Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Shiny Happy Hall-of-Famers
The most underrated band of the last two decades, R.E.M (its not that they're not rated highly, they should just be rated higher) was finally inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year. The evening was kicked off by a rambling, warm, surprisingly funny speech by Eddie Vedder. (Note to Nirvana fans: Look out for the extremely generous and touching reference to Kurt Cobain)
(More or less every word and unintelligible noise Vedder made that evening)
Uhh….Yes! Uhhmmm, you know, as a kid growing up in school if you were ever to even to day dream about being a musician, one of the most appealing aspects that you could think of, of being paid to play music is that you would never ever again have to write another paper or give an oral presentation. But here we are and I must say that I am hugely honored.
Um, you know, there are two well-written biographies on REM: one is 397 pages and the other is 408. It's difficult to even attempt to scale that down to a few paragraphs but I will try as we don't want this to be as long as that Ramones speech I gave a few years ago [grimace]. Uhh, REM's music is truly all encompassing. They've used every colour on the pallet, they've invented colours on their own, they've painted this huge mural of music and sound and emotion as big as buildings… and they're still adding to this day. And the story of how they got together could not be written, especially considering this evening, could not be written any more… romantic. And that is that Michael Stipe and Peter Buck first meet at a record store where Pete is working, and uhhh, - Wuxtry Records in Athens, Georgia. Their first conversation, their first discussion, uhhm, was about Patti Smith's first four records [pause for applause]. Uh, drummer Bill Berry and bassist, etc, Mike Mills, they get to know each other in high school. They play in a high school band together, the two pairs of friends meet in college in Athens, 27 years later they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! You see how I cut the middle out to make it move along? [audience cheers]
But! There are a couple of things I need to address, the hardest one being Michael Stipe. And, how do you explain the dialogue between Michael and the listener -- a dialogue that grew up and we grew up with it? Uh, such wisdom in the feelings in these songs that, I think, they helped us find things that we knew were inside us, and I think they helped us find things that we didn't know we had inside us. And I can say, there are things that I hold and feel [hand on heart] very deeply about inside here that Michael Stipe put in there himself. What's really incredible about this is, is that while this is happening… this all happens without ever being able to understand a fucking word he is saying… this is early records and it is, it was, it's such a beautiful thing and it's so open to interpretation all of this… You know, I was so lucky enough in the summer of 1984 to see REM play live at a small place in Chicago, uhm, and I could go on an on because I remember absolutely everything about it, but what I'll say is that it changed how I listen to music and what I listened to because after that I started to just listen to them exclusively. At that time they only had one and half records, and I've done the math so I didn't exaggerate – this record “Murmur”, it's 44 minutes, it must… “Murmur”… if I take three months over that summer of '84 and do the math, “Murmur” runs at about 44 minutes, I believe I listened to it 1260 times. And one of the reasons I was listening so incessantly was that I had to know what he was saying. It's so beautiful, you know, with intent and passion, and, in Michael's case, an unbelievable set of pipes, uh, you know, you're brought into a world of interaction and interpretation. The lyrics have become… they get more direct, uh, and now they even, now he puts the lyrics inside the record so you can actually… he's a …. he should… he should be so proud because he's a true poet: he can be direct, he can be completely abstract, he can hit an emotion with pinpoint accuracy, and he can be completely oblique and it ALL resonates. That's Michael…. well, that's PART of Michael… uh, yeah… [shakes head] there's so much to Mike – I love him.
Peter Buck plays guitar like a guy who worked in a record store… and when I say that, I say that I say it it it it's not necessarily derivative of all this music that he knows, all his guitar playing. It's that he knows his music so well it's more the thing that he plays through the holes and invents things and hits the spots yet to be covered and, I think, thereby pushing the progression of Rock and Roll. I think of him and his beautiful daughters and what he's contributed, cutting a path for alternative music for bands like Nirvana and Radiohead and forever on after that. Uhm, from a record store in Athens to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a tremendous journey.
“Now, if REM had a secret weapon, I would say it was Mike Mills. He plays bass, piano, a number of instruments and is the writer – a genius writer – of music but, uh, the secret weapon, I believe, is his voice. Uh, it's, uh, it's really not a background vocal, it's almost like a second lead vocal, and I think it really is what makes so many of their songs, uh, absolutely haunting. Uhm, and, it's, uh, you see, it's… stealth – he's stealth – or actually, actually he was stealth until about 14 years ago when he took to wearing these really bright coloured suits with massive embroidery and rhinestones… and that's a gutsy move at the time because this, you know, Grunge – this was about the time Grunge was in fashion so this was…
Now, I don't know if you know the story about drummer Bill Barry… but right around that time, the time of the suits, uum, Mike's suits, Bill Barry has a, uh, he, he he's playing in Switzerland and in the middle of a show, an aneurism bursts in his head, and he almost dies and uhm… I think I read somewhere that it might have been triggered by, a strobe light… but I was just thinking about it might have been one of Mike's suits [audience and REM laugh]… the Orange one, perhaps!
So, in all seriousness, Peter Buck has said that if uh they weren't in Switzerland at the time and they had tremendous doctors, he may not have lived. And, uh, Bill recovers after a couple of months of intensive rehab and then, um, they do some more… they finish that touring cycle, they make another record, they tour some more. At that point, I think, that the most difficult uh hurdle they've had to reach was when Bill had to say that he didn't think that he could keep playing with them. And he did it… when he did it, he said, “But I need to know that you will continue”. In his own words he said, “I can't be the shmuck that broke up REM.” And so much to his relief, they have continued on and done incredible things. Ummm, but I have, I – I wonder if I should go into this? I have a theory about Bill and why he couldn't continue, and I don't even think it's, ummm, I don't think it's the touring. I don't think it was the travelling. I've studied photos of them through the years and it… it appears to me, the reason that Bill couldn't continue, was photo shoots. I'll explain: you make a record, you mix a record, you put the artwork out, you plan a tour, and then you do… photo shoots. And photo shoots. And what happens is they say, “Bill! Can you just stand in the back now, if, all right, you just, poke your head through right between Michael and Peter. That's right. Now if you just lean forward and – chin up please! – chin up! – now, don't look at me, look at my hand! All right. Now would you be so kind to… can you just give me the big eyes?”
This happens and I think it made him crazy. I've… I'm just reading into it… Not crazy! But he had to stop, he was… If you look in the photos, you can see him glaze… and he's, like… “I can't do this anymore! I can't do this anymore! I'm just going to go and be a…fucking farmer!”. Which he did. And I believe he's lived happily ever after since. And, uh, as a fan, it's an incredible, exciting thrill to see him here tonight.
Um, in closing here tonight, on a personal note, I'll just say that Peter moved to Seattle a number of years ago and now they have great musicians from Seattle playing in their band – um, a great drummer called Bill Rieflin, um, Ken Stringfellow and Scott McCoy, who is here tonight. Peter has been just a tremendous part of our musical community there. And, when he moved there, Seattle music and everything was getting a little bit out of control and they really took us all under their wings, as they have with other musicians like Thom Yorke and people of class. And, um, they became like big brothers and as survivors there was a lot they could teach us. Umm, they couldn't save us all, though they tried, and how I wish it was Kurt Cobain who was giving this speech tonight. I would be so happy to have been the second choice after him. But what I'm sayin' is that no matter what we can give them back in the form of this honour, we'll never match what they have given to us – and this is not even mentioning social causes and activism, which should not be a postscript. It's – they've taught us a lot about THAT as well, and inspired us. So I am truly indebted to say that as representative of so many, and I say thank you from myself and the huge numbers of people around the world who have been moved by them, um, and by some strange power invested in me, right now, I hereby induct REM into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”