Mornings with Brian Phillips
Happy 30 R.E.M. "Murmur"
April 12th, 2013
I've long ago dumped the pretense. I'm old. I have grey hair, and children who can do things for themselves... I remember the long lamented Seattle Super Sonics winning the NBA title. I remember what baseball players looked like before steroids. I remember the day Nixon resigned (on my mom's 33rd birthday no less. I was eating a hot dog and drinking Kool-Aid while watching Tricky Dick give his ironic two-handed peace salute before boarding the chopper for San Clemente and oblivion. Even at the age of 9 I knew it was a moment of tremendous gravity.) When I was 13 the Canadian radio station I listened to every morning gave breathless accounts of the Sid and Nancy saga. The whole thing seemed frightening and dangerous to me. Of course I had no context. There was no way they were going to actually play the Sex Pistols, and without You Tube how was I to ever hear them? Too young and sheltered for first generation punk rock I was left with, to paraphrase The Blues Brothers, two kinds of music, heavy and metal.
Today R.E.M.'s "Murmur" turns 30. The album came out while I was still in high school, and since my home town was an isolated sink hole of despair, it wouldn't be until many months later, and a college dorm floor with cool kids from Seattle that I would discover the wonders of not just this album, but The Ramones, Dead Kennedys, The Clash, Violent Femmes, Elvis Costello, etc. Thanksgiving break I took a pile of lp's to some shabby used record store in Tacoma and traded them in. It was as Joe Strummer said it was: Year Zero.
I was lucky enough to see R.E.M. twice in the mid 80's, both times at Seattle's venerable Paramount Theater. The second time, in 1986, they played a new song called "The One I Love" during the encore. I'll never forget it. It was already a fully realized classic a year before it would appear on "Document." Spine chilling.
Much has been written about "Murmur." Perfectly titled, Michael Stipe's elusive lyrics are buried deep in the mix. The music is earthy.... strange to the untrained ear, and yet warm and inviting. Today it turns 30, and holds up wonderfully. The original producer Steven Hague had other ideas of course. He wanted to turn R.E.M. into a new wave band. Click tracks, syth burbles and all. The band begged their label to please allow them to try recording with "Chronic Town" e.p. producer Mitch Easter and his engineer Don Dixon. R.E.M. would never have to fight that battle again. You have to stand up for what you know is right. The evidence is in the grooves.
Happy birthday "Murmur" you've aged well. Me? I haven't done too bad I suppose.