Wednesday, September 21, 2011

R.E.M. Calls It Quits After 31 Years

Above: Video for "UBerlin" from R.E.M.'s latest (and last) album, "Collapse Into Now."

R.E.M., one of the most enduring and successful rock bands of all time, announced today that it was disbanding with a brief, simple statement on its website. Each of the three band members later added his own short reflection on the decision to end the band. (The R.E.M. breakup announcement now also includes a statement from its record label, Warner Bros.)

The initial announcement:
"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." R.E.M.

R.E.M. was one of a number of rock bands coming out of Athens, Georgia in the early '80s. With its jangly guitars and mysterious, usually indecipherable lyrics it became a favorite on the college-rock circuit from its first release, the EP "Chronic Town." Amazingly the band had the same lineup its entire existence, except for the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1995, who left after suffering a brain aneurysm on stage during the "Monster" tour.

I've been a fan of R.E.M. from the time I first heard of them in 1980. I bought "Chronic Town" and the band's follow-up full-length, "Murmur," and saw them live when they played at Maxwell's in Hoboken in 1981 (back when Michael Stipe still had a full head of hair). I remember them putting on a great show, but I honestly don't remember a lot of details about the night. Had I known R.E.M. would become so famous and have such a long career, I would have brought a notebook with me and taken notes.

Above: R.E.M. performing "Radio Free Europe" on David Letterman in 1983, its first national appearance.

Although I bought nearly ever new album R.E.M. put out, I only saw them live a couple of times after that first concert at Maxwell's, the most recent time being November 2004 at Madison Square Garden. When they came out with a new album a couple of years later, they did one show at the Garden that soon sold out, and never scheduled another one.

The statements by the band members make it clear that they are parting as friends, so if there's any consolation for fans like me, it's that they may reunite for a concert sometime in the future. In the meantime, thanks for all the great music.

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