I’ve adored R.E.M. for nearly 20 years. I can remember the exact moment my love affair started. It was the summer of 1989 – I was 14 years old. I returned to the car after going to the beach at Cronulla to find a flyer under the windscreen wiper, advertising a concert at the Hordern Pavilion – R.E.M. supported by Hoodoo Gurus and The Go-Betweens. I remember thinking, “They have that funny song ‘Stand’, and that other one they play on Triple M, ‘The One I Love’”. The next week, I bought their 6th album, ‘Green’, and never looked back.
I didn’t go to that concert, and boy do I regret it. R.E.M. concerts in Australia are few and far between. I’ve seen them perform twice at the horrible Sydney Entertainment Centre (in 1995 and 2005), plus I saw them perform a short promotional gig at the Entertainment Quarter (for Channel V) in 2001.
It’s not fashionable to be a fan of R.E.M. these days – in Australia at least. In fact, I’ve found it quite lonely. My youngest sister got into them along with me, but she’s dropped away in the past 7 years or so. Another friend liked them, but she was never as much of a fan as me – she came to the concert with my sister and me in 1995, but I got the impression she wouldn’t have cared if she’d missed it, whereas I was prepared to camp out to buy tickets! In recent years another friend emerged as a fan, and he went to the concert with me in 2005, but unfortunately he moved overseas this year.
R.E.M. have always been very good to their fans. I never joined the fan club (though often thought about doing it), but I know that they produce special recordings each year for fan club members, not to mention priority access to concert tickets. And they've always been very supportive of the fan site, Murmurs.com.
R.E.M. have established an excellent website of their own, with regular updates from the band while they're on tour, or recording, or just having time off. Long-time manager Bertis Downs produces postcards on the site, giving a great insight into the band.
On their current tour, R.E.M. took their web presence one step further. On the R.E.M. Tour 2008 site, fans can view and add content from shows on the tour - Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blogs, and Tweets. Instead of stopping people from recording their shows, R.E.M. are encouraging it! The site is an amazing resource. For example, here I can experience the concert that my friend attended in Budapest in August (aaagh I was so jealous).
The tour has taken in North America and Europe, and will finish in South America soon. Unfortunately R.E.M. haven't made any announcements about an Asia-Pacific leg, which is disappointing. Although if they were to continue the tour in Australia, it'd probably be while I'm overseas anyway. Also, I really want to see them at a different venue, because I hatehatehate the soulless Sydney Entertainment Centre.
And now to the title of this post. I love all members of R.E.M. - former drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bass player Mike Mills, and of course singer Michael Stipe. They're all fascinating characters and very generous with fans. But recently, on the site Pop Songs 07-08 (where fan Matthew Perpetua has blogged about every song in the R.E.M. collection), Michael Stipe exceeded all fans' expectations. Michael offered to answer questions from Matthew and other fans about the songs and his lyrics!
“Remember that I’m not the best at recalling studio memories, etcetera, and so the more interesting questions for me will be about intention and exact lyrics or my interpretation of what I meant, what I think I meant, whatever. Remember also that some songs have no real lyrics [chorus of orange crush comes to mind] and so I cannot answer those.”
Over a couple of weeks, Michael answered several questions from fans, giving us an amazing insight into the songwriting process. In many cases, it showed that fans overthink his lyrics, which is not surprising. I didn't submit a question, but was excited to see that he answered questions from other fans about my two favourite songs, ‘You Are The Everything’ and ‘Find The River’.
So, armed with this new information, I'm listening to all my R.E.M. albums again - a perfect holiday activity!