Saturday, October 22, 2011

We All Go Back To Where We Belong

Mr. Zimmermann,

Speaking of pleas being answered, I'd like to congratulate you on the recent news of R.E.M.'s breakup. When I learned that the Athens-based rock band loved by millions had decided to call it a day, I immediately thought of you -- and what I'm sure must have been your squeals of delight, no doubt audible through much of the greater Chicago area. Who says wishes don't come true?

As for your analysis of the new (last) single, I am amazed to find it a nuanced argument, and not at all as full of bile as many of your latter-day R.E.M. rantings. Good for you. As I might have said once in the past, if you keep finding things to like about the band's music, you may someday become a fan. How ironic now that the band is no more!

Regardless, I strongly agree with your assertion that, "The last chapter is often an Epilogue long after the climax has already occurred." That is surely the case with We All Go Back To Where We Belong [iTunes link], though, unlike you, I did get a few goosebumps listening to it.

There's something about the subtle brass part poking out throughout, the harmony between Stipe and Mills, even the spaghetti western guitar part, that, while perhaps not climactic R.E.M. moments, do have that last-chapter feeling of knowing you're slowly coming to the end of a great book, wishing that, somehow, the final few pages, then the final few paragraphs, then the last word, will never come.

Like much of R.E.M.'s last decade of output, WAGBTWWB is a ghost of what the band once was. But listening to the song, even with Stipe's voice barely able to power through it, there are reminders here of what the band did better than any other, enough so that not only does the song work, it works well enough to be a worthy coda. It's hard to put into words exactly what that R.E.M. signature was -- I've been trying to for years, with various amount of failure -- but it's a sort of pairing of melancholy and hope that brings both comfort and inspiration.

If the band had stayed together, they'd likely have never written another hit song, never reached their '80s and '90s heights, and, barring a Bob Dylan-style comeback, would have continued to fade into artistic oblivion. But listening to WAGBTWWB, I'm not thinking about that.

I'm thinking about how songs like R.E.M.'s, no matter how often they may be imitated, and even in their 2011 state of decay, will never be put to tape again.

At the end of a great book, to continue with your metaphor, the characters we've grown to believe in presumably continue on, but we'll hear no more from them. We've shared the time we're going to share with them, and now we must move on.

With music, it seems even more real. I'll never be 16 years old again. Monster will never be brand new again, never be No. 1 on the charts, never be the latest release from the world's biggest rock band. But I could feel 16 again every time a new R.E.M. song or record came out, or every time I got to see them in concert.

Now all I have are memories.

Great memories I wouldn't trade for anything.

But memories.

That's not to say that I dislike being 33, or that there isn't new music to cherish, new stories to be written and told.

Still, a new R.E.M. song, save for a select few (cough, Around the Sun), is always better than none.

WAGBTWWB is better than a new R.E.M. song, though. It happens to be a good new R.E.M. song -- a resource that once seemed to be in never-ending supply, but has now run out, forever.

1 comment:

Eric said...

My only disagreement with what you have written is that while music is real, it's still surprising us at every listen. You could take an album like Document right now and compare that to the events at Occupy Wall Street and the album and lyrics might have additional meanings beyond what is already there. It was never about being the best band or seeing them in concert, it was listening to a song while strolling down the avenue on a fall day and having that moment. It might be teaching a 'significant other' your love and making them a fan. It might be teaching your first born how to do the Stand dance. Memories can still be made because the music IS real as you say, and it's still there to surprise you.