the end of the world as we know it.
22 September 2011
1991. I was in high school. A band called R.E.M. was singing on MTV Unplugged and I got my first fix. The music was moody, even when optimistic, and had a raw, pure sound that resonated with the person I would later become. As a teenager, R.E.M. was 'different'. They seemed like my version of the ultimate cool kids-- artistic, interesting and deeply passionate about what they were communicating. They were the elusive group of anti-rock stars.
A couple of years later, thanks to BMG mail order music club*, I had amassed a generous collection of R.E.M.'s work. And, by the time I completed my freshman year of college, I had worn through two copies of Automatic for the People.
Fast forward to my sophomore year and I was skipping university to drive 232 miles with my sister and my boyfriend. We were headed for an outdoor amphitheatre, nestled into the hills of the Columbia River, to hear the band play live. We danced to Shiny Happy People as the spring evening sky gave way to night. We sang out loud with the rest of the crowd as Michael Stipe belted out Star 69 with a near hysterical energy. I collected Monster guitar picks and small buttons with the studio album's artwork on them. The concert ended at 11 p.m. and we drove through the night, me wearing a deeply faded jean jacket plastered with the collected concert buttons. We made it back to campus after driving through the dark and approaching the university just after sunrise. With practical intentions to make it back for classes, I proceeded to fall deep asleep almost immediately and ended up with another day missed... but more importantly, was buzzing with electric energy provided by the experience under the stars.
As a few years passed, my boyfriend became my fiance. And, since music was key to us as individuals, we discussed at length what song would start off our wedding ceremony. My husband suggested we walk down the aisle to R.E.M.'s It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine). I laughed and not wanting people in attendance to get the wrong idea, I said no and we moved on with the discussion. (To this day, I regret not walking down the aisle to it, though.)
I spent my young professional years listening to the band on my favorite alt-rock morning radio show as I drove down the 101 in San Francisco. And, while my move to Paris signaled an intense jazz period, R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi accompanied me (in the pre ipod days where you actually had to think about what music to pack on a plane flight).
And, on our ten year wedding anniversary, two children later, my husband booked us a weekend away at a penthouse suite in San Francisco. Knowing I was eagerly awaiting a copy of the band's 14th studio album, Accelerate, he scored a just released copy and had it waiting for us. We sat on our rooftop terrace, watching the fog roll in over the Bay, drinking wine and listening to Supernatural Superserious for the first time.
Just this last year, friends on Facebook heard my freakish cries as I discovered the release date of Collapse Into Now. Without a moment's pause, I clicked 'buy' on itunes and was running off into Bangkok's humid heat to pick up my daughter from school. By the time I had returned home, my kids knew most of the words to Oh My Heart (which is still being played with high frequency in our home).
My life, throughout various cities and personal milestones, is punctuated with a soundtrack. R.E.M. is the only band that is included in the soundtrack of every year of my adult life to date. Tonight I discovered that, after 31 years together as a band, R.E.M. is no longer. Yes... my heart will forever be a little bit squished from here on out.
*Remember the 'pay for one disc and we'll send you twelve but you'll be seriously annoyed by us if you don't cancel your membership immediately' deal that built every college student's music collection?