“This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive,” sings Michael Stipe on the closing track of this year’s Collapse Into Now. Isn’t that just a fabulous declaration: that our time is not in our teens or even our forties, but now? More to the point, it’s not an idealistic, aspirational lyric by some college kid; it’s a call to action by a 51-year-old man, one of us, a reminder that there’s so much more out there and we should grab it with both hands.
So why on earth are REM giving up the ghost now?
“A wise man once said, the skill in attending a party is knowing when to leave,” said Stipe in yesterday’s statement announcing the split. “I hope our fans realise this wasn’t an easy decision. But all things must end and we wanted to do it right, do it our way.”
So it doesn’t surprise me, after all. REM formed in 1980, when Stipe was 20. They’ve been doing this job for 31 years, in which time they’ve supplied a good chunk of the soundtrack of our lives: The One I Love, Losing My Religion, Man On The Moon, Everybody Hurts, The End Of The World As We Know It, What’s The Frequency, Kenneth and (even the one Stipe hates) Shiny Happy People.
Most of the bands we grew up with formed when we were in our late teens and split up by the time we were in our mid-twenties. Many of them have even reformed and I rather wish they hadn’t. But REM have done it the right way. They were a constant. They grew up with us and now they want to stop before they become caricatures.
There’s something that’s admirably life-affirming about that. I can’t imagine that Sir Mick Jagger goes out on those gruelling, year-long world tours for any other reason than the gazillions of dollars it earns him, even if Keef and Ronnie still love being so rock ’n’ roll.
Do I think that Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck are going to reach for their pipe and slippers and count their royalties? I do not. REM might be a closed chapter, but there are numerous projects bubbling away. Stipe alone has his fingers in so many pies: art, sculpture, photography, politics, and don’t forget he already has a second successful career as a film producer.
Should we be sad, at least for a moment, that REM are no more? Yes, without doubt. In a hard-nosed, commercial arena full of Cher Lloyds and One Directions and other twinkies, it’s sad to say farewell to a band that is relevant to our generation. But Stipe, Mills and Buck are moving on, and so should we.
Michael Stipe on art and its effect on his career: