22 September 2011

The R.E.M. Impact: One Fan's Story

As I was browsing the internet yesterday, I came across the headline, “R.E.M. Call it a Day.” I had that sinking feeling, I knew what it was bringing on, I might as well click it. I read the story in disbelief; my favorite band was no more. I immediately tried to rationalize it.

“It must be some sort of April Fool’s Day joke...oh wait, it’s September.”
“But on the last tour Michael Stipe said, ‘See you soon!’ He wouldn’t lie to me!”
“Maybe the website got its sources wrong.”

So I went to remhq and read it straight from the source. R.E.M. was, indeed, calling it a day. Reading the quotes from the Michael, Mike, and Peter, soothed my mind a little, but it was still a shock.

R.E.M. has defined what music is to me for nearly twenty years. I remember as a teenager buying albums from other artists based on a popular hit song. More often than not, the hit single was the only bright spot on the album, and I was left with a lackluster listening experience. Not with R.E.M., though. I fell in love with nearly every song on Out of Time, Automatic for the People, and Monster. Once I discovered their back-catalog, I was hooked.

I remember going to the record store to buy used copies of Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Dead Letter Office, and Document. I think my parents already had Lifes Rich Pageant, Green, and even a copy of Eponymous. I loaded the CDs into our five-disc player and let'er rip. Every song was pure joy. I found my band, and couldn’t wait to hear what they came out with next.

I bought New Adventures in Hi-Fi the day it was released, and I played that album non-stop.  It is, to this day, my favorite R.E.M. album; though, Collapse into Now is giving it a run for its money. With such a huge influx of music in such a short time, I still wanted more. I didn’t want to wait for the next album to hear some R.E.M. songs I never heard before. So, I hit the record store circuit and started buying singles.

I scoured record stores in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Bloomington, and Louisville, looking for singles with b-side songs I had not heard before. I found a lot of success along the way, not only with CD singles, but with 12” and 7” vinyl singles, too. Some record stores even had bootleg concerts for sale on CD, which I was more than willing to shell out extra cash for. I was amassing quite the collection, and then I discovered eBay.

eBay was a dangerous place for me. Every single I didn’t have, every poster I ever wanted, rare memorabilia, everything was there for the picking; it just depended how much I was willing to spend. Admittedly, sometimes I may have spent too much, but I don’t regret a single purchase. I was now in the thick of my R.E.M. collecting phase, and the band had since released Up and Reveal. It was about this same time when Napster came rolling along.

I really enjoyed Napster because I was able to pick and choose what R.E.M. songs I wanted, and they were free. Granted, I had almost every song, but there were a few surprises like “I Walked With A Zombie” here and there. Once Napster was gone, I found out about a peer-to-peer sharing site that specialized in live concerts. Suddenly, I had at my fingertips countless live R.E.M. performances spanning their entire career. Even better, I no longer had to pay $30 to own the performance; I could get it free. Needless to say, I downloaded just about every concert I could find.

Looking back, the peak of my obsession was in 2005 when I listened to all the concerts I had in chronological order. It was probably 200 or so concerts, and it took me several months to get through them all. Those concerts were the only music I listened to; it was fun, but I don’t think I would do it again.

Since then, things have slowed down quite a bit. I no longer feel compelled to listen to every concert, and I have pretty much tapped out the collectables market. There are still some elusive items like the "Gardening at Night" gardening gloves, a Dead Letter Office letter opener, a Fables of the Reconstruction book, and an R.E.M. backpack. I occasionally check eBay for those items, but I haven’t had any luck in a long time.

After the lackluster Around the Sun, R.E.M. rebounded with Accelerate and Collapse Into Now. The latter being their best album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, in my opinion. It has been a wonderful ride being an R.E.M. fan for all these years. My highest high came in 2008 when I decided use most of my R.E.M. shirts to make a quilt. After posting the quilt on latent chestnut, remhq posted a link to it on their website. I don’t think it could get any better than that.

I think it goes without saying that I am deeply saddened that I may never hear a new R.E.M. song again.  The anticipation of a new album, the thrill and rush of hearing those new songs for the first time, stumbling through the lyrics as I try to learn the words, I want to experience it all again. I do understand their decision and wish them all the best; and I will always be a fan. I am happy to have been able to go to several concerts since I started following them.  That said, here’s hoping the reunion tour comes sooner rather than later!

For whatever it's worth, thank you R.E.M.!

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