*The title is a line from R.E.M.’s “The One I Love,” from their album Document.
In case you missed it, R.E.M. announced this week that they were breaking up. Established in 1981, R.E.M. has been performing for 30 years. In fact, R.E.M. is only a few months’ older than I am.
I’ve been an R.E.M. fan since I was in 7th grade. I don’t remember my reaction when I first heard “Losing My Religion,” but I know that “Losing My Religion” was the first song I’d ever heard from R.E.M. I liked their music so much that I bought Out of Time on tape, one of my first album purchases as a young teenager. My musical tastes might have changed a lot over the years (for one, I actually like rap now, something I never would’ve considered in high school), but there was always one constant: R.E.M.
It may sound sappy, but I felt an era of my life had come to an end. To be honest, I am aware that bands come and go and that some bands never last as long as R.E.M. did, but I never could imagine that R.E.M. would ever break up. I mean, c’mon, the Rolling Stones are still touring, right? Ahem…I never thought of my life without R.E.M., not that I needed to think about these things. I will always have their albums to listen to over and over again (and thanks to the Internet and to programs like Spotify I can discover “new music” in the shape of bootlegs from different gigs over the years), but it still stings a little. R.E.M. has been a major part of my adult life.
For one, I credit them, in an indirect way, my career as a cultural critic. R.E.M. made me think. I listened to the songs from Out of Time over and over. I transcribed the songs trying to figure out what Michael Stipe was saying. And once I had painstakingly figured out what their songs said, I wanted to know what they were about. The songs had stories, and I wanted to know what those stories were. For a young teenager living in Puerto Rico, and with no internet access until college, it wasn’t as easy as it is today: just Google “R.E.M. songs+meanings” and see what pops up. But in the 90s I bought magazine after magazine, trying to piece together the context, the background, the history of the song.
I also learned how to be a music fan through R.E.M. I started reading Rolling Stone and Spin magazine regularly. I also purchased Guitar World on ocassional, when Peter Buck or Mike Mills were featured. I devoured every piece of information I could get my hands on. I wanted to hear what they heard, and I wanted to read what they read. Through R.E.M. I found out about Patti Smith, about The Beats, about B-52s, about The Byrds, about Tori Amos. Just the other day I was comparing versions of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” with a friend of mine. I told her I knew the song through R.E.M. because they covered it for Dead Letter Office. Oh, and I became the kind of fan who buys the obscure albums no one listens to because that’s what real fans do.
But this is not an homage to R.E.M. or a long post mourning their break-up. I considered doing both, but in the end I didn’t think my post would be any different from any other super fan’s blog post. Instead, I decided to do one of my “Five Songs” series posts about five R.E.M. songs that I love. If you like–or love–R.E.M., post your faves in the comments.
So here we go, five R.E.M. songs I love–in no particular order because I can’t pick my favorite R.E.M. song of all time. Please. You should know me better than that.)
1) “Leave,” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi
New Adventures in Hi-Fi is one of my favorite R.E.M. albums. It’s underrated, as demonstrated by the little airplay it gets in R.E.M. retrospectives. However, it wasn’t my favorite off the bat. It took a few listens for me to get into it. (I had a similar experience with Up, even though that album isn’t at the level of Hi-Fi.) When I decided to make this list, I knew I’d pick a song from Hi-Fi, but I was torn about which one to choose because they’re all so good! Ultimately, I chose this one because it has one of my favorite R.E.M. lines of all time: “I suffer dreams of a world gone mad/ I like it like that and I know it.”
2) “Leaving New York,” from Around the Sun
This one was easy. It’s a song about New York, so why wouldn’t it be on my list? But that’s not the only reason why I chose it. This song always gets me a little choked up. It reminds me of when my boyfriend left to Kansas City. I was staying behind in New York because I had to work. I made him a mix CD, like I sometimes do, to entertain him on the 18-hour-drive to the Midwest. As a bonus track, I added this song and left it out of the track listing. To this day, when I hear this song I think of his car pulling out of our driveway and onto our street. I wouldn’t see him again until about six months later.
Also, “You find it in your heart, it’s pulling me apart” has to be one of the saddest lines in R.E.M.’s repertoire.
3) “These Days” from Life’s Rich Pageant
An old hit that I re-discovered when R.E.M. Live at the Olympia came out last year. I remember playing this song on tape, rewinding it and playing it again. Thing is, this was the second song on Side A, so I had to listen to “Begin The Begin” again and again to listen to “These Days.” As a result I also know “Begin the Begin” by heart. Rock on.
4) “Living Well Is the Best Revenge” from Accelerate
This song is just awesome, all around. One of my favorites from their 2008 album, which marked a return to a harder rock and roll sound. Sidenote: as I was looking for a video of this song, I came across this one from their Austin City Limits performance. I’d forgotten about that one!
5) “Country Feedback” from Out of Time
I know I said it’s hard for me to come up with a Top Five list of favorite R.E.M. songs in order, but this one is definitely Top Three. I remember being a teenager and falling in love with this song. Years later, this song still makes me stop whatever I am doing and listen closely. It disarms me.
“It’s crazy what you could’ve had.”
I couldn’t end on such a heavy note, so here’s “Stand” from 1989′s Green. I chose this one because it reminds me of my brother and I singing along to it and never knowing the direction that comes next in the song. He and I went to my first and only R.E.M. concert together in New York City.