This week, a little excursion out into the night… just a few images I shot while out and about – sort of a photo essay. Nightspots, night shots… And then toward the end, a few thoughts about R.E.M., coming on the heels of their announcement Wednesday that after 31 years there will be no more R.E.M (‘it’s the end of the band as we’ve known ’em’).
I’ve finished recording “Intimacy and Solitude” and now doing the final mixdown – after initial mastering, it will be posted on the NoV ReverbNation page next week. This song would fit right in on the first album and yet, it’s also unlike anything I’ve done before, so that’s coming…
At the time I took these photos, the Balcony Club was going to be closing its doors so I was paying my last respects – I’d spent many a night down here over the last 4 years since returning to Dallas (off and on). The club did in fact, shut down… for a few nights.
The BC had been open since 1989 and it was – excuse, is – a great place to see live music – just a small club, long and narrow, so narrow in fact that when the place is packed, you enter onto what essentially is the dance floor – the aisle between the bar and the stage. Mostly the music is jazz, but really you’ll hear everything down here – rock, reggae, folk, country…
But all of that would be going away… or so we thought.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending: a new lease was worked out with the landlords and the Balcony Club re-opened earlier this week.
I’m sure I’ll be spending a few more evenings down there while I’m still in Dallas…
[I’m hearing the opening notes of “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” as I write this…]
If you’re a fan of R.E.M., no doubt you were shocked or, at the very least, surprised by the announcement Wednesday that they were ‘calling it a day’. I know I was. I saw it, first on Facebook (the “new look” FB no less), then on their website. That a band should break up is not shocking in itself – it happens all the time. All bands – well, those not named the Rolling Stones – do break up at some point, but R.E.M…. I don’t know… it was like you almost took it for granted or assumed that they’d always be there and continue to be R.E.M. They had been there for 31 years.
I remember having first heard “Radio Free Europe” at Ground Zero, a New Wave club in Dallas (used to be over off of Shady Brook near Melody Ln., near Fangti China) in late 1981 or early ’82. The song didn’t sound like any of the New Wave bands the DJ was playing in between live band sets; R.E.M. sounded very different. They certainly weren’t Adam & the Ants or Duran Duran – they didn’t sound like anybody else at the time (except maybe Translator); to me they sounded more like… the Byrds, only speeded up. When the “Chronic Town” EP came out in 1982 I was hooked on them immediately. R.E.M. only got better and better with every subsequent release.
Essential R.E.M. albums – a top 10
Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
Automatic For the People (1992)
Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
Live at the Olympia (2009)
Out of Time (1990)
New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
Personal favorite: Life’s Rich Pageant
To me, this is also their best album. The opening riff of “Begin the Begin” is one of the best openers to any album and sets the tone for everything that follows. Michael Stipe’s singing was finally up front where it belonged. The songwriting was particularly sharp and focused as was Don Gehman’s production. As a whole, R.E.M. never rocked harder than they did on this album… until “Live at the Olympia” 22 years later. It’s the album of theirs that spends the most time on my CD player still, or now, gets the most plays on my iPod…
I know I mentioned to a friend of mine – sometime in 1984 right around the time their 2nd album “Reckoning” came out – that I expected them to become huge. They did eventually go on to become huge, gathering an ever-increasing audience (even a ‘mainstream’ one) and deservedly so. They became… “a household name.”
I saw R.E.M. in concert 5 times between 1983 and 1989 – they were always great live, highly energetic performances. They had a certain sensibility – arty, intelligent, bucolic – that was a perfect reflection of their home base, the medium-sized college town of Athens, Ga. They got played on college radio, were called “underground”, and practically invented/re-invented the genre “alternative.”
Their four late-80s albums formed the musical backdrop to my graduate school years at Univ. of North Texas as much as any other band I was listening to at the time. How many days and nights were spent listening to them on my boombox while I painted up in my studio? A lot I can you tell that.
Long-time fans know their story so I won’t go into more career details here. They were one of the greatest bands ever and people will be listening for decades to come.
Favorite humorous moment captured on vinyl:
“Walter’s Theme/King of the Road” from the album Dead Letter Office – listening to Michael Stipe sing: “I got a half a slice of O-klahoma… puttin’ on my boots, goin’ down to Walter’s…” – as in Walter’s BBQ, a local eatery. Apparently recorded as a commercial, it segues right into an equally humorous and casual rendition of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” (Also notable on that album was their straightforward cover of Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic.”)
Boils down to three – “What If We Give It Away?“, “Bittersweet Me” (video below), and “Man on the Moon.” Why those three? Not altogether sure – I know I find myself singing to “Cuyahoga” whenever I play it in the car – that line “Let’s put our heads together, start a new country up”… why not that song? Don’t know… it might be as random as the way they arrived at their name.
If your knowledge of R.E.M. begins with “Losing My Religion”, you owe it to yourself to go back and get their first 5 albums – the I.R.S. Records years… now.
From their Facebook page: “Perhaps Peter summed it up best on Wednesday when he said, “Being a part of your lives has been an unbelievable gift. Thank you.”
Back at ya, Peter. Thank you R.E.M. – Michael, Bill, Peter, & Mike, and extended R.E.M. family – for being of the uncompromising sort, for doing it all on your own terms, and for all the great, memorable music these last 31 years. We will look forward to the reunion concert(s) in a few years…