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In the great, grand scheme of the universe, it’s really not that big of a deal.
Last week, the members of R.E.M. announced they will “call it a day” after a 31-year career.
The decision registered as a blip on most of the national news outlets.
But for me and a lot of my friends, it’s the end of something more than a band. It’s pretty much the end of something else. I won’t call it “youth” because, at 46 years old, I think that ship has pretty much sailed and beached itself on the rocky shores of middle age.
The end of the band leaves me with the realization that as you get older, some of the things you loved for years will crumble and fall away.
I can tell you the first time I really heard one of R.E.M.’s albums.
It was 1985 and I was hanging out with my “boys,” my “posse,” my “homies,” or my “bros” depending on which 80s slang term you want to use. My circle of friends included Mark McCoy (my partner in countless victimless crimes), Charles Litteral (a role model who showed me how to and not to behave), Rusty Cox (my loyal brother from another mother), Sherman Bishop (who showed me that friends don’t have to agree on much to still be good friends), Robert Bryant (who taught me self-control is not necessarily a bad thing) and Billy Johnson (who taught me it’s never as bad as you think).
We were hanging out on a Saturday afternoon at Mark’s apartment in Richmond.
Charles, who was kind of a music guru for me, slipped a cassette into a moderately-sized boom box.
At the time, I was still something of a headbanger. AC-DC, Ozzy and Def Leppard were the most likely suspects to be found in my tape deck.
Charles pushed play on R.E.M.’s then-latest release — “Life’s Rich Pageant” and my life changed.
This was like nothing I had ever heard before. It wasn’t the Cindy Lauper, Duran Duran, Madonna Pablum pushed by corporations and MTV to the masses. This wasn’t the screaming call for rebellion of heavy metal.
There was poetry in the words. The music, while aggressive at times, helped paint the picture the lyrics were building.
The first verse of the first song grabbed me:
“Birdie in the hand for life’s rich demand
The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Myles Standish proud, congratulate me.”
A pop song making reference to the Pilgrim’s military leader from 1656 was and is pretty remarkable.
I was hooked for life.
Within hours, I was at my favorite record store — RecordSmith — and I bought my own copy.
I remember going back to my apartment and taking the night off from my regular routine and listening to the entire album over and over through my headphones.
Through the years, the band followed me. Their sound grew as I did — more mature and more focused.
A couple of years later, they created probably my favorite song of all time — “It’s the End of the World as We Know It ... And I Feel Fine.”
To this day, that song will pick me up and help me put the problems of the day into perspective.
That’s what the best music can do. Never underestimate the power of music to touch the mind and soul.
There is a strong sense of melancholy with the announcement my favorite band won’t be around any more. It’s an admission and realization that nothing lasts forever. All you can do is remember fondly and look ahead because, despite what the song may say, it’s not the end of the world.