31 + 1 - The Year Without R.E.M.
A year ago today I awoke to news that I knew was coming, but news that I could never be prepared for. I had a call from R.E.M,'s manager Bertis telling me that the band was about to announce that they were, in their words, “calling it a day.”
Not breaking up, not disbanding. Not splitting up.
Just calling it a day. As if the 31 years prior was one long day in the studio or on the road and they all just wanted to go home.
31 years, 190 album tracks, 1377 concerts and 500+ performances of Losing My Religion.
I remember the day vividly. I sent emails and texts to the band members thanking them for everything and went for a run. And I remember not a feeling of nostalgia or sadness, but grief. It seems absurd now, and did then, but that's what it was.
When I was 8 years old I got a gift from my Uncle that was the cassette tape to “Document.” It started a history with this band that continued to me starting a fan site for them when I was 16, becoming friends with the band over the course of the years, and eventually working at their record company for five years.
I invested a lot of myself into the band over the years, probably more than was healthy. To me it was more than just music. It became an online community that I ran, supported and found friends in. People who I met in person, some who I never did. People who introduced me to my now wife, and who attended our wedding.
Through my late teens and twenties, I found myself responsible for a sea of people on a discussion board with lives and tragedies, drama and silliness. I found myself as the conduit for it, and it was maddening at times, and joyful at others. Anyone that's ever run an online community knows what I'm talking about. You are the nexus of unfettered and anonymous emotion.
Over time, as my relationship with the band changed, so too did mine with the fans and the music. It became part of something I did rather than something I observed. I worked on the campaigns in increasingly relevant ways, culminating I think in the work for “Collapse Into Now” and “Accelerate,” work I'm still very proud of.
When they toured, shows were like returning to summer camp. Seeing friends among the band, the crew, the families and friends. The band was part of life events for me – the recording of “Beat a Drum” they made for our first wedding dance for instance – and I was for them.
At SXSW in 2010, I went to dinner with the band after the screening at the Drafthouse. During dinner one of the guys asked, given that their contract with Warners was out, “What would you do if you were us?”
I answered, “Nothing and everything depending on what I wanted to. You aren't obligated at this point to anyone but your own best instincts. And you deserve that privilege.”
Then that phone call. The press release. The press interviews and stories. The sadness and the nostalgia.
If you aren't me, its easy to make fun of me. I am “that guy” with R.E.M. I often talk about them, I listened to them too much. I have memorabilia every where in my home and some at work. I certainly think of them more than they do of themselves.
I understand it's silly, a bit weird and annoying to most.
Over the last year I haven't gone on Murmurs.com very much, and in fact wanted to shut it down at various points. I haven't listened to the band nearly as much either, mostly because it makes me nostalgic. When I talk to or see the band members, its because of their new projects, not the band that once was.
I know that R.E.M. is done. But that thought still makes me sad.
The breakup of that band was the loss of something that defined who I was for a large portion of my life. I'm lucky that it happened when my interest in that portion of “me” was already getting out-weighed by myself as father, husband, industry professional and whatever. But it still hurts.
It hurts like losing a friend, someone I grew up with, who was there when things were bad and who were the cause of a lot of the happiness, both as people and in their music. So I grieved, and mourned, and was sad.
But a year later it's time to not do so.
I remember when I was 15 I had a magazine with Michael on the front. I told my sister (I think), “I want to meet him and work with him on something, he seems cool.” A little over ten years later I did. We did good things.
I spent half my life working on being more than just a listener, and more than just a fan. It defined who I was as a persona. “A friend and ally of the band” as one book put it.
But its time to move on. The band is done, that part of my life is too.
On September 21, 2012 I won't have a phone call.
What I will have, as I take my son to pre-school, is a jaw harp, a quarter-note snare drum and the voice of a friend singing:
“Beside yourself if radio's gonna stay, reason it could polish up the gray…”
They were R.E.M., that is what they did.
April 5, 1980 - September 21, 2011.