Wednesday, September 21, 2011


By now, everyone has heard the news that R.E.M. have decided to split up.  They announced it on their website, with comments from all three members, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills.

Of course, lots of people are bummed out. So am I, but I think they did the right thing, it felt like it was time.  I think the band has been off-balance ever since drummer Bill Berry after New Adventures In Hi-Fi in 1997.  They've had some great moments, notably "The Great Beyond" from the Man In The Moon soundtrack, "Bad Day" from their In Time best of.  I loved their 2008 album, Accelerate, which I felt showed more focus than anything they'd done since Berry was in the band. I think that would have been a good way to bow out.  Unfortunately, I was so ambivalent about this year's Collapse Into Now, I could barely review it.

I've had the opportunity to interview the trio of Stipe, Buck and Mills twice.  My take is that they are still friends, but the relationship is strained, mainly by the divergent paths that their lives have taken. Mind you, each interview was a a half hour, I didn't spend time with the guys.  But that's my take - and also, I've read tons of interviews with them also.  Buck always struck me at being annoyed at having to "promote" music, and Stipe seemed like he wasn't as into guitar-based rock music (albeit some of the strangest guitar based rock music) as he was in the '80s and early '90s.  And that's fine.  You've changed, I've changed, and so have these guys.  Actually, I think Mike Mills would be happy making records and touring forever.

I recently wrote about a very different band, Black Sabbath, and why I didn't mind that the rumors that they were getting back together weren't true. Because, as George Harrison said, "All things must pass."  The idea that three or four guys who got together in their teens or twenties could keep something like a rock band going for decades is kind of weird, when you think about it.  And when you consider that R.E.M. have always been pretty forward thinking, cynical of the status quo, it is surprising that they've been together as long as they have.

Part of Stipe's statement on the website was quoting "a wise man" who said "the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave." He's right. So I'm happy to thank them for the music and wave goodbye.  Thanks for making the party WAY more interesting than it would have been without you.

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