Saturday, September 24, 2011

September's Coming Soon

Crusty Old Dean interrupted his curmudgeonly grumblings to notice that REM had called it quits after 31 years. It immediately brought to mind one of C.O.D.’s fondest memories, seeing Wilco open for REM at the Hollywood Bowl on a beautiful, clear southern California night. Somebody dressed up at Tony Clifton (rumor spread through the crowd that it was Jim Carrey) and sang along during Man on the Moon, eventually dumping a cup of water over Michael Stipe in a piece of choreographed conflict that would have made Andy proud.

But unlike, say, the breakup of the Fat Boys, this one is sticking with Crusty Old Dean, making me ponder why. Couple of thoughts come to mind.

--They are attached to my youth. I was 14 when I first listened to Murmur, 15 when I snuck out after lights-out at my all-boys boarding school to slip into the TV room in the basement to watch them on Letterman at 1:30 in the morning.

--They just sounded so different: as one of the first generations to have musical taste shaped by MTV, REM helped to shatter the segregated pop music that MTV played from 1981-1984 (admittedly Prince and Michael Jackson helped shatter the segregated part, REM the pop part). Up until REM, music for me was Billy Joel, Blondie, and whatever I heard on local radio or MTV. In a post-Nirvana world drenched with alt rock, roots music, and any number of sub-genres, it’s hard to imagine just how different REM sounded. Mumbling, complex lyrics without a lyric sheet, the jangling Byrds-esque guitar (though I hadn’t yet listened to the Byrds), spare but driving bass-and-drum lines in a world of synthesized drum machines.

--They created community. In the days before the internet, you sometimes thought you were alone or the only one who liked a certain thing. You eventually found the guys at school who eschewed pop and hair metal and were into REM and the Psychedelic Furs and found out from them there was a college nearby which had a stationed that had a guy who had a show on Saturday mornings where he played Husker Du records and you’d tape the show and pass it back and forth.

--In their own way, there were a voice for a generation. There’s lots written about how Gen X and the Millennial generation have different view on faith (spiritual but not religious), community, institutions, and organizations. Some of their most haunting songs are about alienation and separation, and utter despair about how to make sense of that (e.g.: Losing My Religion; Texarkana; Half a World Away; What's the Frequency, Kenneth; nearly all of Automatic For the People, and so on). Gen Xers and Millennials are now adults, some of us even middle aged, facing all the same problems others face but without the same array of institutions to help us make sense of them.

I just received a report from the Department of Education telling me I need to file a certain report. I have no idea what the acronym of the report is. Crusty Old Dean is on the case.

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