By Daniel B. Kline
For a time, in my formative years, REM was my favorite band without question. They were my introduction to music that fell outside the mainstream (though they did not stay semi-known for more than a few months after I discovered them) and they were my personal soundtrack to my last two years of high school.
At a time when U2 was the accepted “alternative” mega-band, I felt, when I discovered REM (through their early-career greatest hits record Eponymous) like I was literally the only person in my high school class who knew who they were. That was likely not true, but I delighted in sharing their music with my small circle of friends.
This was 1989 and though they had had a radio hit with “The One I Love,” the real commercial breakthrough did not occur until Automatic For The People in 1992. So, in some ways, their early records including the stunning Life's Rich Pageant, were still a secret shared lovingly with people I remain close to to this day.
One of my happiest memories from that time involved an awkward bus ride to Quebec City as part of a school trip. I was more than a little nervous about the trip as I had few friends at the time and those that I did have were not on the trip.
Because of that, I sat alone wearing a too-big-for-me REM T-shirt with hair that would eventually be long, but was then cut like Ernie from Sesame Street listening to Eponymous on a yellow Sony Walkman (a tape player for those of you who don't remember a time before iTunes). Not precisely shy, but certainly not the type of young fellow who just randomly talked to pretty girls, the joyous revelation that was REM empowered me to start chatting with the girl sitting across from me whom I had never seen before (a rare thing in a school of about 600).
Jennifer would go on to become my first girlfriend and one of my closest friends to this day. It was an REM song that was my first “our song,” (with her) and it was even a line from the “It's The End Of The World As We Know It,” that provided the name for my first newspaper column (a column in which I wrote about my first date with my wife Celine).
Certainly there were other bands playing from the jury-rigged CD player in my 1982 Chevy Malibu Classic station wagon (which blew a fuse if you honked the horn while playing a CD) but REM meant more to me than the Replacements, the Pixies and countless other bands I love.
As I got older, I liked their new output less and less and they faded as my favorite band (replaced by Boston alt-rock legends Buffalo Tom). That, however, doesn't make me any less sad to hear that REM has disbanded and that I will likely never see them on-stage again and that they will never make that “return-to-glory” album that I expected each time a new record came out.
Still, that does not change that at a time when I needed something to grab onto, REM provided a path that led to me discovering a new world of music. They led to me wanting to be a music critic and meeting my best friend in the newsroom of The Chronicle at Hofstra University whose first assignment for me as a music critic was Buffalo Tom's Let Me Come Over. That was the same newsroom where I met my wife and where, for better of worse, pushed me on the path of writing and journalism that I still walk today.
I suppose I'll never again be a heartbroken teenager listening to “Country Feedback” over and over any more than I'll ever get to experience the joy of discovering something entirely new. But as REM walks quietly away, I'll know that had Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe never played music together then my life may have been utterly worse for it.
Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can see his archive at dbkline.com. You can listen to his podcast or buy his book, Worst Ideas Ever, at Worstideasever.com.