van to tour somewhere and making themselves a reputation via the interwebz and the way of word. I guess it’s rather simple to do that today, without depending on a label to launch your work to the world (despite being successful or not) and I was curious enough as to try, and ending figuring out that that was the way (again, at an initial level, not taking into account all the hype that was created among them) to do things right. I also discovered that VW not only does interesting music, but they’re also very down to earth in regards of their own popularity, (something that I can speak of) and most important of all, they seem to have fun while they’re at it.
My VW ode is in no way made to make an out of context comparison between them and REM because they both emerged in different times and I’m sure without the internet and computer aid, VW wouldn’t have the level of popularity and recognition they have today. But I think that at the end of the day, you have to make all variables work to end up with a decent work. These kids do, while REM seem to have lost interest in making something that apparently has to be both meaningful to them in an ‘artsy’ way, up to their standards and also that they can enjoy. To me, they have been working only because after NAIHF they had to make another six albums and couldn’t get rid of the deal. Should they have quit when Bill left and go making movies and tin foil sculptures because that was what truly made them happy? As far as I’m concerned, they could’ve done that, they don’t owe me or any other fans anything. Personally, I’d prefer to listen to the albums they made when they were satisfied with what they were doing, rather than having to ‘like’ something that is way below their standards. It should be a matter of dignity on their behalf, as I’m sure it would be to me if I ever find myself doing something I don’t enjoy anymore.
Does the ‘collapse’ of my admiration for REM mean I’m losing my coolness in regards to liking a band that most of 16-year-old girls seem to love unconditionally? I don’t know. Maybe I have and now I’m into a band that is liked by schoolgirls who won’t even pay attention to the complexity of the issues the lyrics talk about -mainly in Contra-, and even by the most elemental Argentinean hipster who loves ‘mansard roof’ because it mentions the Argies, despite it being a clear reference to the failures of my home country. Maybe I’m just prejudging the girls and the hipsters with my ‘I know better than you’ attitude. Maybe now I’m into a band that sells its music to Tommy H and Honda (and the girls are right), when ten years ago I would’ve fight to death the dignity of REM for not being ad ‘sellouts’, which is also quite arguable, I think. Or that I have become a cynic, as I grew older. In the end, I have to admit they’re all in it for the money; although for VW at least we should consider whether or not they’re whoring their tunes out.
I think Radiohead to be a very odd, out of the box example. Why have they done such little promotion? Because evidently, they don’t seem to need it. These are the guys who released In Rainbows for free and even gave you a copy of their album at their live shows. Can you even think of a more inappropriate financial suicide than giving away your stuff for nothing? Who works for nothing these days? (besides me, but that’s another story). As you clearly stated, there is more than one way to promote, even if it implies not promoting anything at all ‘the old fashioned way’. In these times of illegal music downloading if you can’t fight it, join it and take
your money out of touring, which in my opinion is where the real profits are. If you like the band, it doesn’t matter if you buy the album but I’m sure you’ll spend all your money for a ticket.
So yeah, times have changed and REM clearly needs to go with the new trends and figure out clever ways of promotion. Or just leave the boat while they can, with their amazing history and contribution to the music world intact. It’s not up to me, or you or Warner, it is up to them. I guess I’d feel more proud of them if they did that than having to put up with their boring stuff because otherwise I’d feel like I’m betraying them.
I am disappointed about REM and I’m not sure there’s a way back for me, as long as they keep releasing songs named autopilot, antimatter, antiwhatever but at least I guess I can relay to their older stuff while I go to concerts with eighteen year old girls who have a crush on a guy straight out of a Tommy H ad.