Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Innocence Mission Hates Me

Why else would they stop touring completely and yet still post these on YouTube? Karen, Don and Mike: You don't have to play a one-off show in NYC like I've been begging you to; just invite me over to your house for coffee and serenade me for a couple hours. Thanks, your friend Matt.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Happened Today, Not Yesterday

In my previous entry, I responded to the incoherent ramblings of one Eric Zimmermann, a fine young man who means well, he really does, but lacks the synapses necessary to compile anything resembling a cogent argument, let alone blog about it. Case in point, his latest piece -- which you can find here -- which I merely skimmed. I suggest you avoid reading it while operating heavy machinery or if weeping openly would put you in a compromising position. Also, you can download the two new R.E.M. tracks we've been discussing, Discoverer and It Happened Today, here and here, respectively.

Here is my refutation:

Dear Erin Zimmerberg,

Before we get to your latest adorable but failed attempt at music criticism, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate you on your recent bat mitzvah. By no means would I want to embarrass you, but your journey into womanhood is not to be taken lightly, and I celebrate your achievement in this holy and time-honored rite of passage. I was surprised you didn't post any photos from the synagogue on your blog; Rabbi Remnikoff said you held up very well on your torah, and I expected you to at least share the snapshots your aunt Sheila took with her new PowerShot camera.

No matter. Everyone expresses their joy in different ways. I know your Bubbe took some Flip video of you doing the Electric Slide at the reception, which I'm sure you'll put on YouTube post haste.

Moving on to the musical stylings of R.E.M. and the fantasy world your brain is whisked off to whenever said band is mentioned, I have read and ruminated upon your latest treatise. You contend that rock music is not just a young man's game, so maybe you can enlighten us as to the other rock bands that were still producing essential material into their third decade. While I can rest my case with just four words -- Get On Your Boots -- I have made a list of one band per decade that I consider in R.E.M.'s class when viewed in the context of rock music history, and looked into their output in later years.

The Beatles (1960s)
Even though you've had The Fireman album on repeat for two years now, the actual Beatles disbanded after just eight years of recording. They did release two new tracks 34 years after their first record, on their Anthology collection, but unlike the tripe you seem to think the latest R.E.M. music is, they were forced to jam in guitars, drums and bass over vocals recorded by a man dead, at the time, for more than 15 years. Michael Stipe, on the other hand, has only been dead for five, six years tops. Advantage: R.E.M.

Led Zeppelin (1970s)
A mere 42 years after Led Zeppelin was formed, Robert Plant is again thrilling Grammy voters with roots music I'm sure is just great but have absolutely no time or interest in ever actually listening to. Zeppelin lasted about ten years before their drummer kicked the bucket. Unlike R.E.M., they did not survive the death of John Bonham by producing a modern day classic like the post-Bill Berry masterpiece Up. Instead, they disbanded and Plant and Jimmy Page embarked on solo careers in the '80s only their mothers followed. Advantage: R.E.M.

U2 (1980s)
Get On Your Boots. Advantage: R.E.M.

Of course, the importance of bands and the quality of their later work is subject to interpretation, but I think my point here is clear. And that point is:

If you are still expecting R.E.M. to release flawless, A-1 quality work, essential not only within their own catalogue but, by extension, within the rock music canon, you are, my friend, delusional.

No, Discoverer and It Happened Today are not mind-blowing works of pure genius. But they're halfway decent, which gives them a slight edge on George Harrison's highly acclaimed Cloud Nine album, despite the classic first single, I've Got My Mind Set On You, which, admittedly, set the world on fire. And that gem of a record came out a mere 25 years after the Beatles first unleashed Please Please Me unto the world.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

R.E.M.'s Discoverer (First Reaction)

An acquaintance of mine, Don Zimmerman, writes a satirical blog called, on which he pretends to know something about music. We've had our share of philosophical exchanges -- I highly recommend this one -- and now he has challenged me to an ongoing dialogue during the lead up to, and release of, R.E.M.'s forthcoming album, Collapse Into Now (street date: March 8, 2011).

Here is his opening salvo. I recommend reading it before proceeding to the response below. I also recommend downloading -- for free! -- the new R.E.M. song we discuss, Discoverer, here.


Dear Mr. Zimmer,

Let me first congratulate you on your many fine years of service to major league baseball, especially your championship seasons as Joe Torre's Yankee consigliere. Your services as bench coach provided much-appreciated wisdom and occasional comic relief, and for that I salute you.

Less admirable, though, is your misguided need to compare R.E.M. 2011 to the R.E.M. we both knew and obsessed over some 20-odd years ago. You even contradict yourself by assuming I will list previous R.E.M. albums the new song, Discoverer, reminds me of, in your ill-conceived pre-emptive strike at making a point about it lacking originality, while at the same time going out of your way to reference an R.E.M. track it doesn't remind you of. Both approaches are foolhardy.

Eric, if I can call you by your Internet pen name, I think you are forgetting one obvious, but indisputable fact:

R.E.M. is old.

In fact, the combined age of our three renowned electric minstrels from Athens, Ga., by my rough calculation, is approximately 376 years. And, as I've remarked on more than one occasion, Peter (I-dated-your-grandmother) Buck is, indeed, the motherfucking father of our country.

As hard as it may be to accept, no band of old farts has ever remained as vital as it was 20 years prior, let alone after 31 years, the anniversary R.E.M. will celebrate in April. To expect them to be would be both ridiculous and unfair -- two of the more unsavory qualities in your latest missive.

True, R.E.M. had long been an exception to this rule, making music I'd label essential well into their second decade. But no band is immune to the effects of time, and Michael Stipe would be a pretty immature prick if he still cared about the same things he did when he was in college. There are only so many songs one can write about paranoid schizophrenics attacking news anchors or one's own frustrations with being a media sensation. Eventually one becomes content -- and their art starts to suck.

As R.E.M. fans, we've been extremely lucky. We've only suffered through one truly awful record out of 14. We both know what that record is, and it will not be named here.

Granted, the new track's production leaves something to be desired and the lyrics can't hold a candle to Stipe during his heyday. Still, its chorus of shouts, coupled with Buck's blaring guitar, Mike Mills' thumping bass and Bill Rieflin's driving drumkit, is about as thrilling a moment as one can expect from a 31-year-old band -- and it's not even the first single, which all but a select few have yet to hear.

Discoverer, just because it is not What's The Frequency, Kenneth?, is neither a bad song, nor is it the worst opening cut of their distinguished career.

What it is, to you, is disappointing.

And that's your fault -- not R.E.M.'s.