The Friday Morning Listen: R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)

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October 14, 1983. It was a long time ago. It was the one and only night I was lucky enough to see R.E.M. in concert. In the gym at the University of Maine with support acts B. Willie Smith (an R&B band from Connecticut who opened with a killer version of “My Baby Does The Hanky Panky”) and Let’s Active, the band came out with a Murmur-heavy set and we were enthralled. That record had been getting heavy airplay on the campus radio station, so we were all shocked and amazed when the show was announced. It’s been even more amazing to witness the band’s growth, maturation, and longevity. That last attribute may indeed be the key: for many reasons, bands just don’t stick around much anymore.

I thought a lot about this after this week’s announcement of the band’s breakup/retirement. What I realized is that after all of these years, I think about band breakups in a completely different way. Way back when, I was almost always stunned that a band would break up. I mean, they’re playing in a rock band! What could be better? Why would you stop?! But hell, I was in my teens. How could I possibly know anything about these situations. Years later, I played in a band for a while and discovered how close proximity, personality quirks and all of that could spin themselves up into one big knot of annoyance. And that’s without money pressures or any of that other hooey.

So these guys have been at it a long time. Apparently, it’s time to stop. Many people on the Internet are saying that they should have stopped after Bill Berry left. Yeah? Seems sorta presumptuous to be telling people what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their own lives. In any event, it’s over. I don’t know why they stopped, but I won’t second guess them. Why would I? These are the guys who put out Murmur, who became household names after releasing Green and Out of Time, who wrote the beautiful “Man In The Moon.” Sure, Stipe became an activist of sorts and pissed some people off. Whatever. One more reason to love him in my book.

It’s funny how a band like this can become a part of your life is ways that seem meaningful even if you’re not sure why. Quite a few years ago, I went on an overnight hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. At the AMC Hut we stayed at, one of the staff woke us up shortly after sunrise by standing outside of our cabins, acoustic guitar in hand, singing his own version of “Driver 8.” My personal situation at that point could not have been worse, and yet those two minutes have stuck with me ever since … and I’m not even sure why.

A lot of time has passed since that night in 1983. We’re all different people now. Time to change direction. Thanks, guys. We couldn’t have done it without you.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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