There are certain bands you choose, and certain bands that choose you. It seems like the latter catch you when it matters -- when the time, place and circumstances are just right. For me, R.E.M. was that band, right about the moment when Reckoning was playing on a tape deck in a crappy, prefab, carpeted apartment near the campus of Central Michigan University. The tape deck belonged to Jason, an art major with kinda longish "Andre-from-the- Real-World" hair that he was always pushing out of his face. He was dating my sister. He taught me how to play several chords on the guitar.
I'd argue that no matter who the 13-year-old was at the center of that story, they'd have little choice but to fall in love with R.E.M. And when I say "in love," I'm not fooling: my then-girlfriend and I followed the band on the Monster tour, enduring set after set from Luscious Jackson on muggy Midwestern summer evenings. Michael Stipe's fractured whine narrated my early high school years.
Like every intense, hormone-soaked infatuation, it didn't last. Part of it was that R.E.M. were one of those bands cursed by drawing the largest audience for their lousiest songs. ("Shiny Happy People"? Seriously?) Another part was that somewhere along the road (I'd argue it was not long after they started letting Luscious Jackson join them on the road), they started to seem essentially, irrevocably outdated, like those middle-aged dads clinging to their Converse All Stars. I think the band knew this. This was the era that Mike Mills started wearing those Rhinestone-studded Nudie Suits, for goodness sake. The last ten years have seen a clutch of R.E.M. records, each one promising that the band was releasing, at last, a relevant "rock" record. But relevant? That was Murmur, or Reckoning, hell even Green. Want to hear a rock band? Dig into their 1984 live set recently released as a bonus to Reckoning.
So, when the band announced that they'd decided to call it quits after three decades, it was something of a relief. It was the "now we can remember grandpa laughing, not with tubes coming out his nose" kind of thing. In that spirit -- to remember the best years, and cull the best of the worst -- we've cobbled together a playlist tribute to R.E.M., It's the End of the World As We Know It: An R.E.M. Retrospective. It goes out to you, Jason.