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|The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not immune to taking a few licks here and
there. Like the Grammys or any other near-pointless award show, the Rock Hall
has received plenty of criticism for its pomp and circumstance, turning revelatory
artists into museum items at a $1,000-a-plate dinner for the ultra-privileged.
Claims like that aren't without reason. The sheer irony of the Ramones and the
Sex Pistols being celebrated by an industry who could've cared less about them in
their hey day shouldn't be lost, while too many artists are blatantly ignored (the
Faces and Television come to mind). The All-Star jams, too, are usually a mess.
But, all that said, the Hall of Fame serves a distinct purpose, and once in a while,
an induction serves a definite purpose. This year, the band that had a definite
hand in creating the alternative nation has gotten their due – R.E.M.
Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry made waves by crashing
against everything that had come before and everything popular circa 1982. Rising
above new wave, punk and the MTV-clogging new romantics, four college guys
from Athens, Ga., created angular, eerie music that invaded imaginations.
The early records were revelatory. Clearly distinct from their peers and influences,
the band charted new territory with every album from the Chronic Town EP up to
Document, their indie-label finale.
The switch to a major label, Warner Bros., seemed to have no effect on them,
save for the added exposure. Green was a record like no other in 1988, and more
importantly it was proof that signing with the big boys didn't have to mean
compromise for artists. This paved the way for the likes of Sonic Youth, Nirvana
and Soundgarden to jump from smaller labels to mass distribution, and each
was able to keep that spirit of R.E.M. alive in their work.
This is more or less where I discovered them. I was familiar with Out of Time and
Automatic For The People, but it was 1994's Monster that really sucked me in. The
warped guitars of "Bang and Blame" and the bizarre storyline of "Crush with
Eyeliner" were totally separate from the scene and their own history.
If all they had released in their history was Automatic For The People, Monster and
New Adventures in Hi-Fi, their near-perfect 1996 album, they'd have enough
strong material to warrant induction. The sheer number of classic songs on those
three records alone is abusurd: "Drive," "Electrolite," "What's the Frequency,
Kenneth?," "E-Bow the Letter," "I Don't Sleep, I Dream," "Man on the Moon,"
"Sweetness Follows." Through each of those and more, their artistic
acomplishment was matched only by their integrity..
But they don't just have that. Their 80s catalog is directly responsible for nearly
every great band that emerged in the early 90s. Pearl Jam's inside-out rock can be
heard in "Begin the Begin," while "So. Central Rain" would set the table for Thom
Yorke's haunting work in Radiohead.
Most impressive to me, though, is the restlessness they had. Each record they
made was clearly distinct, separate from what came before it. Following the mega-
success of Out of Time and it's sunny approach, they slipped back and created a
true soundscape with new elements in Automatic For The People. After that
record's mega-platinum success, they threw it all away and turned up the
feedback for Monster. Right up through Reveal and Around the Sun this decade,
they kept tinkering and tweaking their sound, never seeming satisfied while hardly
There are dozens of celebrated and important artists in the Hall of Fame. But
R.E.M. is the first of their generation to gain induction. Really, it seems strange to
me that they're already in – it doesn't feel like nearly that much time had passed. I
still consider them peers to the bands they influenced and just as vital today. Even
after drummer Bill Berry left, they kept inventing and kept innovating, never sitting
still long enough to bask in their own accomplishments.
R.E.M. is a different animal today than they were in 1995. Now a trio, they don't
record or tour as often, and they're somehow even more adept at avoiding the
spotlight than they were in the 80s. But they're still as important as ever.
The induction itself is nice, but what’s really meaningful is the fact that they’ve
been given their due. The band that paved the way for tons of amazing music, the
band that paid tribute to the Stooges at their induction, is an artistic force to be
reckoned with. No streamers, strobe lights or video screens were ever necessary,
just some guitars, drums and a message. For that, they’ll always be thanked, and
I'll be eternally grateful.
|Michael Stipe and R.E.M. signal a new era for the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
|March 17, 2007
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
New York City, NY
March 12, 2007
Begin the Begin
Gardening at Night
Man on the Moon (with Eddie Vedder)
I Wanna Be Your Dog (with Patti Smith)
Click here to watch AOL's stream from this
year's Hall of Fame ceremony