In an unpleasant bolt from the blue, one of my favourite bands in all the world have announced that they’ve split up. R.E.M. have been making amazing music since the early 80s and survived the loss of their drummer halfway through their career, but whatever has happened recently to cause them to bring it all to an end, we’ll presumably find out at some point in the future. But they’ve left us with a heck of a lot.
As they were already working on a new album to follow-up the rather prophetically-titled Collapse Into Now, we’ll still get some new music on a forthcoming Greatest Hits collection, and hopefully the excellent deluxe reissues series will continue, but it’s really sad to know that we won’t get the chance to see them live again, something I was only lucky enough to do once, on the Around The Sun tour. That day, Michael Stipe literally tore up the setlist and announced that they were to play my favourite song, Leave, from the album that this website gets it name from. One of the best moments of my life.
Some people liked to complain that they had stopped making good music when they moved away from their indie roots in the late 80s and when you could start to tell what Stipe was singing, but that was never an argument I bought into. If R.E.M. had broken up after Document, we’d have missed out on Losing My Religion, The One I Love, Stand, Man On The Moon, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Everybody Hurts, What’s The Frequency Kenneth, E-Bow The Letter, Electrolite, At My Most Beautiful, The Great Beyond, Imitation Of Life, Leaving New York or any other great songs that they’ve done in their supposed ‘dark times’.
Along with their music, they’ve stood as bastions of integrity, honesty, creativity and sensitivity. They’ve always avoided rock star extravagance or controversy and have never made capital out of Stipe’s sexuality. Even when Bill Berry decided to walk away in 1997, they refused to replace him with a full-time drummer and he’s popped up now and again to play the odd show with them. Hopefully the other members will continue to make music in some form or other, because it would be a real loss to the music world if they all went off to be farmers. For now, we just have to remember their amazing early albums and their statesmen-like reign as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. And remember that, sometimes, everybody hurts…
“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.”