One Saturday night in the fall of 1987, right after my 15th birthday when my family moved from Long Island to upstate New York, my musical tastes radically changed forever. It was the moment that I was watching MTV and saw the video for “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M.
Their music was different. It wasn’t what I was hearing on the radio. It wasn’t quite pop or rock or rap. I couldn’t quite place it. It was catchy as hell, but it sounded…different. It sounded like something I wanted to explore deeper. Who were these guys? Where did they come from? Did their other songs sound like this? Were there other groups that had a similar sound to R.E.M.?
I’ve spent the better part of 24 years trying to answer those questions. Watching R.E.M.’s video all those years ago set me off on a journey that continues to this day and I don’t see it concluding until the day I die. Sadly, R.E.M. officially called it quits today. It’s hard for me to even quantify their importance in my life, but I’ll try.
Without R.E.M., I would have never deeply explored the majesty of U2, the drunken celebration of The Replacements, the quirkiness of The Flaming Lips, the virtuosity of Radiohead, the sheer power and intensity of Nirvana, or the laid-back cool of Beck and Pavement. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to experience much of the bands mentioned, or their contemporaries, if I had listened to the radio and stuck to the Billboard charts.
I guess you could argue that I would have found those bands and their music without R.E.M., but I don’t believe that. Listening to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” was like a mental trigger. Like a cheesy sci-fi flick, my brain was just waiting for this song to set me off on my journey. I’ll never forget them for that.
Unbeknownst to them, R.E.M. exposed me to things that have permeated almost every aspect of my life. Listening to new music, challenging myself to experience something new, became a way of life that has continued. Look beyond what you see. Find out what really matters to you. Never accept things at face value. Question authority. Accept the things that are different. Find your true self.
Thank you Michael, Peter, Mike, and Bill. You’ve done more for me than you could ever imagine.