Oh My Heart - R.E.M calls it quits
News has a way of sneaking up on you.
On Wednesday, R.E.M. announced their break-up and, although it isn’t surprising or terribly upsetting, it came out of nowhere. They had released their last album, “Collapse Into Now,” earlier this year and I just assumed that they would be a band with a presence in pop culture until it just wasn’t physically possible anymore. That’s just the way things seem to go with the biggest rock bands in the world.
I’m looking at you Rolling Stones and The Who.
I came a little late to the R.E.M. party. It was in high school and, because coolness was measured by the silliest things back then, not knowing about their albums prior to “Green” (the one with “Stand,” which was the theme song to the crazy Chris Elliot sitcom “Get a Life.”) made me feel lame compared to the kids who had liked the group for so much longer. This was not a once in a lifetime feeling for me. I ended up going to school at UGA in Athens and the music snobbery and the “got there first” mentality there knew no bounds.
Despite getting into the band “late” (hey, I was there before everyone else that jumped on with “Losing My Religion”), I quickly fell in love with the band and their catalog. It was rock and yet sometimes it had a country tinge. The band could go from pure, sugary fantastic pop to a heart-wrenching ballad or a fiery political anthem and never feel forced or trite (at least for a long time). If you liked R.E.M. or not, you have to admit, they were never one-dimensional. When I think about the music I listen to now, I can see R.E.M.’s influence on those artists or bands (Ryan Adams, Arcade Fire, Pavement and Coldplay to name a few). It is awesome, in the truest sense of the word, to think of all the great songs that R.E.M. recorded and the incredible albums they released.
In my opinion there was only one other band that matched them and sometimes did it better - U2 (This better not give you any ideas, Bono). At one point in time, around the release of U2’s “Achtung Baby” and R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People,” they were the biggest bands in the world. It was an awesome time to be a fan of both bands and the memories I have associated with listening to both albums still resonate with me today.
I am sad that the band won’t make any more music together, but their songs aren’t going anywhere. We won’t lose the memories that we associate with the music or the feelings they inspire. I will still think of my college friends when I hear “Nightswimming” and the UGA Chapel Bell commercial that features “Oh My Heart” will make me misty every time I see it. I will remember singing along to “Country Feedback” in a gigantic soccer stadium in Padua, Italy and cheering when they asked if there were any Georgia folk in the audience that night. The music isn’t going anywhere. It’s on the radio. It’s on my iPod and it’s on a gigantic playlist I made yesterday on Spotify.
As stunning as the news of the band’s end was, it did make me kind of happy. The band was going out on their own terms. Unlike so many other bands I loved, death wasn’t forcing them to stop before their time. They also weren’t going to continue just because it made the most business sense to do so. All across the pop culture spectrum there are bands or television programs that are now an industry, continuing because it makes money, not because it has anything left to say or to achieve aside from longevity.
I don’t think we’ve heard the last from Michael Stipe, Mike Mills or Peter Buck. They may not play or record as R.E.M., but they will still make music, just maybe not together.
It’s not the end of the world as we know it. It’s just an ending and one they chose themselves. The next time I’m up at the Manhattan in Athens, I’ll raise a glass.
Thanks for all the music, guys.