So, a friend has been debating who’s the greatest American rock band. He’s been considering just about everybody. I've been thinking about this a lot lately—and after watching The Coldplays on a rerun of their Austin City Limits performance after midnight the other night—I'm gonna have to throw R.E.M. into the mix. Michael Stipe made a special appearance and I think that even though he personally hasn't been musically relevant for nearly a decade, his influence is undeniable. So here’s a brief history of my on and off relationship with R.E.M.
Other than the Huey Lewis tape my aunt gave me for my 12th birthday, my first rock anything was R.E.M. Green, on vinyl, for Christmas that same year. I cannot even tell you how many times I've listened to that album. I started gathering tapes of the old stuff next. Through junior high and high school, I'd say R.E.M. shaped nearly all my tastes: clothes, movies, girls, everything. Automatic was even more impactful than Green. Its acoustic edge led me to tons of new music. I was kind of known as the kid who liked R.E.M.
Then there was Monster. And all the sudden all the kids who used to make fun of me for liking R.E.M. were piling into their moms' minivans to go the concert at Giants Stadium. The clincher happen one day at my locker when I overheard this little, blue-haired freak say to his buddy: "I heard this brand new R.E.M. song today, it's called Superman."
That was it, I was officially betrayed. But after the mish, I went and bought both Monster and Hi-Fi—let's just say they're both currently on my iPod. I’ve purchased every R.E.M. album since then, but rarely listen to them. Their new sound, never really appealed to me. Then, the song Leaving New York came out. It kicked my trash. It was layered, beautiful, and passionate and it inspired my wife and I to catch the SLC concert at the E-Center.
I somehow, without knowing it, managed to get 5th row, center stage tickets. And other than the mega-creepy Michael Stipe raccoon make-up, the concert rocked. Honestly the standout songs were actually The Great Beyond and Imitation of Live—two totally new-sound songs. So that was weird. But easily the best song of the night was their rendition of the original version of Drive—not that crap funk version they played for a few years. I'll be utterly honest here and say (cuz Matt would comment and tell everyone anyway), that it maybe made my eyes water. I totally realized how much of my youth was tied to that anthem.
So here's the deal, when bands and artists like The Coldplays, Radiohead, Nirvana, Grant Lee Phillips, etc. cite R.E.M as a major influence, contributor, and/or friend—you know something's up. Okay so R.E.M. isn’t the greatest American rock band, but Michael Stipe is without a doubt the Godfather of modern rock. And let’s face it, we all know who the greatest American rock band of all time is anyways: why it’s U2, of course.