Dear Michael, Mike and Peter (and Bill, sort of) --
I was shattered to hear the news last week that you guys are calling it quits, and it's taken me a full week to be able to articulate exactly why. I still don't think I capture it very well.
The thing is, you're the first and only band I truly grew up with. Thirty-one years strong at the time of your demise, you're older than I am. At first I thought, "This must have been how my mom felt when The Beatles broke up." But The Fab Four were only active for a third of the time you've been around – and popular for even less time than that.
R.E.M. has played such an integral role in my life as a music fan. Out of Time is my number-one desert island album. You were my first favorite band.
At age 7, I had the "Losing My Religion" single on cassette tape. I bopped around my parents' living room while watching the music video on VH1 and tried to imitate Michael Stipe's floppy hand movements.
In 1995, I went to see you in concert in St. Petersburg, Florida on the Monster tour. Radiohead opened. I was 11. (My parents kind of rock.) I had a good time and did my now-perfected floppy hand dance when you played "Losing My Religion," but was too young to truly appreciate your greatness.
Around the same time, I remember driving around in the car with my grandmother hearing "Everybody Hurts" on the radio, and feeling slightly uncomfortable at how visibly moved she was. Even though I kind of was too.
When I was a 12-year-old mallrat, quickly becoming a Serious Music Fan, I bought New Adventures in Hi-Fi and learned who Patti Smith was. (Special thanks for that. Cue "Defining Life Moment" placard.)
In high school, I spent a not-insignificant portion of my senior year learning all the words to "It's the End of the World As We Know It," and my friend Alicia and I sung it in the hallways every chance we could. (We might not have been in the "popular" crowd, but damn if we didn't know who Leonid Brezhnev was by the time we were 17. We DID feel fine.)
Then, as time went on, like an old friend who maybe you don't have that much in common with anymore, but with whom you still try to stay close, R.E.M. and I went through a rough patch for a while. I still faithfully bought every one of your albums. (We're talking the Up and Around the Sun years. Times were hard.) I'd listen a couple times, and promptly file them away on my CD shelf like tiny, plastic teddy bears I'd outgrown.
During my college years in Boston, I saw you live twice and was disappointed in the set list the second time, even though I still got to do the floppy hand dance. The spark was … no, not gone. Songs like "At My Most Beautiful" and "Strange Currencies" were still seeing me through the ups and downs of relationships and life in general. But it was dimmed.
Fast-forward to 2011, to the release of Collapse Into Now, which I thought was your strongest work in more than a decade. Songs like "Oh My Heart" and "UBerlin" harken back to your earliest releases. And the album closer "Blue," featuring Queen Patti, absolutely slays me.
Now it's been a week, and while I'm still crushed, I understand. (It was you guys, after all, who said, "It's easier to leave than to be left behind.") And at the end of the day, I'm glad you went out on a high note instead of slogging around for years of irrelevance.
I think about what Michael S. wrote in his farewell statement:
"A wise man once said--'the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave.' We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we're going to walk away from it."
Thanks for the memories.
Love Always and Forever,