When I heard the news about R.E.M., I was in the Canadian pavilion at Epcot Center, about to watch the ridiculous 360-degree Martin Short movie that serves as a glorified travel brochure -- and which, like just about everything in the World Showcase, I love unconditionally.
Nothing can get me down at Disney World.
Not even the breakup of my all-time favorite band.
I wasn't going to get bummed out the week after, either, a week I spent in Tampa watching baseball and reading A Game of Thrones on the beach.
But now, with my vacation over and the playoffs here, and with my life about to get as hectic as it's been all year, which is saying something, I'm finally sitting down to reflect, and to write a blog post some people were probably expecting a long time ago.
And still, I am not sad.
I have R.E.M. playing on repeat as I type this. Up now: Uberlin, which I made a point to listen to that first afternoon in Tomorrowland, and which I'd argue is enough, on its own, to make the often shaky last decade of the band's work worth it.
It's by no means a perfect song, a mere shadow of their once vast powers. But I am so heartened every time I hear it -- and now that it's their last great song, I feel so at peace with their breakup that not only have I never let myself turn into a pathetic puddle of fanboy tears, I can say that I am as happy to be an R.E.M. fan as I have ever been.
If you don't get R.E.M., I can't change your mind. But if you get them, you know how remarkable their catalogue is, how many emotions they touch upon -- and you know, that for every song the unwashed masses call "wimpy," they have five more that have more balls than just about anything to come out in rock music during their 31-year existence.
There's one line in Uberlin, which sums up not only the song, not only their last album, but also I think their entire career, and which I keep coming back to these past two weeks. Initially, it didn't grab me. But a month ago or so, on a MetroNorth train, headed south along the Hudson River, it suddenly said everything:
"I don't mind repeating," sings Stipe, "I am not complete."
R.E.M. spent the great majority of their 31 years pushing themselves and their craft, reshaping their sound, often to their detriment, but creating moments for 16-year-old kids like me, picking up Monster at Media Play in the South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., after school, 17 years now almost to the day, expecting Automatic For The People II and having my head blown clear off my shoulders by what I found there instead.
And yet, despite all of their many masterpieces, they always felt like a work in progress, changing and evolving and growing into something new and different and, more often than not, exciting.
As their sound shifted through the decades, R.E.M.'s best songs not only admitted to the stumblings and bumblings and fumblings along the way -- the feelings we all have of vulnerability and fear -- they reveled in doing so, becoming a source of comfort, solace and confidence.
Perfect Circle, shoulders high in the room. Harborcoat, a handshake is worthy, if it's all that you've got. Can't Get There From Here, but I know the way. It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Everybody Hurts, so hold on. Find the River, I have got to leap to find my way. Walk Unafraid, I'll be clumsy instead. Imitation of Life, this lightening storm, this tidal wave, this avalanche, I'm not afraid.
And those are just the songs that have popped up now on shuffle, as I sit here writing.
In truth, we're all just walking works in progress, and R.E.M.'s music reminds us of that. Even on their very last album, the band is still trying to make it through the day … and the day becomes the night.
Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Bill Berry -- and all of the R.E.M. fan friends and countless memories I've gathered because of them (from that day buying Monster, to Stipe wearing my Burger King crown on stage in '99, to meeting him, two other times, in equally bizarre circumstances, to seeing the band play in front of 70,000 fans, under an open sky and a gothic cathedral in Roncalli Platz in Koln, Germany, to the cherished moments of my life that rush back to me through practically every one of their songs) -- helped me make it through the last two decades, and they'll be helping me, and a whole lot of others, I trust, for many more to come.
For that, I will be forever grateful.
The story is far from complete.