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The Friday Morning Listen: R.E.M.

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Back when my college radio station (WMEB 91.9 FM, University of Maine at Orono) started playing this band, I was totally enthralled. Sparse-but-tight drumming, hyperactive basslines, nice (if somewhat strange) harmonies and plenty of swirling guitar. Elements of folk, elements of rock. I didn’t always know that Michael Stipe was getting at, but loved the snippets of lines that emerged out of the haze here and there: “…your hate, clipped and distant…”, “…so much more attractive, inside the moral kiosk”.

Murmur was a record that required extensive investigation (…looking back at the mountains of reviews written about this album, I’ve come to believe that the critics were being lazy with those Byrds comparisons. At the time, nothing sounded like Murmur.) Me and my buddy Gene had it on heavy listening rotation at our evening listening sessions at his folks’ house on top of the hill in Bangor. Many hours were spent sitting on the couch, getting slowly dry-roasted by the too-hot woodstove, while we played this and other (I believe Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom was on the list as well) records. As those kind of experiences are playing out, you of course have no idea how precious they are. That adulthood will soon take over and opportunities to sit and reflect will be just a little tougher to come by.

Tonight me and TheWife will be heading out to upstate New York to visit with Gene, his wife Regina and their young & impossibly cute almost two-year old daughter Savannah. My how things have changed since 1983! Still, we will get the chance to sit around a bit and put on some tunes. In fact, vinyl will probably be involved. Maybe even a little R.E.M.

First posted on Mark Is Cranky

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About Mark Saleski

  • georgiaboy

    Enjoyed your poignant reflections on how we cherish memories of moments in our lives rendered “precious” by nothing more than the music to which we were listening. Of course, as you observe, it takes special music to affect that. I’ll forever treasure memories of a ’83 weekend kayaking trip with friends in the North Georgia mountains, no doubt stoned most of the time, listening to a just-purchased “Murmur” cassette over and over and over again. Except for the music, it was just another paddling weekend, but discovering and becoming spellbound by “Murmur” made it one of those memories you hold dear and return to ever so often, partly because the memory is so enjoyable, partly, in vain, trying to recreate the moment itself.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Great job remembering a great album, Mark.

    It made me consider if the current generation will have the same attachment to albums (or even bands/artists) in this digital age. Will the attachment, if it exists at all, be to singles or groups of singles?

    I recall excitedly listening to badly recorded cassette dubs in the mid-80s to what would become my favorite bands. Life’s Rich Pageant was one of them. It took me until college years to get into Murmur but when I did, it sucked me into its orbit.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    good question e.b. i’ve wondered about the attachment thing myself.

    i used to get new records, sit down and obsessively pour over the liner notes/photes/etc. while the album played for the first several times.

    this became a little harder to do when cd’s came out.

    with digital, that information is still available but i don’t really know if anybody cares anymore or not.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    I did the same thing cassettes and later, with the first generation of CDs, Mark. There’s something to be said for the lack of access I had to a wide range of music as a kid. The stuff I did have I obsessed over, played again and again, and considered very close to my outlook and personality (as shallow as that seems… hey, whatever works, right?).

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    that’s right. that’s why that Singing Nun record is/was so important to me.

    ok, maybe not.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    I love relating the first albums I remember owning on vinyl (ZZ Top, Weird Al Yankovick, Rocky III soundtrack) and cassette (Pointer Sisters, Lionel Richie… and Run DMC’s Raising Hell!) as a kid.

  • http://www.dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    sheesh, the first album I pored over? OMG it’s a’most embarrasing. Well I only remember the one tune, but it was “Ballad of the Green Berets” – Sgt. Barry Sadler ( i think i have that right?) I was pretty young then, and then it was Carole King – Tapestry, and then it was bunch of stuff by Chicago, and then it was all my brother’s music, like Alice Cooper, CSNY, Aerosmith… *sigh*
    OK this isn’t about me, is it. LOL.

    Good writing about the Memories, Mark. Music does that to us. Gotta love it.

  • perfectcircle

    Um, I’m only 17 and I have an attatchment to New Adventures in Hi Fi, R.E.M.’s 1996 semi-live album.

    I know people who have special bonds to certain albums, but on the most part, not really. iPods and CD burners and downloads make it so that it is abnormal to just listen to an album start to finish after it has been a few plays. Then you pick the songs you like and rip them onto your computer and put them onto an iPod.

    But R.E.M. just had a bunch of great songs that I just listen to the entire album and save my iPod to my absolute favorites. I wouldn’t waste all my room putting Radio Free Europe, Pilgrimage, Laughing, Moral Kiosk, Perfect Circle, Sitting Still, 9-9, and Shaking Through on my iPod just from one CD out of 13 from one band. And that is especially true with New Adventures, where I would put 13 of the 14 songs on my iPod, but I just took 6 (by far the most of any album).

    But R.E.M. rocks, even if Around the Sun didn’t (it sucked and it wasn’t rock). It’s weird reading about what an album was like to someone 5 years before I was born!!!

  • Eric Berlin

    perfectcircle — Glad to finally find someone who feels the same way about New Adventures as I! Check out my review here.

    I highly disagree with you on Murmur and Sun though, the former is out of this world classic, which the latter is a fine, mature, finely textured pop record.