R.E.M. was just on the Colbert Report. I creamed jeans. This is going to show my age, but me and the boys from Athens go back at least two decades. I can remember stealing my brother’s tape of Green and bopping along to “Stand” in my underoos, doing my best to “stand in the place that I live.” Sure, I still do that on “Underoo Tuesdays,” but my memories of the early days hold much more weight in my heart.
Easily, Michael Stipe and pals hold the current record for length of time I’ve supported a band. Many have come and gone: Huey Lewis and the News, Richard Marx, Green Jelly, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Live, Letters to Cleo, Meredith Brooks, Afroman…..all have gone by the wayside. But not R.E.M, they’ve consistently held my affection over the years. It all started with my brother, of course. He and his friends were big fans, and, being the typical younger brother, I desperately needed to love everything they loved. Sure, if I had stuck to that creed, I would have dated more asian girls and played bass in a Led Zeppelin tribute band, but some goals are just unattainable.
There really was no reason to support anything they appreciated. They were what we now in the hyper-literate 21st century would call “dweebs.” “Goobers,” if you will. They reached such epic levels of asswipe-itude that our bus stop was labeled the Dork Stop, a loving phrase which was chanted whenever we entered or left the bus. Since they took such abuse day in and day out, they then had to find a poor soul to reek havoc upon, bringing forth a blitzkrieg of nerd rage the eastern portion of Jefferson County had never seen before. That unfortunate bastard was yours truly. They pushed me around, crushed my fingers with pool balls, broke my glasses with basketballs, etc. and so forth, but did I care? A little, but come on, I would have let them poop in my ear if it meant I could hang out with them on a daily basis. A 10 year old doesn’t fully realize that his 14 year old brother is a loser; in his mind, nothing is cooler than his older brother and his friends. As I got older and wiser, well, less retarded, I learned to hate those sons of bitches with the fire of a thousand suns. Hell, to this day, if you mention the name Chris Jeffy around me, I get a murder boner that could penetrate steel.
But anyway, I’m losing my focus. Basically, no matter what they listened to (it could have been nothing but Dan Fogelberg 24/7), I would have loved it as much, if not more, than they did. So I consider myself a little lucky that my brother actually had a solid foundation of musical taste. Thanks to him, I appreciate other acts like David Bowie and Al Green. But none could compare to my love for R.E.M.. From the aforementioned Green to the just released Accelerate, I have dropped down a good chunk of change on their albums. I haven’t missed a single one, and most times, it’s totally worth it. We still don’t speak of Monster and Around the Sun, kind of like those second cousins you have to invite to your wedding, but hope they don’t bother to show up. It’s the loving patriarch of the family (Automatic for the People) that keeps the party worth attending. No matter what crap bursts forth, it all leads back to something awesome, and that keeps the bond strong.
To be honest, the last two or three really weren’t very good (I can’t even name two songs off the last one). Up was greatly underapprecated, but compared to what came before, at the moment it kind of looks like a pimple on a supermodel’s butt, while Reveal is a full-blown cyst, and Around the Sun is a cancerous tumor. But guess what, party people……this new album is like a surgeon’s knife, lancing off the boil and sending that pretty lady back into the arms of a coked up Wilmer Valderrama. Accelerate is easily their best work since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, an album I played to death in my Pontiac Grand Am during the Fall of 1996. I’m hoping I can gather some similar memories with this new one.
It’s not necessarily a groundbreaking work; if anything, it’s just a solid rock album. But sometimes that’s really all you need. If I want some heartbreakers, or 8 minute make-you-thinkers, I can turn to a number of tracks on other albums. I’m just glad they’ve managed to turn out something worthwhile, as all three members creep up on the ripe age 50. Wow, that’s a weird thought. These guys are going to be the Rolling Stones of my generation — those old guys that can still bring it, but probably need to just move to Barbados and stop touring. I hope they don’t, though, because I’m totally gay for Michael Stipe. I’ll tell you what, if he showed up at my door right now, I’d let him be the big spoon and I’d brag about it the next day. I’d tell that story to my grandchildren: “Sit down, children, and let Pop Pop tell you about the time he let a major rock star give him a reach around.” That’s going to be a fantastic Christmas morning.