We’ve been through fake-a-breakdown
Self-hurt, plastics, collections
EST, psychics, fuck all
“Country Feedback,” R.E.M.
Maybe this is the stuff of Legend, or false memory—or that the Russians can hack even that—but it seems R.E.M. kept a running list of possible album titles as they recorded, a practice often including daring titles left to linger with the specter of a very unlike-R.E.M. outcome.
For the now 25-year-old Out of Time, that title, I recall, came from a final statement on that board—the band was out of time for submitting the recordings and title.
That the album most associated with R.E.M. and their delayed rise to pop culture fame, fueled as well by their becoming MTV darlings, has turned 25 in the year of electing Trump seems cruelly painful, and whether or not my recollection about how the album was named is factual has become irrelevant in post-truth Trumplandia.
Throughout the 1980s, R.E.M. was immediately loved by Rolling Stone and the so-called college radio crowd, and they were a touring alternative rock success—a reality that had much to do with fans and music critics recognizing that within the realm of popular music, R.E.M. took their craft seriously and were uniquely adept at that craft.
By the time the band angered those 1980s alternative fans by signing a huge record contract with Warner Brothers, and then (gasp) achieved fame with “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M. had become known as both a highly ethical band (making money but not selling out their artistic autonomy) and a political band; neither seemed to hurt the band in ways that other performers could not avoid (think many years later the fate of the Dixie Chicks).
Still now after the band has called it a day, after their fame dwindled into petty sniping at the albums produced after Bill Berry retired (Up, Reveal and Around the Sun unfairly slighted by critics and fans), after the inevitable rush to reconsider the enduring excellence once R.E.M. no longer was a practicing band—it is the politics of R.E.M. that fascinates me, from the more overtly political “Orange Crush” and “Ignoreland” to the ambiguously political “Fall on Me” or intimacy politics of “Tongue.”
Yes, Out of Time soared into the wider national and international consciousness with “Losing My Religion” as the least likely of hits (dare we say radio hit in the context of the album’s first song and the fact that this world is now a distant memory?) and an iconic tour-de-force in music videos.
But appreciating an album also requires taking the album as a whole:
Out of Time
01. Radio Song
02. Losing My Religion
04. Near Wild Heaven
06. Shiny Happy People
08. Half A World Away
10. Country Feedback
11. Me In Honey
The paradox of R.E.M., for me, is that the popularity of the band includes “Losing My Religion” and the odd controversy over the so-called too-poppy “Shiny Happy People”—and maybe that the album has guest vocals from KRS-One and Kate Pierson of the B-52s—but that many among those wider, late-to-the-party fans don’t understand: “I’m not sure all these people understand,” Stipe sings in the haunting and magnificent “Nightswimming.”
Maybe, just maybe, R.E.M. is about the politics of understanding, a call to the politics of intimacy.
Theirs is the art of the politics of the beautiful, of raising voices and instruments against all the unnecessary shit.
I fall in love hard with musical performers/groups and writers. And then I consume everything they create.
There is a direct line from my love affair with R.E.M. to The National, and especially with R.E.M. disbanding, my time and energy have been disproportionately committed to The National and CAKE.
So I have recently revisited Out of Time, and it has been lovely and tearful.
R.E.M. as the politics of the beautiful.
“I’ve had too much to drink/ I didn’t think, I didn’t think of you,” echoes into my bones—and then:
Oh, this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high-alive
Blind eye that turns to see
The storm it came up strong
It shook the trees and blew away our fear
The politics of the beautiful, the politics of understanding, the politics of intimacy.
“That’s me in the corner,” I suppose, “Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool.”
And I miss R.E.M.