Friday, September 23, 2011

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

Several years ago, I was going through a box of memorabilia that Cherie had saved since her wild days at Radford.  Among the sorority dance glassware, the cringe-worthy dormitory candid photos and the dried flower petals from a long-forgotten date, she had a concert poster.  This was an unusual item for Cherie who has no real interest in music pop culture.  Apparently, Cherie had been on the Student Life concert committee at school, an odd role for someone who does not recognize the opening guitar riff for Freebird. 

It was a 1’ x 2’ poster advertising a December 9, 1986 concert by REM to be held at the Dedmon Center (student tickets $10.50).  I looked closer at the poster, and it had several scribbles.  Now I was starring in my own episode of Antique Road Show.  “Cherie,” I said, “This poster was signed by every member of the band.  REM signed it personally to you!” 
For my musically challenged bride, this meant nothing.  I tried in vain to impress upon her the value of this find.  REM was arguably one of the greatest American bands of the 1980s and early 90s, and they all took the time to sign Cherie’s poster.  I was so excited that I overlooked the fact that each band member misspelled Cherie’s name (a common mistake given the multiple variations of the name).  It was the thought that counted.  Besides, someone who spells their first name “Sherrie” might someday pay big money for this personalized treasure.

I framed the poster and it hangs with pride in my basement, next to framed albums covers from Devo, Talking Heads, The English Beat, and of course, REM (Life’s Rich Pageant).  Now REM has something else in common with those bands besides hanging on my wall.  They no longer make new music. 
Yesterday, the greatest band to ever come from Athens, GA (with all due respect to the B-52s) announced on their website that the band is breaking up.  After 15 albums and multiple Billboard hit songs, that’s it.  You may occasionally catch one of the band members working a studio gig or making a state fair appearance, but for REM, the game is over.  The announcement was more formality than anything, since the last REM album I ever bought was Monster in 1994, and I suspect I am not alone in that category.  Their run as a ‘monster’ indie-college underground rock band with an eclectic lead singer, lyrics you couldn’t understand and a unique blend of acoustic sounds was over 15 years ago.  The Internet farewell was but a whimpered goodbye, leaving me to wonder whether it isn’t “better to burn out than to fade away”. 
The memories of REM are not just mine alone.  Their music touched many areas of popular culture.  Andy Kaufmann will never be forgotten since Stipe immortalized him in Man on the Moon, which later became the name of a Jim Carrey clunker.  Stand from the album Document had a short run as the TV theme for Chris Elliott’s cult hit, Get a Life (Elliott’s humor was what I like to call ‘an acquired taste”).  And who could forget Chris Farley and David Spade mumbling the words to It’s the End of the World (as We Know It) as they drove across the Midwest in search of customer for their Callahan brake pads.  It was funny because at one time or another we all tried to keep up with Stipe’s vocals on that song, and we never could.  And we never will.

Finally, the senseless beating of Dan Rather on a New York street in the 1990s would be a forgotten incident if not for the attacker’s repeated goading of “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” as his blows reigned down, a nonsensical phrase that REM turned into one of their most memorable lyrics.  

My desert island REM mix, after including every song from Eponymous, would include Bang and Blame, Harborcoat, Pretty Persuasion, Moral Kiosk, Superman, Me In Honey, and most of Automatic for the People.  Run, don't walk, to iTunes and test them out.

REM.  They are part of music history, they are part of popular cultural history, and today, they’re just history.  Thanks for the soundtrack. 
“Driver 8, take a break, we can reach our destination.  But we’re still a way's away.” 

1 comment:

  1. Does this mean that the poster is worth some money now that the band is breaking up?

    We could sell and pay for a kitchen remodel, or send a kid to college.

    Cherie (aka Sherrie)