herald

Saturday 18 August 2018

Stipe was so chatty as we lay on the grass at Croke Park with a bag of cans

When the news broke that R.E.M. had announced their decision to split, there followed an immediate flurry of texts between myself and friends for who the band represented one of the high points of the Eighties and Nineties.

The tone was one of mild regret but no real sadness -- after all, no one's died -- as while the band had been releasing some excellent music in recent years, not least this year's Collapse Into Now, they weren't coming anywhere near the highs of their best work. And what highs they were.

R.E.M.'s 1983 debut album Murmur remains a high-water mark for rock music during that decade. Many's the night I decided to forego a bus home so that I could try to unravel its mysteries while strolling through the city's streets listening to it on one of those new-fangled Walkman yokes.

It had an almost occult feel to it, what with Peter Buck's chiming guitar lines offset by Mike Mills' basslines carrying the melodies and then to top it all off there was singer Michael Stipe. What on earth was the bloke singing about?



ENIGMA

The sense of wonder generated by Murmur continued through to the following year's Reckoning and it was late in 1984 that we first got to experience the band live at a gig in the SFX.

Road-hardened as they were from four years of criss-crossing the States they could still cause the heart to flutter by dropping an acapella version of Moon River into the encore.

In 1985 they were with us again, supporting U2 at Croke Park (they were actually below In Tua Nua and The Alarm on the bill) and I finally got to meet them. Buck, Mills and drummer Bill Berry were affable outgoing types but I was interviewing Stipe for Hot Press and he had the reputation as something of an enigma.

Turns out he was as chatty and gregarious as the rest and we repaired to a field behind the main stand, lay down on the grass with a bag of cans and a tape-recorder between us and chatted about everything from rock singers with messiah complexes (hmmh, wonder how that subject came up?) to the dangers of standing on a nail while wearing Doc Martens.

On subsequent occasions I got to meet Buck in London where they played their only European date to promote Document, the album which gave us The One I Love and It's The End Of The World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine), the songs which moved them from being college cult favourites towards the mainstream.

Buck acknowledged as much the day after the gig when he said that himself and Berry caught the Tube to the show because they reckoned it would be the last time they'd be able to do so.

R.E.M. were a smart, funny and unpredictable band -- not least when they decided they wouldn't tour Out of Time and Automatic For The People and were rewarded with multi-million selling albums, and for most of the 80s through the mid-90s were probably my favourite band.

Still, as I said earlier no one's died and R.E.M. will evoke plenty of memories for everyone who was ever touched by their magical, mysterious music.

Personally, it's still back to 1983/84 and walking home listening to Murmur that does it and last night I cracked open a bottle of good wine, stuck on that debut album on and raised a glass to Messrs Buck, Berry, Mills and Stipe.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

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