I've got a half-written entry on my newest hobby sitting in the draft pile. And I was sitting down to finish it, but I checked a website first, and read some interviews, and became almost overwhelmed with emotions, such that I felt that that entry would have to be done another day (probably this weekend) because I need to write what I'm feeling now.
This is what I read. And this is what I watched.
I realized, sitting here, that I had never mentioned R.E.M.'s breakup in this journal. This struck me as odd. They are far and away my favorite band, and I sincerely doubt they will ever be knocked from that pedestal; even if I found another band who so encapsulated everything I value in music, the fact is that the most formative periods of my life are tied up in R.E.M's music. The breakup of the band came as a complete surprise to me, even as it simultaneously seemed inevitable. Part of it was the much-talked about aspect that they broke up for no particular reason, unheard of for a major artist. But for me, it was more that I had always believed - really, truly believed - that they had one more great album in them. I'm not as harsh on the band's later years as most (I adore Monster and New Adventure as much as any R.E.M. albums, throughly enjoy Up, and mostly appreciate Reveal) but it was hard to argue that some of the lightning had escaped the bottle, particularly once Around the Sun slumped onto shelves.
I liked about half the songs on their final album, Collapse into Now. I was throughly disappointed. But at the same time I feel that the last two tracks are as good as anything R.E.M. has ever done, and it pointed to the possibility that they could do something better next time. But there wasn't a next time.
So why didn't I write about it here? Because, in this day and age, I went to Facebook to share my immediate reaction (as I don't currently use Twitter - I sometimes toy with the idea, and then abandon it). This LiveJournal is for something more: some sort of reflection, something for posterity. But I had nothing to give. The news hadn't, couldn't, sink in past a purely surface level.
One thing I decided to do was to listen to their entire discography in chronological order. Maybe, at the end, I'd have a clue. There was a hold-up while I waited for a remastered LP of Life's Rich Pageant (album #4) to arrive, and then to make it up to Whidbey to use the record player. Now the listening sessions are back on track. I've spent the last few evenings cataloging a card collection (the hobby, for next entry) and I've made it to R.E.M.'s '90s output. And on Automatic for the People (album #8, and my all-time favorite) I listened to Everybody Hurts, and appreciated it for the first time in a decade. Like most people, I had tired of it from overplay, and as a dedicated fan was sort of embarrassed by how unrepresentative of the band it was. But this time, I was struck by its sincerity. There is nothing maudlin about it, something the "fans" who only liked R.E.M.'s IRS output will never understand. It's a great song.
And then I came the Monster - the album whose divisive reputation became a running joke in college, a joke that is perhaps my earliest positive college memory. And I sorted cards, and enjoyed it, and realized that I probably wasn't going to figure anything out, but damn if I wasn't going to enjoy the journey.
Who knows. Maybe I'll like Collapse Into Now better this time around.
- A Belated Retrospective