Monday, March 9, 2020

A Bridge Too Far: How R.E.M.'s 'It's The End Of The World' Killed College Rock!

As a rock & roll kid who still believed in the prospect of a beloved band conducting their entire career without a single misstep, I was not at all enthralled by my first listen to R.E.M.'s socio-political rapid-fire, cocaine-speed pop ditty that saw the once unintelligible Michael Stipe to be quite the budding auctioneer.

Even within the context of the album that it was on - 1987's Document; itself an eyebrow-raising arena-rock monstrosity - "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" was a stark contrast from the southern gothic swamp rock of the R.E.M. that we musically-discerning college kids had adopted as our own.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, by unleashing their own "We Didn't Start The Fire" upon the world, R.E.M. had thrown the indie rock community into a complete state of shock by releasing a song that was such an obvious attempt at a "pop single" after successfully claiming their first Top 10 hit with "The One I Love", a song that nobody in a million years expected to become so popular.

Snobby record store clerks and holier-than-thou DJ's for colleges whose radio stations could actually be heard off-campus were now forced to come to grips with the realization that one of the songs they were playing was also getting tons of airplay on MTV. In other words, they may as well be playing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

So college radio stopped paying the tune and, in a way, stopped playing the band altogether, setting them free to be the globally ginormous juggernaut that nobody in a million years ever imagined (or hoped) they would become.

Only now do I see that "It's The End of The World" was the sound of a band taking off a mask they'd long ago tired of wearing and begging us not to scream before we were finished screaming. It sounds childish now, but, to musically-inclined college kids of the early 1980's, R.E.M. was our band.

You could go back home for summer and play a tape that nobody else knew about while the locals laid rubber in the streets to the sounds Loverboy and Def Leppard. The very thought that you might return home one day to find "the rubes" cranking R.E.M. never entered your mind until the day that it actually happened.

In all seriousness, the rest of Document both appealed to my own arena-rock sensibilities and led me to believe that our relationship had, quite simply, gone as far as it could go.

To this day, anytime I hear the song, I feel a quick burst of happiness because the song is so comically jarring anytime you hear it on the radio as part of a nonstop rock block of indiscernible semi-human noise.

A few verses later, though, a sort of gloom sets in because it quickly becomes apparent that this song HAS TO BE what gave the Barenaked Ladies the idea for their whole schtick, which I find unforgivable (half-kidding).

Like college radio, I quickly weaned myself off of the band's teat before they went acoustic (total deal breaker) and became completely unrecognizable.

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