Sunday, September 25, 2011

Song of the Week 9/23/11

R.E.M. - “It Happened Today”

I had a feeling that this day would come soon. I wasn’t sure if it was this year, but after R.E.M. decided to not tour behind this year’s Collapse Into Now it seemed that a decision to split was inevitable. The hints were there in all the songs. The music that Peter Buck and Mike Mills composed quoted parts of the band’s catalog (“Blue” sounding like a sequel to Out of Time’s “Country Feedback,” “Oh My Heart” coming off like an Automatic For the People outtake) while Michael Stipe’s lyrics contained many references to people moving on with their lives (“Walk It Back” -- Time, time, time it cannot revive/You, you can't turn away/You asked me to stay/but something needs to change; “All the Best” -- “Let's sing it a rhyme/Let's give it one more time/Let's show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine.”). I wanted to ignore these signs and hope for more from this late career renaissance. I’m in the critical minority on this, but I think 2008’s Accelerate is one of their Top 5 albums ever and that Collapse Into Now keeps growing in stature every time I listen to it.

Full disclosure -- I am friends with Scott McCaughey, who’s been a touring and recording member of R.E.M. for 17 years. During the decade I’ve known Scott I’ve gotten to see him play with the band three times. The pure joy he displayed performing his friends songs made me smile every time. I sent Scott a brief note on the day the split was announced. I told him how sorry I was to hear the news and hoped that he and everyone around the band was feeling okay. I added, “I'm sure it's a weird time since they're you're friends and bandmates. But at least they're going out on a high note with the last two albums.” He wrote back to me, “I do appreciate your comment about going out on a high note -- I feel that way too.”

One of those high notes is “It Happened Today.” It includes more of those foreshadowing lyrics from Stipe (“And close in on a promise after, after all I've done today/I have earned my voice”) and the last 1:50 features Stipe, Mills and guest vocalist Eddie Vedder doing a wordless chorus that pulls you in and takes you to majestic heights. It’s a stunning moment in a career filled with plenty of them. I’ve never met Eddie Vedder, but from all accounts he’s a man that has respect and enthusiasm for the acts inspired him growing up. I saw his unbridled joy inducting--and singing with--R.E.M. at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies a few years ago. So I can imagine that he was honored, thrilled, and perhaps a bit nervous when they band asked him to sing on “It Happened Today.” I’m sure he wanted to deliver for R.E.M., and most certainly does with a magnificent vocal turn on it. It’s no surprise that on Wednesday night Vedder lead Pearl Jam through a powerful cover of “It Happened Today.” (I posted it below--It’s worth watching.)

Honestly, I’m still processing this decision. I can’t yet put into words just how much this band has meant to me. Right now, all I can say is thank you to Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck (and Bill Berry too) for many years of providing comfort, inspiration and joy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Song of the Week 9/16/11

Bright Eyes - "Landlocked Blues"

Another year at the ACL Festival, another three days of great music. There were multiple highlights, but this was my favorite song of the weekend by far. Just a killer performance of one of my favorites from I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Song of the Week 9/9/11

Average White Band - "Pick Up the Pieces"

I heard this song on WCBS-FM when I woke up yesterday. And then I heard it as I was going to sleep. That was kind of bizarre, especially with all the 9/11 stuff about picking up the pieces of our lives 10 years ago. Totally weird.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Song of the Week 9/2/11

Suicidal Tendencies - "Institutionalized"

Okay, one of the best moments of the year was watching my bandmates play this off the cuff with my friend Ed singing this at our friend Michael's birthday party Tuesday night. It was definitely unexpected.