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Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Break-Up Of R.E.M. - 2011 Music Moment

Welcome to a whole new month, as well as a whole new look for A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S GUIDE TO LIFE!

Or...should I say...OLD look?

In case you haven't already noticed, the colour scheme has turned into dark blue and light pink.  Already this might seem like a drastic change, but there is a reason for it.

You see...when this blog first debuted five years ago in May 2011, the original colour scheme was blue and pink.  The reason I chose those colours were because those two colours were heavily used in my childhood years.  Every living room that I was in, every television show that I watched, and every classroom that I sat it had lots of blue and pink things inside of them.  I'm almost beginning to think that blue and pink were the official colours for interiors during the years of 1985 and 1992!

I even designed a logo based on those two colours...but I'm sure you'll agree that it was a...ahem...half-assed job at that. 

But five years later - and getting skilled with paint programs in the process - I've perfected that look and have brought an old sense of familiarity to the fifth anniversary of this blog.

And, as I mentioned before, this blog will be making everything five years old brand new again because for most of the month of May, all the posts will be from events and fads that took place during the year that this blog was founded - 2011.

And just for one month only, I'll be resurrecting some of the topics that I used to do five years ago.

So, this is the projected schedule for May 2016...


So, given that today is Sunday, I should be talking about something music related.  And, certainly I will be. 

Now, 2011 was one of those years that had a lot of great moments.  It was the year that Lady Gaga empowered everyone to be proud of who they were when she released the self-esteem anthem "Born This Way".  Katy Perry broke records with her "Teenage Dream" album, even tying a record for having five #1 songs from the same album - a record that had been previously established by Michael Jackson in 1984.  And, it was also the year that Justin Bieber received an early Christmas present when his holiday album reached platinum status by the end of the year.

But 2011 was also a year in which several musical acts called it quits.  The White Stripes, silverchair, and Rx Bandits all hung up their musical instruments and disbanded that year.

But I think one of the bands that broke up in 2011 was one that absolutely shocked me - not because of the fact that they were a great band (at least in my opinion) that had been around since the year before I was born (1980), but because they were a band that I had listened to practically my entire young life. 

I still remember the very first song that I heard them playing.  By that point the band had started to get their songs played on the radio after years of merely being able to be heard on independent college stations.

The song was "Stand", and it was one of the songs that was in heavy rotation on the radio station I listened to back in 1989.  Although I was only eight years old at the time, I absolutely loved that single, and I wanted to know who it was that sang it.

Of course, the answer to that question is R.E.M.  And I happily considered myself to be a fan.

R.E.M. was made up of four members - lead singer Michael Stipe, lead guitarist Peter Buck, drummer Bill Berry, and pianist Mike Mills.  In January of 1980, Stipe, then 19, met Buck at an Athens, Georgia record store, where both men learned that they had similar musical interests.  Shortly after that, the pair befriended Mills and Berry, both students at the University of Georgia.  At that moment, the band that would come to be known as R.E.M. was born.

Their first gig was three months later at the birthday party of a mutual friend, and after writing and playing several songs, the four tried to come up with a name.  Some of the rejected names included Twisted Kites, Negro Wives, and Cans of Piss! 

Yeah, I don't know if I would have liked the band as much had they decided to name themselves Cans of Piss.

So, how did the band come up with the name R.E.M.?  Well, you can thank Webster's Dictionary for that one.  Stipe randomly opened up the book to the R section where the first entry was about rapid eye movement - or R.E.M.

Over the next year, R.E.M. found a manager, and was touring various venues around the Southern United States.  But back in 1980, alternative rock music was still a fairly new genre, and not a whole lot of support was given to alternative bands back in those days.

But the band kept going on, and in the summer of 1981, the band released their first single, "Radio Free Europe" with an independent label.  Only one thousand copies of the single were initially up for sale, and all one thousand copies sold out in no time.  Though the single never really made an impact on the major charts, that's not to say that the song wasn't a critical hit.  In fact, it was listed as one of the ten best singles of 1981 by "The New York Times"!

Two years later, R.E.M. made their first television appearance on "Late Night With David Letterman", where they performed the single "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)".  Although the track hadn't been named at the time of their Letterman performance, it would be the lead single off their 1984 album "Reckoning" - which to the band's surprise would peak at #27 on the Billboard 200 Charts.  An unusual feat for a college band!

It wouldn't be until 1987 and three albums later that the band would start to enjoy mainstream success with the album "Document".  And, I will say this.  "Document" is a great album.  In addition to two songs that are still very well represented on the radio ("It's The End Of The World As We Know It" and "The One I Love"), the album itself was a political commentary of several recent world events...and fans absolutely ate it up.

But it was during this time that R.E.M. broke off relations with their former record company, I.R.S., and signed on with Warner, which ultimately proved to be a blessing for the group as well.  While signed under Warner, the group had four hit albums in a row, "Green" (1988), "Out Of Time" (1991), "Automatic For The People" (1992), and "Monster" (1994). 

(And, yes...I owned all four albums at one time.  What can I say?  I was a fan.)

It also helped that R.E.M. wasn't afraid of trying new things either.  For their 1991 album, they used a variety of acoustic musical instruments and blended them together with standard instruments to create a brand new sound - notably featured on songs such as "Shiny Happy People" and "Losing My Religion".

("Losing My Religion" by the way was heavily used in the television show "Beverly Hills 90210" - particularly in episodes after Dylan left Brenda to be with Kelly.)

And later on in their career, the band took on the challenging role of creating the entire film score for the 1999 film "Man On The Moon", which featured their single "The Great Beyond".

Interestingly enough, the band had a hit in 1992 with the single "Man On The Moon", both songs written about Andy Kaufman.

But by the end of the 1990s, the band underwent a few setbacks.  First there was the departure of Bill Berry in 1997, due to fears regarding his health - he had passed out during a set in 1995 from a brain aneurysm.  And their albums after 1996 sort of suffered as a result.  While I did like their 1998 album "Up", many critics panned it, and it became one of their lowest selling records.  And during most of the 2000s, their music - while still good - also didn't do very well with critics and fans.

But there were some highlights.  In 2007, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  And for the record, the band's final album together, "Collapse Into Now" was a huge hit, peaking within the Top 5 of the Billboard 200.

But the writing was on the wall by that point.  And on September 21, 2011,  the band officially announced that they were disbanding after twenty-one years.  Their record contract had been completed, and they mutually agreed that now was the time to walk away.

So, what has happened in the five years since R.E.M. sang their last song together?

Well, Bill Berry turned his attention to agriculture, and has been working as a farmer for the last few years.  He is married and a father of one child.

Peter Buck continues to record music.  What's interesting is that his 2014 album "I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again" was only released on vinyl!

Mike Mills has also continued to perform music, and in 2012 contributed to a single that was aimed at preventing the building of a Walmart in Athens, Georgia!

As for Michael Stipe?  Well, he too has stayed within the music industry, contributing vocals to other artist projects...and in 2014, he was the one who inducted Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  But as Stipe was probably the most private person of all in the band, I imagine a lot of his private life has managed to stay private, so we'll leave it at that.

At any rate...R.E.M. managed to carve out a place in alternative rock...and in doing so, they had lots of fans who followed them every step of the way until September 2011.

I'm happy to say that I was one.

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