The One I Love - written by R.E.M. and recorded by me the day after they disbanded. (With one microphone, so you’ll have to forgive the volume issues.)
Probably the saddest thing about R.E.M splitting up is that I’m not especially sad about R.E.M. splitting up.
I owe so much to that band, they were brilliant at just the right time in my life. They’re easily one of the most important bands in my world. I doubt I’d be a recognisable musician if you removed R.E.M. from my tree of influences: they’re so close to the root.
Baseline jangling guitars being pushed in all directions from clean and trebly through to a haze of distortion, with a special fondness for that overdriven sweetspot on a Vox amp. The unique voice that prizes sound over legibility but ends up being more expressive than the most didactic of lyrics. (And then occsionally switches to heartbreaking directness.) Basslines as memorable and distinctive as any other element of the song. Drums that provide as much texture as rhythm. A constantly expanding sound pallette. Taking as much care over tracklisting as songwriting. Crediting the whole band as songwriters. Dozens of tiny quirks, structural choices, arrangements, sounds, turns of phrase and more.
If I’d never heard these things I wouldn’t be me.
Even when I haven’t listened to them in a while I’ll play something and next day realise I’ve borrowed something tiny, like having two verses before the first chorus and ending on an E minor, or a particur guitar tone on a certain type of riff, or a way of picking the higher strings to complement a vocal line.
Green was the first CD I was given when I got my first CD player and Document was the first album I bought with my own money. I still have the glowing pixelly photo on my phone that I took from the crush of people trying to be as close to the front as possible from the first time I saw them. My sister and I drew each other programmes when we went to see them at Twickenham stadium, blown away despite being miles away from the stage and surrounded by people frowning at us for standing and dancing. (They all stood up when Losing My Religion played.) They introduced me to The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Kristin Hersh, Vic Chesnutt, Pylon, The Byrds, Tilly and The Wall, Espers and more. I went through quite a period of listening to R.E.M. every single day. (And I’ll still occassionally hear a detail or nuance I haven’t noticed before.) More than one tragedy has been dealt with by sticking Everybody Hurts on repeat.
So even though the last few albums haven’t moved me as much (constant cries of “definately a return-to-form this time” are considerably less interesting than inventing a whole new way of being R.E.M. every time) they were my First Favourite Band, they deeply shaped my relationship with music and I will always love them.
She stands on the platform carrying an elegantly plain ukulele. She also has beautiful and distracted elfin features, dark cherry red fingernails and hair to match, a rather stylish coat and skin so exquisitely pale I initially assumed her long bare legs were sheathed in alabaster tights. But mainly the uke.