Although I loathe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame* as an idea, taking the most rebellious thing about the 20th Century and turning it into a black-tie affair of acceptance and civility (along with allowing too many mediocre bands with 1 or 2 good albums in that no one remembers- but that is a post for another time), I still find myself excited when a band I truly love is celebrated by its peers, the establishment and Vh1, if only because I get to see them introduced and play together one more time.
This is how feel upon the entrance into the Hall of Fame of My All Time #3 band, R.E.M.
Watching the ceremony a week later on Vh1 (and seeing the great Bill Berry on drums once again) I am reminded of how seminal R.E.M. is to my personal journey. Although I lost interest in them after the departure of Berry in 1996 and Michael Stipe's entree into the "Obnoxious Rock Star" pantheon (I still own every album and many rarities), between 1983 and 1996 only U2 has shaped me more (followed closely by The 77s).
I picked up my first Rolling Stone in December of 1983, at the age of 15. I was still a fan of Duran Duran, Van Halen, The Police and Billy Joel only recently turned on to the classic rock of RUSH, Led Zeppelin and Hendrix. I was beginning to delve into bands that would introduce me to a wider variety of genres, including Prince, the Clash and U2 (but they were on the radio).
However, longing for life beyond the Suwanee River and local Hardees, I began to seek solace in the New York Times my father brought home on Sundays (a delivery driver gave it to him every week at his place of work). I would tear through the weekly magazine for fashion tips and cultural touchstones hoping to escape small town life for only a moment.
One day my parents took me to the mall in another city and I picked up my first Rolling Stone magazine, a life altering experience for me (to this day I have missed less than 6 months worth of issues since that day 20+ years ago). In the year end issue I picked up was the review of the best debut album of the year, Murmer by R.E.M. I walked into the record store and picked up at cassette of this album that I had heard of only moments before.
It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was southern. It was haunting. It was raw and I could not understand more than 20 words on the entire album. And, boy was it weird to my untrained palette. At first I did not know what to do with it. I did not like anything beyond Radio Free Europe. However, I kept listening to it over and over again. My parents hated it.
But I knew I had to figure out why some critic had decided it was so good. A few weeks in, I began to figure it out (or it just wore me down) and was hooked. I began to seek out other obscure bands (at least obscure to a 15 year old kid in Rednecksville). There my lifelong addiction to finding new music and new bands began. All because of some group of college students from Athens, GA and the magazine that introduced them to me.
23+ years, 1000 albums, 2000 CDs, 60 gigs of hard drive space (and counting), 4 R.E.M. concerts, hundreds of other shows, 100 T-shirts, life as a concert promoter and D.J. and countless reviews later... I must thank R.E.M. for changing my life.
I am forever indebted.
*BTW, my most infamous moment as a Youth Minister was a Senior Class trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but that is for another day.