R.E.M. called it quits today. In all likelihood they called it quits a little earlier than today, but today is the day they decided to let everyone know.
It's hard to say I'm exactly surprised. I'm not one of the ones who think that they truly ceased to be when Bill Berry left the band; certainly I think they were different, but R.E.M. was a band that went through a metamorphosis between every album; the size of the change was different each time, but there was always a change. I think any group that's together that long has to do that to survive, but they were doing it almost from the beginning.
R.E.M. was my favorite band for many years. They still may be. By nature I'm not someone who is comfortable picking favorites. I like R.E.M., the Pet Shop Boys, and Bruce Springsteen, and I think calling any one of the three of those things better than the others is an exercise in futility; they provide different things, at different times. I read James Ellroy and Terry Pratchett and I read them at different times for different reasons and don't see much point in trying to rank them. A hammer is a shitty wrench, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful.
What I can say is that R.E.M., primarily their catalogue from Fables up through Automatic, provided the soundtrack to my adolescence and early adulthood. Lifes Rich Pageant was the album I would play to begin the many trips I took between North Carolina and Illinois. I can summon nearly any song to instant recollection if I think about it. I learned to play guitar with the song books for Out of Time and Automatic for the People. I am one of the many people whose life was saved by the beautiful simplicity of "Everybody Hurts."
R.E.M. formed in 1980, the year I was born. I always saw a kind of symmetry in that. I don't know the exact date they formed off the top of my head, but I do know that now it's going to be a matter of months before I've been around longer than the band was.
To Michael, Mike, Peter and Bill: thanks for the music you made. Live well and be happy.