...And I Feel Awful - A Tribute To R.E.M

I'm not lacking in perspective. I appreciate that there are much worse things going on in the world right now. But do you know why I listen to music? For the same reason as I read books or watch films and plays and television. I'm of the C.S. Lewis persuasion: It makes me feel less alone.
Yes, like everyone for whom music plays a greater role than merely being part of a lifestyle, music for me is often a coping mechanism. When times are hard (and times are often hard), music makes me feel as though life's worth living.

And, as is the case for all obsessives who harbour a desperate love for music, inevitably there will be groups and artists upon whom I feel I can depend. They'll always be there for me, and they'll always make me feel better.

In short, in losing R.E.M, it's no exaggeration to say that I've now one less reason to be happy; one less reason to get out of bed in the morning.

But how can they be dead when we still have the music? Yeah yeah. Their discography has the potential to keep me occupied to the grave. But there's a real sense of knowing here, and that knowing is crushing. It's the knowing that never again will there be the anticipation and thrill of the new. The knowing that never again will there ever be any opportunity to see them live – to actually share physical space with them – to see them play those treasured songs right there, no more than a hundred metres before me.

The worst thing, though, is that we're now living in the time where cynicism and cowardly anonymity reigns. So far, absolutely every bit of coverage that this devastating news has received has done nothing to satisfy my grief.

And yes, it is grief. How can the sudden loss of something which means so much to you – something on which you thought you would always be able to rely – ever inspire anything other than grief?

But no. Even those that purport to care have been almost gleefully damning. It seems that, some years ago, notes were circulated amongst those who I hate so, so much to the tune that R.E.M just aren't worth caring about. They no longer contribute anything of relevance and anybody who professes a love is just deluded. Obviously. So, clearly it's about time that they split. We're better off without them.

Like hell we are, and like hell did that master baiter mean no malice.

How anybody can speak of a stretch of albums as R.E.M's post 1995 work in anything but glowing terms is beyond me. Just from the very top of my head, on those albums can be found The WakeUp Bomb; Leave; Be Mine; So Fast So Numb; Electrolite; Hope; Walk Unafraid; Airport Man; At My Most Beautiful; All The Way To Reno; Imitation of Life; I'll Take The Rain; Leaving New York; The Final Straw; Electron Blue; Man-Sized Wreath; Supernatural Superserious; Mr. Richards; I'm Gonna DJ; Discoverer; Mine Smell Like Honey -

I could go on. But my point is that there is a body of work which will (I use the modal verb with no hesitancy here) – WILL stand the test of time. As far as I'm concerned, Luke Lewis hasn't heard any of those post-95 albums and is, instead, subscribing to the easiest and laziest course of action – that is, agreeing with the consensus.

Worse, though was Everett True of The Collapse Board. Everett didn't care. You'd think, though, that if he truly didn't care that the worst thing he could do would be nothing. What could be worse, indeed, than saying nothing at all in the face of the disbanding of one of the most beloved and influential groups to ever have existed? The silence would have been deafening in its damnation.

But no. Everett wanted us to know just how much he didn't care. We were to hoist him aloft in praise of his right-on apathy. We were to worship his irreverence. And, in the process, old Everett came across as every bit as narrow-minded and obnoxious as one of those tadpoles who rushes to the comment section of an online obituary only to type “who?” The world must be aware of the extent to which you don't care.

Drowned In Sound almost got it right. It's a shame that their tribute revolved around the same tired old conceit that they've done nothing of value since 1995. But nothing could compare to the pathetic sneering cynicism which hung around the message boards like a bad smell. There I was called a “massive gaylord” for daring to care about something. Yes, I can see the funny side. But forgive me for not wanting to spend a second longer in a world which pours scorn upon those who care.

I couldn't bring myself to read "The Quietus Verdict". I'm sure it was very droll and knowing and superior, though.

No, this is a tribute from somebody who sees no need to put a spin or a position on his assessment. My love of R.E.M knows no bounds. It has no caveat. When I say that I love R.E.M, I am not referring to a specific era with a few exceptions. No. Without a single exception, I love everything they ever released.

Yes. I really like Around The Sun.

I'd wax lyrical about their incredible early-run of albums had they not been praised to high-heaven already. Similarly, I'd give their vastly underrated later albums some much needed love were it not to imply that I somehow favour their later years.

Instead, then, I want to talk about how much I love Collapse Into Now.

See, up until yesterday I saw this album as merely a further entry into an already impeccable body of work. Now, though, all have been forced to view it in a completely different light. Now it's to be forever viewed as their swan song.

That's why this really hurts, you know. I never thought there'd be a time without R.E.M. I thought they'd always be there. Now, though, I'm clutching onto Collapse Into Now like the last gift left by a loved-one.

Imagine if a loved-one were to die moments after handing you a box of matches. You'd treasure this box of matches for the rest of your life. It would languish in a locked box safe and untouched. You might take it out from time to time and smile benignly at the memories it evokes, but it wouldn't necessarily be part of your life.

Imagine, though, if the parting gift from the loved one is an intricate painting which, when hung on your wall, serves to really bring the room together. Generally, you're simply glad that it's there. But to just glance at it is to remind you of the person who is now, sadly, no longer with you. A glance is all that's needed to make you feel better.

But if you're to get up close and study the intricacies of this painting, something occurs to you: This is a very good painting. You could stare at it for hours. You could live in this painting.

Then, six months later, you realise something: You'd love this painting removed from context. You wouldn't hesitate to hang it on your wall even if it didn't have the emotional attachment to a departed friend.

That's exactly how I've come to feel about Collapse Into Now over the past day or so. I've liked the album ever since I first heard it. Now, though, it's become that parting gift. But, like the proverbial painting, I know for a fact that I'd treasure it as part of my life even if it wasn't so representative of something terrible. Hell, I'd treasure it even if it was the debut album of someone yet to change the world.

Essentially, what may have been an also-ran in my list of albums which have shaped my year is now a very strong contender for the number one spot.

Back in spring when I allowed for those wonderful, wonderful songs to soundtrack my walks to and from work, I had no idea just how much those tunes would come to mean to me. They're all testaments to the incredible power that loud, crunching guitar chords can have upon shaping my mood. They're all loaded with such melodies that have the same impact upon me as does the sun slowly emerging from behind a grey, heavy cloud. They are nothing short of the sound of happiness.

And, being R.E.M songs, they're also heavy with some of the most fantastic wordplay this side of anywhere. It will always be a rewarding task to explore these lyrical landscapes, but for now they all serve to put a hand on my shoulder and, with a smile, whisper four words:

“Goodbye. It's been fun.”

How fitting do those triumphant closing moments sound now.

I still don't like the cover, though.


I Really Wish E4 Hadn't Cancelled Friends

I thought it would never happen. E4 have stopped showing Friends.

Big deal? Absolutely. It's such a big deal that I was moved to revisit a piece I wrote in about 2006 in which I argued that reliable TV programming provides an excellent means of building a routine. And routines for some form an invaluable part of their sanity.

I called it "Television CAN Save The World! (or at least your sanity)", and I'm struck by how prescient and darkly prophetic it seems. I am now unemployed and deeply, deeply unhappy. I could really do with something like a daily fix of Friends. It would give me something to hold onto.

So, without further ado, here's some vintage me from 2006. Marvel at my use of ellipsis (which I would never use now), my reference to Mew and my invocation of knowledge gained during my "Introduction to Moral Philosophy" course:


Every day at 17.00 (and again at 20.00) E4 broadcasts a double bill of Friends. You could quite literally set your watch to it: “And at the end of the Appletizer Diamond Promotion advert the time will be 17.00 exact. (Beep, beep, beep)”.  In many ways this marathon of mild, inoffensive comedy from across the pond is the highlight of my day. It’s pure escapism. When Friends is on, life doesn’t bother me at all. It’s not like I can relate to the lives of these rich, young, ridiculously attractive and appallingly shallow New Yorkers; far from it. But for an hour a day I can escape into a world where everything’s ok. Where conflicts are resolved in the space of a half hour cup of coffee, where people pause having spoken to allow for an invisible studio audience to laugh themselves into oblivion.

I’m not for one second claiming that Friends is an example of quality television. It frequently induces cringing. I find myself muting the TV when it’s likely that the audience will scream. A very reliable “heads-up” is when anyone kisses. Out-loud laughter’s infrequent, and many jokes miss the mark completely. And yet…I’m completely addicted. I find myself having withdrawal symptoms if I go without my daily fix.

And I’m sure that it’s exactly the same for many people. In a very post-modern move E4 have started to cringe at their own routine predictability: “Coming up next: More Friends (sigh)”. But they know for a fact that there’d be a right ruckus if they ever dared to change their scheduling. It’s the same with the daily 18.00 showing of The Simpsons, or the soaps that are on at exactly the same time every single night and subsequently repeated in a 2.5 hour endurance tests at the weekend. People have come to rely upon this schedule. It really is nice to know that at a set point every day you’ll have something decent to watch. It gives you something to look forward to. Case in point: Look how many people suddenly feel strangely empty when a series of Big Brother ends. That’s why we’re plagued with so many spin-off shows.

Any freshers who suddenly find themselves hundreds of miles away from home in a strange city surrounded by “frengers” (not quite friends, not quite strangers) can find solace in this sort of television. Once one has a routine it’s far easier for one to settle in. And before you know it, you’re enjoying yourself. I’m a second year now, and it’s fair to say that I’ve only just settled in. It took twelve months. However, I’m confident that had I access to a television set in my first year the process of settling in would only have taken…a week or two. No matter how adamantly we may try to deny it, as humans we are creatures of routine. Imagine a life without routine. You’d go insane very quickly. Aristotle knew it. He said that the virtuous life is filled with “worthwhile activity”. That might as well be a byword for “routine”. Look how bored and depressed the unemployed get. We NEED routine.

I’m all for daring and experimental television. But people should stop complaining about endless repeats. Some of us need those. Like the ozone layer and love, you’d only miss them when they’re gone.


And oh, lord knows how I miss them.