Sigur Ros…”Inni”

Sigur Ros “Inni” announces itself in jarring fashion. Sustained guitar noise, processed, strummed not with hands but a violin bow. Overtones hover in the air and explode into shards of distortion that doesn’t so much break the silence as crash into it. The untrained ear can only process it as “noise”. And I suppose it is, in its way. It’s chaotic, without a direction. A numbing monotone were it not for harmonics which rise and fall, ebb and flow, morph into others like colors on an artist’s palette left out in the rain. Those colors bleed, each retaining its singular tone even as they drip into others to breed a new one.

Yet the image on the screen is in blunt black and white. As if the filmmaker expects his audience to provide the hues based on their individual responses to the music.

Wait, did I say “music”? Ah, so I did. And so it is, in a sense, depending upon how traditional your definition of music is. If your rules are strict, limited to Bach, the Beatles and practically everyone else working within the Western tradition, then no. It’s not even close to being “music”. You might as well go to a construction site and listen to a jack hammer for 10 minutes. On the other hand if you appreciate the works of Stockhausen, John Cage and Einsterzende Neubauten you probably understand exactly what I’m talking about in describing the intensely LOUD sound that assaults you when the curtains are drawn on “Inni”.

The white shapes that coalesce on the black screen turn out to be vocalist/guitarist Jonsi, sawing his way through the introduction of “Ny Batteri”. Bent and bowed (no pun intended) he seems a man possessed. encased within a whirlwind of sound. A sonic tornado blowing over him with such force that he would be knocked over if he weren’t hunkered down. He hears every overtone, every harmonic…or does he? No, he’s as lost in it as everyone in the theater. It’s practically out of his control. All he’s doing is opening a door. The only power he has is the ability to close it by twirling the volume knob on his guitar down to “0”. Something which he does not appear to be willing to do.

When he does, when he puts the bow down and turns it over to nature, there is a sense of relief. Hard work, to be sure, but fulfilling. We’ve made it through the blast, through the fire to the other side. Georgi smoothly eases into the mix with a bass line that is, for lack of a more proper term, “serious”. Haunting, maybe. Grave. Something to bring us back and ground us in tonal music. Joined momentarily by Kjartan, playing an organ that’s straight out of an old horror movie. Eerie. Ghostly, even. Together he and Georgi lay down the chordal template of the song.

At this point Jonsi sings the first vocal note of the film. Which only means that now the show has progressed from intense to incredible. Would I be a Sigur Ros fan if Jonsi weren’t in the band? No. Not ashamed to say it, absolutely not. Then again, the band would not be Sigur Ros without him. And I don’t mean that as disparaging to the other members. More than many other bands currently recording and touring, Sigur Ros is reliant not upon individual talent but on the rapport, interaction…yes, the chemistry between Jonsi, Kjartan, Georgi & Orri.

This is the theme of “Inni”. It’s the guiding force that helps raise it above the typical “concert film”. The concentration evident in facial expressions seeming to provide some kind of ethereal understanding of, and a window into, how they translate these songs. Songs which seem so bound to the studio, re-animated into living documents.You can see the strain on Jonsi’s face as he shoots for one of the impossibly high notes, then holds it. Georgi stands stock still, almost a mannequin, intensely concentrating on keeping the whole thing anchored. Kjartan looks like the consummate musician, fine with the idea of remaining in the background, fully aware that his contributions are essential. Orri pummels his drum set with wild abandon, looking almost visibly shaken after the songs final down beat.
Together they create a sound that seems untethered to time or space.

What they’re doing has evolved past the point of mere music making into the realms of art. Into the crown chakra space of high art. They wouldn’t admit it. No false modesty within the ranks of Sigur Ros. Who is to say that they even realize it? That they even comprehend how good they are? As obvious as it is to their devoted fans, one gets the sense that all four of these musicians are a humble lot, appreciating their success, unconcerned with validation. Pretentious? Ah, the “P” word. Some people would likely think so, after all it does seem kind of gimmicky for a band to have a guitarist who wields a violin bow and sing many of their songs in a language that does not exist. Still, the true believer understands. He realizes that the bow draws out a sound that swells in a manner that fingers or picks could never produce. That the “language” is nothing more than Jonsi sculpting the sonics of a completely unique tool of expression. Turning his voice into nothing less than an ambient musical instrument. Every song that is sung in “Hopelandic” is an instrumental song. When you can grasp that you will find that there is no novelty to it. Yes, its been used as a selling point for the band and that obviously makes it seem hoaky. But you need look no further than an interview they gave on NPR, easily found on YouTube, to realize just how apathetic they are to the hype. Not only apathetic, but actually annoyed.

That particular video clip is shown in “Inni”, along with several others shot at different stages of the band’s existence. They provide a dash of color and lightness to the foreboding darkness of the film itself. One clip is especially interesting: a camcorder trained on the small stage of what must be a very small, cramped club. Four young men shuffle into their respective positions …teenagers, from the looks of ’em, who vaguely resemble the four men in Sigur Ros.

Of course, its the hypothetical mustard seed of Sigur Ros. They take their places and for what seems like hours we’re treated to the sight of Jonsi bent down twiddling the knobs of the guitar effects pedal at his feet. On and on and on, it must be an especially difficult setting he’s meticulously shooting for. But eventually he does find it and the group begins the set. Kjartan playing guitar in this particular song, he softly picks a melody…
At which point, depending upon the level of devotion you feel for the band, you will be amazed that the song he’s playing, ringing out in this claustrophobic Icelandic pub who knows how many years before their breakthrough record was released, is “Popplagið”. Also known as “The Pop Song”, this 13 minute catharsis was the endpiece of their third album, “()”, an album that helped weed out the people who just wanted to hear “that song from ‘Vanilla Sky” and threw out the bait for the ones who would eventually really “get it”. Sigur Ros has always been a “you’ll either love ’em or you’ll hate ’em” kind of band, and “()” went a long way towards sorting those two extremes. “Popplagið” is the thundering orgasm of “()”. It’s sense of sturm un drang is rivalled only by the jaw dropping power of its build-up. The band’s critically acclaimed film “Heima” is capped by this rocket blast of a song. And rightly so. It’s not my favorite Sigur Ros song (that would be “Glossoli”) but I would have to concede that most people would find it to be their most intense. So it’s a revelation to learn that this kind of musical alchemy has been practiced by the band from the very start.

Perhaps obviously then, “Popplagið” sends off “Inni” in grand cacaphonous style. Truncated a slight bit it nevertheless retains it’s power. It’s one of the absolute best versions of the song I have ever heard. Jonsi’s vocal prowess here, and throughout the film, is so well-developed it is a force of nature. He does little things, small tonal variations, an extra consonant here or one less there to make it fresh. I really don’t know how else to describe it. It’s a thing of pure innocence and beauty. The juxtaposition of those qualities with the rumble of the music is quite something to behold.

What, did I say “rumble of the music”? Yes, and quite literally at these “Inni” screenings. They’ve bussed in a huge sound system to compliment the film. Loud. Loud. Loud. Personally I can do without all the decimals, but that’s just me. My hearing ain’t what it once was, you know. Maybe sheer volume helps drive home the intensity of the music for some people…as for me, it’s not necessary, especially with Sigur Ros.

The experiences tucked between “Ny Batteri” and “Popplagið” are every bit as worthy. Musically and visually. Perhaps the highlight of the set is a version of “Festival” that should be impressive to even those who don’t care for the band’s music. It’s a mood piece in two parts, the first being almost a solemn prayer and the second all out jubilation. The recorded version has a few really nice vocal sketches weaving through the break, playing off of one another, complimenting counterpoint. It add’s quite a lot to the song, but in every live performance I’ve heard they have not used it…most likely it’s not something they can replicate in a live setting, what with all the overdubs. No matter, this “Inni” version almost makes up for its absence. Jonsi one again genuinely wows, sustaining one note for at LEAST a full minute, if not longer. He sings, 15 seconds pass, the audience applauds, the sound subsides, the 45 second point arrives and he’s still holding that note, the audience really goes wild, the whoops, hollers & applause hold steady for another 5-10 seconds until they realize he’s not stopping any sooner than anyone would dare think was possible and when he finally DOES let the note die, well sir, you’d be a fool not to join in with the crowd. It’s so mind-blowing that the audience in the theater where I saw the screening actually began to applaud.

Conspicuously absent from “Heima”, Sigur Ros’ first really big “hit” is a centerpiece of the film. “Sven-G-Englar” was the introduction most people had to the band. It’s a good representation of their overall style, though I personally have grown weary of it. Overkill, yes it’s possible even with Sigur Ros. Nevertheless the rendition of the song in “Inni” is so impassioned and inspired that it’s hard for me to dismiss it as “just another song I’m burned out on”.

“Vid Spilum Endalaust”, along with the YouTube bits, cuts the edge and inserts a joyous feel into what is otherwise a serious affair. Ethereal and angelic, yes. But undeniably serious. “Vid Spilum Endalaust” tosses the gravitas out the window with a rousing sing along and the uplifting strains of a brass horn section. This particular sequence shows not only the rapport of the musicians but the camaraderie as well. So many bands are cursed with bad feelings between members. Some actually come to hate each other over the course of years. One gets the feeling, watching the way Jonsi, Georgi, Kjartin & Orri interact, that they have been best friends since day one and, even better, will remain so until the sad and terrible day they call it quits.

“Inni” in the theater is an awesome experience. To share it with a room full of total strangers is a unique exercise. The “bigger than life” quality is always good. But I have a feeling that it will hit it’s target in the home theater as well. I won’t say “better” but I’m confident it will be every bit as good to see and hear on your own system. It was recently released in DVD format as part of a package that also contains 2 CDs of the material along with other tracks. Maybe it’s a good introduction to the band. I wouldn’t want to go out on a limb and say yea or nay on that one. Personally I think “Heima” is probably better for that purpose, or even just a good hearing of “Takk”. Right or wrong on that front I nevertheless CAN pronounce “Inni” as worthy of being in the Sigur Ros catalog. More than “Sigur Ros finally got around to putting out a live album”.

Sin…with a capital ‘S’

I’m not sure how “common” or theologically correct my POV is, but I’ve always thought of “sin” as a cancer on the soul of every man, woman and child. We can either die from it or we can ask the “Surgeon” to excise it at the moment of our passing. And He will, but until that time we have to accept it and come to terms with it. Some people pretend it’s not there. Others become so obsessed with it that they’re dragged down into an abyss of their own despair even knowing, in their hearts, that the day will come when it will be cut, along with the mortal coil, and left behind. Some ignore it, while others deny it. But regardless, it’s right there in our spirit, growing with every transgression. I believe “sins” can be forgiven. But then I think that SIN isn’t something that can be forgiven. No more so than I need to be forgiven for having a beating heart and breathing lungs. It’s a condition. I require no more forgiveness for sin than I do for the bipolar disorder I suffer from.

I believe Jesus died to release us from this universal sin. He took on the sins of the world…and they killed Him. This is highly symbolic, I think, and a vivid reminder of the wages of sin. He died filled to the brim with sin. When He rose again He was sinless (again, I should point out). How can anyone look at that and not at least sublimanly understand that dying is the point where we’re “forgiven” of sin, and by extension comes the forgiveness (pardoning) of every individual sin we’ve ever committed? Maybe it’s not a case of “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior”…perhaps it’s the conscious or maybe even unconscious acceptance of that reality? A reality demonstrated by Jesus, so obviously you can’t exclude Him from any “decision” that may or may not need to be made. But it’s a “parable”, let’s call it”, that strikes to the deepest recesses of our being and it either sticks or it doesn’t. The harsh reality is that it’s not gonna stick to everyone. Still, it’s gonna stick to anyone whose soul is conditioned to accept it. Much, much deeper than the mind, where our own thoughts and conceptions can “muddy the view”, as it were.

And this has got me to thinking…the whole idea of “accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior”…I have always had trouble with it. Now, though, I’m kind of leaning towards the idea that what is being accepted is not the Man himself, but what He has done. And as I pointed out, I don’t think this “accepting” can necessarilly be done intellectually. I can convince myself to believe that I am a Christian, I can walk the walk and talk the talk, but HOW DO I KNOW FOR SURE? I can fool everyone else into thinking I’m a genuine follower of Christ. But are they being deceived through no fault of my own? When it comes to God we all “know” nothing other than what’s been revealed and filtered through our minds and experiences. As imperfect as they are.

But there’s a certain almost universal belief about death. Others will say it about you and very likely you feel it so too, even it means something completely different to each man. “We’re all going to a ‘better’ place”. All our suffering will be over. Our toil, trouble, sickness and disease, all left behind. Even if that “place” is “nowhere”, it’s generally where we hope to go. But we all HOPE for it. Deserved? Who knows. Justice? Whose?

Deep, deep within our being, is the belief that our sin is going to be forgiven. It’s more “hope” than belief, but it’s hope so firmly ingrained in the psyche that there’s no uprooting it, no denying the truth of it A truth so real that it will envelope
the very life of a man, sucking it out of it’s shell. Through a baptism of fire, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, who is responsible for this purging. Maybe the Holy Spirit put that hope in us at the time we were conceived? Maybe the greatest gift of the spirit is the days and years He has given, keeping the cancer of sin in remission?

I’ve strayed to and fro in this post, but the main things I wanted to point out are that I believe sin is not just a fact of life, it’s a part of us all. That salvation comes from recognizing this, though not necessarilly intellectually. It is wiped away by Jesus Christ, and this fact is not changed despite any acceptance or denial of any religious belief systems (or lack of belief). Christians, true Christians have no excuse not to recognize it, since it has been demonstrated by Christ Himself.

Other than that, I can’t say. I’ve begun to ramble and I’m not sure exactly what I’ve written I would defend to the deat and what are just ideas thrown on the paper that require more thought and contemplation.

Charlie Chaplin was a Prophet

Rolling Stone ‘All Access’…an unsolicited recommendation

A quick unsolicited advertisement…I don’t know how many of you (still) subscribe to Rolling Stone, but despite your positive or negative assessment of what the magazine has become, you have a very good reason to subscribe now. It’s called Rolling Stone All Access, and basically it’s EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of the magazine, from 1967 until the current issue, available online. The scans are excellent, it’s easy to navigate, there’s even a search feature (though I think it is still being worked on). I was only 6 years old when the first issue was published, so this archive represents pretty much the entire history of my musical universe (at least the pop/rock genre). AND ALL THE ORIGINAL ADS ARE INTACT!!! For me this is one of the coolest things about All Access…seeing ads for “state-of-the-art” record players and other outdated hi-fi equipment makes me feel a little better for not having the money to buy them at the time. The only thing more amusing than seeing the old advertisements for records by artists I know about are the ones for artists I never heard of, better yet, by artists I recognize but had completely forgotten about! Record reviews out the wazoo and seminal writing by the likes of Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe, Ben Fong-Torres, Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Gleason and so many more.

No doubt some of you are drooling over this even now. The Rolling Stone All Access archive is free to all subscribers. It’s integrated into the magazine’s website, which is mighty handy. A smooth transition from past to present available with the click of a button. I hope it isn’t a harbinger of RS’s print version’s demise, but for now I’m not going to worry. I’ll be spending a lot of time strolling down memory lane via the treasure trove of RS All Access.


Last night’s dream…

Last night I dreamed I was at some kind of political rally in my hometown. It’s a small community, so there weren’t all that many participants. The room was divided into two sides, on the left were Republicans and to the right were the Democrats (nice reversal there, no?). I was sitting on the left side with the conservatives. Don’t ask me why. I don’t consider myself a conservative in my waking moments and I have no idea why I was with them in my dream. I knew the guy sitting next to me, that’s the only reason I can think of.

Though I don’t remember what the meeting was about (didn’t know within the dream, either), it was obvious that the Republicans had come out victorious. Next thing you know, the Democrats all rise and walk around the perimeter of the room, train style, chanting something or another. They did this then returned to their seats as if nothing had happened. I had the impression that the “miniature rally” was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been going on for the past few weeks, but I wasn’t sure.

As might be expected, the congregation of Republicans were aghast. There was a low rumble of ridicule aimed at the opposition. It was disorienting in a way, as it was so unexpected. I was confused, too…but I had this really strong feeling that I should be over on their side. Not because of the demonstration, which I thought was kind of hoaky. Though having the guts to get up and do something like that was, as I saw it, an admirable quality, apparently MY “guts” were less courageous, because I was mortified of what the Republicans I was sitting with would think.

I was ashamed of those conservatives, so dismissive and self-righteous. Who knows why, but I was worried about what they would think of me if I did what I felt like doing. I weighed it very consciously in my mind, should I stay or should I go. I almost felt like an invisible hand was holding me back. The temptation was to ignore the whole incident and move on like nothing had happened. Yet I knew that I would eventually regret that course of action. I didn’t want to be associated with the silly protest march they’d just done, even though the reaction it brought about was the very thing that made me consider joining them.

I got up, walked over to the right side, and sat down with the Democrats. I felt the relief almost immediately, “being with my own kind”, as it were. I knew the right wingers were stunned by my defection, which was kind of odd since none of them had ever taken the opportunity to get to know me. To them I became just one less person on their roster. It was simply the notion that they lost one which rankled them.

As for myself, I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be…where I should have been the whole time. Most of them didn’t make too big a deal about it. You could tell they were happy I’d come to their side, but they didn’t gloat or do anything that would cause the conservatives to think that they’d won a battle. There were a couple of ladies who talked to me, wanting to get to know me. They were “higher-ups” within the local democratic party. They pretty much wanted me to know that they appreciated my gesture and were curious as to what made me decide as I did. I couldn’t really tell them, but the collective attitude of the right wingers at that time sort of gave me an idea.

I don’t know what the dream meant. After all, I’m already a Democrat. I think it probably had to do with the fact that I don’t get involved in the workings of the party. I see all these protesters at the Occupy rallies and a big part of me wishes I could join them. I can’t feel guilty about it, though, because I have legitimate reasons to “avoid” situations such as these. The only thing I can really do is spread the word via facebook. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it’s got to be worth something.

R.E.M. … the dream is over

In 1985 I found myself locked behind the walls of the Naval Hospital’s 4th floor psych ward in Orlando, FL. I wound up spending almost 6 months there, waiting for a bipolar disorder diagnosis. A tragic situation on many levels. One of the worst experiences of my life, made all the worse for the wonderful things happening on the outside that I should have been a part of. Mainly the birth of my first child, a daughter who I was not able to see until over a month after her arrival. Many were the times when I felt like giving up, but knowing I’d soon be with her kept me going.

There was something else that kept me going, though it certainly was not of the same magnitude as seeing my daughter. It might not make sense to a lot of people, but that thing was a record album. Namely Fables of the Reconstruction by R.E.M., a band that I had decided, a couple of years before, was the best American rock band of all time. Music being my passion, I’m not sure that I could describe just how much this group affected me, from the first bars of Chronic Town, their debut EP, to the last chords of “Little America” from their second full-length offering, Reckoning.

I was in a band myself at the time. Ask the other guys how infatuated with R.E.M. I was…They’ll probably tell you that I wanted to turn it into an R.E.M. tribute band, and who knows but maybe there is some truth in that. I would gladly have worked up their entire catalog up to that point if I thought they would let me. Luckily my excitement was contagious and they both wound up being R.E.M. fans eventually.

I wanted to do everything the way they did. Their “ethos” seemed so right to me. Uncompromising originality, doing it their way, never letting the new record sound too much like the last one, working their fan base from the ground up, going out in teams of two to promote themselves…they seemed honest and genuine. I admired everything about them musically, from Peter Buck’s jangling guitar to Mike Mills’ chordal bass playing to Bill Berry’s rock solid drumming…and okay, I will confess, it was Michael Stipe’s voice, style and slurring that really sold me on them. Even so, it was the package deal that kept me interested.

Do you want to know how obsessed I was with R.E.M. in 1984? I owned a SWEET MusicMan Stingray bass guitar…one of the best basses made at the time. I loved it. Then, one evening as I watched the band’s appearance on some forgotten MTV “Rock Legends” program I saw Mike Mills’ Rickenbacker and decided, then and there, that I had to have one, too. If that was part of what made up the R.E.M. sound, well I needed that. To make a long story short, I traded in my MusicMan and a hundred bucks for a piece of crap stereo Rickenbacker that sounded awful and was difficult to play.

One of the big disappointments of my life up to that point (inexperienced youth that I was) was missing the band touring for the Reckoning album when they played at a renovated church in Norman, Oklahoma called The Bowery (the legendary Bowery, as far as I was concerned). I’d heard they were going to perform there but when I called to get details I was told they’d already been there…the night before! So I asked if they knew where the band was scheduled to play next. It was at some bowling alley in Dallas on that evening. The next show was in St. Louis, Missouri and I seriously thought about doing whatever I had to do to get there. I think it was Southern Methodist University (I could be wrong). They informed me that students had first dibs on the tickets and I knew right then that it was hopeless. I did eventually see them, during the Life’s Rich Pagaent tour. It wasn’t Fables-centric, but they did most of my favorite songs (“Sitting Still” & “Shaking Through” are the ones I remember the best). Mike Mills even said something about how the first time they’d played in Oklahoma was at “some church”. I think they played Oklahoma one more time after that, for the Green album. I missed that one, but it was okay by me. I wasn’t real happy with the direction their music was going at the time they signed with Warner Bros.. I was just happy I’d been able to see them before then.

So, what does all this have to do with getting through a 6 month stint in observation? Just this: I’d heard that the band’s 3rd album was going to be released in mid-to-late ’85 and I could not wait! Oh, but I had to. Because it came out about two months after I took up residence on the 4th floor psych ward! Such bad timing! One day I’m listening to the stereo in the lounge when, I couldn’t believe it myself, “Can’t Get There From Here” comes on. It sounds almost nothing like R.E.M.. I wanted to hear it again and a few more times to get a handle on the direction they were heading. I thought it was pretty good on first hearing, but I couldn’t be sure just how much I might like it without a couple more decent listens. To make matters worse I got a copy of Rolling Stone and wouldn’t you know it? The feature review was of Fables of the Reconstruction. It was a very positive review. I remember seeing all the song titles, wondering what the songs themselves might sound like. I proselytized R.E.M. to any and all of the psych techs who cared to listen and no doubt more than one realized that getting to hear that record was one of the things that kept my chin up. Re-united with wife and daughter was most important, obviously, but getting my own copy of Fables was a powerful incentive to hang on as well.

I know I haven’t gone into detail about what I went through there. Or how or why or whatever, none of it really needs to be related other than to point out that those days, weeks, months WERE difficult for me. I don’t think I can over-emphasize how these things, big and small, pulled me through, or to describe exactly what it was they actually did pull me through. Suffice to say that I will be thankful for them until the day I die.

It should come as no surprise that one of the first things I did when I was discharged was go straight to Sound Warehouse to buy a copy of Fables of the Reconstruction…or Reconstruction of the Fables depending on which side of the jacket you were looking at. The wheels were set in motion. The grooves in the record would be worn out only weeks later. The music, in the grand R.E.M. tradition, shared little in common with what came before. Just enough to remind you of who you were listening to and why you loved them. Yes, I had my favorites. “Life and How to Live It”, “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”…and there were a couple I wasn’t all that crazy about, “Old Man Kinsey”, “Maps and Legends”. But as a whole I couldn’t think of too many albums that were so consistently excellent.

Maybe my reverence for Fables of the Reconstruction is tinged with sentimental attachment. So it is. Still I have no problem coming out and saying that it is one of the few truly great records of the 80s. Unlike the music of so many dime-a-dozen MTV-friendly music video pimping bands of that decade, R.E.M.’s mid 80s output will be remembered for a long time to come.

I confess, I’m not much of an R.E.M. fan these days. I don’t like having to say that, but it’s true. They have released excellent music since I fell off the bandwagon, but it’s not for me. No doubt that is the curse of any band who doggedly insists on not repeating themselves. At some point you’re going to lose the people who aren’t willing to follow your muse. Maybe the word “willing” is not what I mean to say. I’m “willing” to go with them, but it’s useless because the music doesn’t appeal to me anymore. The last song I truly loved by R.E.M. was “New Test Leper” from the last album they recorded with Bill Berry on the drums, New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Even that was after generally losing interest, as I mentioned earlier, after they signed with major label, Warner Brothers. They got more popular, with the success of “Losing My Religion” and later “Everybody Hurts”, an anthem so universal it was bound to resonate with everyone. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not too long afterward. They had made it, they’d done it their way, and whether or not the old school fans wanted to admit it or not, they’d come out on the other side with dignity and integrity intact, doing what THEY wanted to do, still releasing music that draws in new fans, at least two for every one lost, it seems. So the oversight is mine, for sure.

As of yesterday, September 21, 2011, that’s all history. R.E.M. has broken up and it’s almost surreal to me. Even though I may never have gotten back into them again I still have a very difficult time believing that it’s over. It’s just a band. Yet so much more to me. Why? I don’t know myself. Their music was very much a soundtrack to some good times in my life. They were down to earth and never let rock stardom turn them into assholes. I’ll never forget writing to their fan club and getting a personal note from Mike Mills, who informed me that he had family here in Oklahoma. Of course this was in the early stages of their career, so they had more time to be so available to their fans. But I have always got the impression that R.E.M. have always treated their fans not only with respect but as fellow travellers on their journey.

Me? I will always consider them to be one of my favorite groups in the history of modern music. Come to think of it, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t follow them after Bill Berry’s departure. There are three entire R.E.M. albums that I have never heard…I’m sure I’ll come around to where they left me someday. I’ll have what I might as well consider “new music” from the band. New to me. That will make it somewhat easier to deal with the fact that the three remaining members will no longer be creating more as a unit. Though that be the case, the reality is that R.E.M.’s body of work will stand up to repeated listening for years to come. Long after the idea of “alternative music” has died, the name “R.E.M.” will be remembered and their legacy will be, among other things, the proof that music can transcend labels. That it can rise above categorizations.

Mr. Berry…Mr. Buck…Mr. Mills…Mr. Stipe…God bless you. Thank you. Thank you so much and may you each be successful in whatever endeavors you choose to pursue at this point in your lives. You’ve touched a lot of people. Your music genuinely moved us. Your originality has amazed us. Your integrity has inspired us. You have not let us down, in the past or with this decision to call it a day. We trust you well enough to give you the benefit of the doubt and if you say the time has come, then it’s for certain the time has come. But you will be missed…and it is with no small degree of sadness that I have to say…




Here is a list of my favorite R.E.M. songs, limited to 2 tracks per album.

Chronic Town:
Gardening at Night
Wolves, Lower

Sitting Still
Shaking Through

Pretty Persuasion

Fables of the Reconstruction:
Life and How to Live It

Life’s Rich Pagaent:
These Days

Dead Letter Office:
Voice of Harold

Finest Worksong
King of Birds

The Wrong Child
(hidden track)

Out of Time:
Country Feedback

Automatic for the People:
Find the River

Let Me In
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth

New Adventures in Hi-Fi:
New Test Leper

I haven’t listened to the “post-Berry” albums enough to have any favorites. Haven’t heard the last three at all. But I do like “Imitation of Life” and “Beat a Drum” from Reveal quite a lot.

Believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t easy to narrow the selections on this list down to only two per record.

A footnote about context, etc.

Yesterday afternoon I was reminded of why this blog is called No Genius…No Fool. Riding back from OKC the conversation between my wife and I somehow drifted towards religion. We mainly believe the same things but there a few substantial differences we have. She is a member of the Church of Christ and I have issues with their core doctrine of baptism “for the remission of sins”. She thinks I try to interpret verses in the bible to make them say what I want them to say…I think she would agree when I say she’s somewhat of a literalist when it comes to learning from the bible. Of course I don’t think I really prop up my own ideology with bible verses…actually I was offended to hear that suggested…but regardless, I have to say that she knows her bible. Whether I agree with the CoC or not, I’ve always been impressed by how much they know of what’s in there.

As for me, I can’t just whip out a bible verse and say “this is how it applies to modern man” (let alone post-modern man). I think we need to view Scripture in the light not only of context within itself, but also in keeping with what I would classify as post-biblical revelations manifested in science, culture, sociological conditions…I think biblical texts are to be used to identify and verify this continuing revelation. I’m certainly not saying that the individual books of bible shouldn’t be read within the context of the other 65 books, but there is so much in there that doesn’t answer the question “why?”. If I know the “why” of one of Paul’s admonitions I am much better prepared to abide by it. My wife says that some things are God’s secrets, that we, as mortals, were never meant to know. I have to disagree, though I do think that a line of questioning that asks “why” of every answer will lead to “I don’t know” and “Only God knows”. I just don’t think that a book given to mankind to answer eternal questions is going to have verses in it that some people are going to find ambiguous.

The issue of homosexuality, for instance (though I don’t want to go into great detail)…I read conservative Christian authors whip out the same 6 or 7 verses to “justify” their anti-gay position, usually with only one reason…”it’s wrong”. The other day I read an article on a Christian website maintained by the LGBT community that listed all of those verses and gave perfectly legitimate explanations for their likely meanings and the context in which they were written. It was an enlightening read, at the least. I thought for sure people would at least be able to agree on some of the points, but when I posted it on facebook I only got one comment: “Wow. Talk about misinterpreting the Bible. I guess anyone will twist the Bible around to condone their sin.”


Well, my point is that I really do have strong opinions on what I write about here. But I’m still learning, you know? My opinions tend to take several things into consideration so I’m a little disappointed in myself when I can’t just come right out and explain exactly why I believe what I do. My wife can do that. And it’s humbling, I think that’s the word for it. Yet like everyone I was born with a conscious and a sense of morality…when it is assaulted by something in the bible I cannot just sit back and say “oh, that’s just the way it is because that’s what it says in the bible.” Does that mean I am denying the Divine inerrancy of Scripture? That’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post, but I don’t think I am. Should I give Paul the same attention on doctrine as I do for Jesus? That’s something I need to study up on…as there are a lot of things I need to dive deeper into.

In the meantime…No genius…No fool.