When asked to list my favorite bands, R.E.M. is always at the top. This generally comes as a surprise to people, likely because with my lauding of Tool and all things Maynard, one wouldn't expect a gangly, brooding Michael Stipe to best him in my musical pantheon. With the announcement of the band's break up, I've been revisiting the catalog of music that's defined so much of my life. I can't exactly articulate what it is about them that's held my interest and my heart for the better part of 20 years, but, then again, I don't think I should be able to. For me, part of the beauty of music exists in its inexplicable hold on someone, irrespective of the constraints of time and space. While some songs take me back to a specific event, the majority of R.E.M.'s songs take me to a feeling. And when I grow, the songs grow with me.
Of course, there are tracks inexorably linked to certain people and times: "Daysleeper" will always take me back to 10th grade. "Losing My Religion" will always remind me of Mark Greenstein. "Finest Worksong" will always be among the best opening tracks of any album. I'll always remember crying during "Nightswimming" as R.E.M. played it during their encore at Jones Beach on Long Island back in 1999 (I was so afraid they weren't going to play it, and it had been my favorite song... and when they did, it was perfection - emotive, intimate, beautiful. I was so grateful it made their setlist). "Superman" will always be my power song, getting me through everything from the bullies in 8th grade to grueling volleyball workouts in college. My relationship with this music has been my longest to date, outside of my friendship with TomB. And though I may not listen to them daily, or laud them as much as I should, what R.E.M. has created will be with me forever.
I'm not sad about them breaking up; it's an inevitable terminus for any artistic collaboration, and one that's better chosen by the bandmates than a record label or heroin needle. My mom gasped when I told her, then immediately changed her demeanor to, "Well... yeah, they've been around forever." I reacted the same way when I found out, regretting only that I had seen them but once, although that concert was one of the best I've experienced.
There is so much I want to say about this music, but I'm not only out of practice on writing down my feelings (great job, journalism master!), but I don't even know where to begin. So, I'll let the music speak for itself. I've put together a playlist of my favorite songs, available over on my Spotify profile (if you don't have Spotify... well, you should, it's awesome). Turn it on, turn it up, tune out. That's the best tribute I can give to a band who's given me so much.