When I heard R.E.M. was calling it quits after 30 years, I immediately received a flood of memories about where I was in my life when I discovered my favorite R.E.M. songs. It’s always interesting to me how a song can become the soundtrack to a particular emotion or moment in time. A song can be all encompassing for a period of time and then, for whatever reason, you move away from it. Time passes, and then a song reemerges: on the radio or a forgotten album or CD, and you are transported to that moment or emotion. And though you may be far from that emotion or moment now, the song is forever its wonderful self, asking nothing of us, except to be heard.
Here then, are my most memorable R.E.M. songs and their accompanying moments. Thanks, boys.
Perfect Circle, Murmur. I’m in my friend Jan’s bedroom, listening to Murmur in its entirety. It’s 1984 or 1985, which means we’re 12 or 13. Jan’s room is making the transition (as were we) from the pink of early girlhood to the darker, more pensive posters of rock bands and antiheroes. In that room, Jan introduces me to R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs. We listen to Murmur until we knew every word to every song.
It’s The End of the World As We Know It, Document. I hesitate to include this song, because it’s now almost a caricature of its original self. However, you almost can’t be part of my generation without having a memory of it. It’s my senior year of high school, and I’m driving around after soccer practice with a car full of my teammates. This song makes me feel hyper, free and loud, and that’s how we sing it: in unison, as loud as we can muster. The video is also amazing to me, because the boy in it was so in his moment: relentless in his pursuit to master his skateboard, on the brink of becoming a man.
Nightswimming, Automatic For The People. “Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.” I’m in London for a semester during college when I first heard it. My friends Vita, Dana, Maria and I sat in our shared flat drinking beer and singing our hearts out. My semester in London was my first international experience, and everything I saw, heard, touched, smelled and tasted during that time seemed somehow more intense. In many ways, it was as if I was waking up.
Don’t Go Back To Rockville, Reckoning. I’m starting graduate school for creative writing in Washington D.C., and my heart is broken. Like, heaving sobs and quiet desperation broken hearted. I’m sure you can relate. In addition to a great deal of Sarah Maclachlan, I listened to this song on a nearly constant loop. There’s something in it that’s both mournful and hopeful