Much as I loved my decade, I’ll be the first to admit that the Eighties produced a lot of things that are better left forgotten in the mists of time. You know what I mean: shoulder pads, neon makeup, Pia Zadora. Sure, we all participated gleefully, because it was part of growing up in a decadent decade. But then you did grow up, and as you emerged from the candy-colored tunnel of frivolity, you were suddenly faced with adulthood and people like Midnight Oil. Or REM.
When I first encountered REM, there was no such thing as “college music” in Germany (and how could there be? Universities didn’t start converting to a similar system until 30 years later!), MTV still played music, and the main categories of music were rock, pop, heavy metal and alternative. If it had not been for the Irish Pub in Sachsenhausen, I would have missed out on a very large part of my musical education. At the time I started my brief stint as party girl, I was still contemplating how I might go about getting to Australia or living in the UK, but then along came the Americans with their weird mixed tapes, and suddenly, The One I Love wore a Hairshirt, drank Orange Crush and sang in unintelligible mumbles about things only grown-ups should know about. Michael Stipe didn’t begin to sing in a more understandable fashion until much later, and I feel vindicated that none of our American friends truly understood everything he murmured into the mic, either.
Over the years, REM became part of the soundtrack of my life. I remember very well sitting at El Torito’s in Monterey with some friends, sharing strawberry daiquiries and loudly singing along to “Man On the Moon.” “Losing my Religion” set new standards in story-telling in music videos, and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was the sole reason we queued up at the music store in Laurel in the middle of the night to be there for the debut of “Monster”, an otherwise woefully mediocre album.
Once, when we moved across the continent, we actually took a side trip to Athens, Georgia, just so we could see where REM came from, what inspired them.
In all those years, I only managed to see them live once, just before they rocketed into superstardom with the release of “Green” in 1989. They were playing the Kongresshalle, a relatively small venue near Frankfurt’s main train station. The place was packed. The stage was tiny and hardly elevated above the floor. Had I not feared the masses up front would crush me to death, I could have reached out and touched… someone. It was all wild, frenzied fun. I didn’t buy the t-shirt, but I think I still have the tour book.
In the last decade, the band seemed to lose steam. When I look at the track lists from “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”, “Reveal” and “Around the Sun”, I feel at a loss. But “Accelerate” was soon hailed to be REM’s return to form and a splendid comeback album, so it’s a bit sad to see the comeback only lasted three short years (and spawned another album, Überlin). Just when it appeared that REM might be the one band from Out of Time who might manage to become everlasting legends like the Rolling Stones, they decided to do it their way and bow out of the game gracefully, on their terms, while the love of the fans was still warm and the music still played in our heads.
For me, saying goodbye to REM is not just saying goodbye to an iconic rock band, it truly is the end of an era as it erases the last of the echoes of great times at a pub long gone. To quote another great band: Thank you for the music! At least, we’ll always have Frankfurt…