So Close, Yet So Far Away: Random thoughts about R.E.M.

Some fans of R.E.M. have a story about the first time they heard one of their songs. For some it was on a college radio station, for others it was on MTV. Maybe you saw them on Late Night with David Letterman. Possibly you had an older sibling or relative who turned you on to them. Then there are the lucky ones. You know who you are; those of you who who saw a little film called Strange Invaders, starring the paragon of acting Mr. Paul Le Mat, which featured songs from the Chronic Town E.P.

For every band there are a million stories. Mine involves proximity and dumb luck.

The truth is I don’t have a fixed point in time where I can pinpoint my first R.E.M. experience. Most likely I heard someone talking about them and I listened for one of their songs to come on the radio. Maybe I read about them somewhere. The proximity part of the equasion stems from the fact that my hometown is a about an hour away from Athens, Georgia, depending on traffic and how fast your vehicle will travel. Your mileage may vary, obey all speed limits, and always wear a seat belt.

Also, Atlanta radio station 96 Rock would play R.E.M. songs from time to time, so I didn’t have to attach aluminum foil onto the antenna in an attempt to pick up a signal emanating from a college radio station. In fact, I probably didn’t know that college radio even existed.

The dumb luck? I happened to be born here.

R.E.M.’s music was unlike anything I had heard before. I had no context in which to place it. I liked it, but I had no idea why.

In the 1970s Southern Rock was very popular, but for the most part it wasn’t for me. Some of my friends listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd; I liked some of their songs but I prefered the Allman Brothers. I’m not even going to mention Molly Hatchet.

R.E.M. was a band from the South but they weren’t a Southern band in the traditional sense, and by that I mean they weren’t a band you would hear blasting out of a Camaro or 4×4 truck leaving the school parking lot. My favorite warm weather driving songs in high school were “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and “West End Girls.” And you wonder why I didn’t go to the prom.

R.E.M.’s South was one that I wasn’t familiar with, but I wanted to live there. The South I know is somewhere between the film Deliverance and the TV series Justified. R.E.M.’s South isn’t exactly Driving Miss Daisy, but it is more genteel than my South. For the most part.

Michael Stipe sang about love and loss but there were no cheating husbands, no whiskey, no firearms, and no girls called “Linda Lou.” It was as if R.E.M. had carved out their own little spot on the map and set up camp there. I wanted to live there, but as the song says, “I can’t get there fron here.”

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