The Friday Morning Listen: R.E.M. – Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage (2011)

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I hadn’t intended on writing about the breakup of R.E.M. again but then I heard an interview with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills and got to thinking about the future of rock music. Specifically, will there ever be a new era of “The Big Rock Band”?

At first, I went back to that previous Friday Morning Listen to revisit band breakups. Not necessarily how I felt about them but instead to attempt to enumerate some of the big ones of the 1970s and 1980s. I was too young for the Beatles, though obviously that had to be a big deal. Later on there was Led Zeppelin, though that was caused by the death of John Bonham. Who else? The Eagles. The Talking Heads. David Lee Roth’s split with Van Halen. What struck me about all of these groups was one obvious point of commonality: they were all huge. Not only did they sell a lot of records but they occupied relatively large chunks of the greater cultural map.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: R.E.M.’s ‘Part Lies …’ is a concept greatest-hits album, tracing the story of a band from its infancy all the way until the end — then telling a little more.]

Yesterday, while sitting around the back room at Something Else! headquarters, we were discussing that very topic — that, because there are so many more entertainment options available these days, rock music’s share of that map is much, much smaller than it used to be. Sure enough, when I was a kid there were books, movies (at the theatre), and only three or four channels on the TeeVee. Today there are so many more things to do that music, as ubiquitous as it still is, carries nowhere near the cultural weight it once did. And while there are indeed some popular bands around, they’re guaranteed to fade in the not-too-distant future. Longevity, it would appear, is tied to our collective attention span. Sure, it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get my point.

In that interview, Stipe and Mills commented on the fact that they had no idea that R.E.M. would go on for 30 years. Thirty years? Are there any young rock bands out there today whose music will still be listened to thirty years distant? I’m not even sure that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel like the “Big Bands” are gone forever.

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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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