Thursday, September 22, 2011


Even though the last album I remember buying the day it came out was Monster in 1994, I'm pretty sure there isn't any album I've listened to more than Life's Rich Pageant. Now that REM have officially broken up, I'm pretty confident in saying that if the work of any musical artist is in my DNA, it's theirs.

When I saw them on an overcast evening in the fall of 1989 at my local suburban amphitheatre they played "Perfect Circle," a ballad from their much-ballyhooed first album, and a light mist began to fall, as Stipe sang the first chorus, which is "heaven assumed, shoulders high in the room" (or at least that's what I think he says, but that's another matter altogether), and Buck strummed his strummy strums and Mills sighed his backing vocals and plucked out those sad, descending root notes, and Berry quietly kept the beat, and it was a small but beautiful and epiphanous moment, the kind of moment of which I hadn't--being fifteen--had too many. It is my favorite REM song, and that was--and remains--one of my favorite live moments from any rock and roll show. And I've seen my share. I remember later reading somewhere that Peter Buck said the song made him think about seeing kids playing football as evening came on. Which is perfect.

As with many of their best songs, the lyrics are opaque--if intelligible at all--but certain words and images shine through and elicit very specific emotions. Like good poetry does. "Happy throngs take this joy, wherever you go." "The children look up, all they hear are sky blue bells ringing."  And so on.

I moved on to other musical vistas in the mid-1990's. But looking at my music collection, I can think of several dozen albums and musicians that I love, and that I know about because I heard Stipe mention it in an interview I read, or because Peter Buck produced it, or because they toured with them, or because they covered them. Records by folks like Vic Chesnutt, Robyn Hitchcock, or Patti Smith.

Thank you Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe.

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