The news of R.E.M.’s demise hit me like a shock. Why? In this day and age it’s presumed that bands never really “break up.” How likely is it that the members of R.E.M. will never play music with one another again, will never mount a reunion tour? Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they recorded another album in the future.
So it isn’t that. I thought it could be that I was looking forward to what they’d come up with next - their most recent album is fantastic, and on par with some of the best music of their career. But I don’t think that’s what’s affecting me, either.
This evening I was going through their back catalog, reminiscing, when I hit on this song and immediately burst into tears.
It’s a great song, but moreover it’s a song that reminds me so specifically of my youth. R.E.M. were formed one year after I was born. They were the cool, weird band that my older brother listened to when I was in elementary school. Then they became huge and he disowned them (cause that’s what he always did when the bands he liked got famous).
They’ve been around ever since. Me at thirteen, listening to Automatic for the People in my best friend’s bedroom, making up stories and dreaming about the future. Me at eighteen, driving around and getting high and playing Electrolite on repeat, bored with my life and small town and waiting to escape. Me at twenty three, paying attention to the lyrics of “The Lifting” for the first time and realizing they spoke to some repressed and sickened part of my psyche that I longed to transcend – I cried then like I cried today.
Unlike any other band I’ve ever listened to, I grew up alongside these guys and their music. And unlike any other band breakup I’ve heard news of, this one feels like losing an old friend.