Robert Dean Lurie’s Begin the Begin dives right into R.E.M.’s developmental years with aid from the Athens, Georgia set

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R.E.M. In 1983: from left to right, Billy Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and also Michael Stipe. Photograph by Paul Natkin/Getty Images.

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Many publications have been written around R.E.M., and Robert Dean Lurie knows it. That the an initial thing that mentions in his own brand-new biography of the band, Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s early Years. But couple of tomes have focused closely on R.E.M.’s origins in the burgeoning musical community of Athens, Georgia, in the 1980s. Thus, as Lurie explains, “several local numbers who were pivotal in the band’s early background have been underrepresented in vault accounts, even totally omitted in some cases.”

To balance out those omissions, Lurie approaches Begin the Begin prefer a detective as lot as a biographer. He monitor down world who had tiny but necessary roles in the R.E.M. Legend, search corroborations (or debunkings) of countless myths around the group. In the process, Lurie inserts himself in his narrative, and sometimes in extraneous ways that derail his momentum. However his own story does matter: inspired by the band, he enrolled in ~ the university of Georgia in Athens (the college its members dropped the end of) simply as R.E.M. Was becoming one of the best rock bands in America. For this reason he knows a lot around the town, and that helps him uncover brand-new info about a tape whose background has currently been fine scoured.


In one typical legend, R.E.M. Frontman Michael Stipe was influenced to song after hear Patti Smith’s 1975 album Horses. Lurie can’t fairly confirm or deny that, but he does uncover something simply as vital to Stipe’s future as a vocalist: a 1977 fight of the bands at his high school in St. Louis. Stipe’s classmate Craig Franklin asked him to enter and says Stipe replied, “I don’t sing.” but Franklin eventually convinced Stipe to join his group—called simply the Band—on covers of the rojo Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and also Rush’s “Working Man,” likely his first-ever publicly performance.


Another R.E.M. Legend holds the the group chose its name once Stipe randomly uncovered the acronym for rapid eye movement in a dictionary. Yet according come Athens scenester wilhelm Orten “Ort” Carlton, “That’s not right at all. The tape was actually named after Ralph Eugene Meatyard.” as proof, he uses that Meatyard—an obscure, Kentucky-based photographer—signed his prints together “r.e.m.” and that Stipe often asked Ort around his work. Despite heavy digging, Lurie can not definitively prove the Meatyard motivated the band’s name, but he reasonably concludes that there’s some fact to Ort’s story.


In the beforehand 1980s, Athens was a hotbed of music creativity, with plenty of bands entailing art students from the university of Georgia. Surrounded by pioneers like Pylon, the B-52’s, and Love Tractor, R.E.M. At first seemed quite square, in component because they played more covers than originals. “I recognized at an early stage that lock were choose the ‘digestible-by-frat-boys’ variation of the Athens sound,” states Mike eco-friendly of the Fans, a contemporaneous Atlanta band. That didn’t critical long: by the release of R.E.M.’s debut Murmur in 1983, the group’s jangly, Byrds-inflected sound was standing out no only in your ar but about the nationwide college radio scene. (And for the record, R.E.M.’s members were always fans of your Athens cohort: castle all wanted to be in Love Tractor, and also drummer bill Berry in reality was, quitting only as soon as R.E.M. Got too busy for him come play in both groups.)


Despite R.E.M.’s rather conventional rock beginnings, Stipe was always interested in speculative music. In 1981, he play solo under the name 1066 Gaggle O’ Sound, i beg your pardon his UGA art college classmate David Pierce defines in the book: “He did a dub thing where he’d beat a loop the himself and it would certainly come ago around and also he’d play end that. He’d have actually a tape recorder which would rewind and also play that earlier and climate he’d play together with the record he’d just made.” Stipe was also in the experimental band watercraft Of v Tom Smith, later a noise legend and leader of to Live and also Shave in L.A. And he played body organ with Pierce in the “full-bore arts rock bordering top top prog” team Tanzplagen, which actually toured and released a single.


Lurie hears part charming stories around R.E.M.’s at an early stage tours, which gained bigger with each record. Jeff walls of Guadalcanal Diary recalls that when opening for R.E.M. In 1985, his tape filled the end a questionnaire that contained a request for each member’s shoe size. “Next day, there was a package in ~ the former of our hotel room v shoes, T-shirts, every this stuff the was useful on a tour,” the explains. “It was lot appreciated.” and according come assistant tourism manager kris Edwards, R.E.M. “would continue to be after the show and talk come everybody that wanted to talk… until the fans were worn down of talking. They were just so gracious through their time.”


During one mid-’80s tour, Stipe began sporting bleach-blonde hair, motivated not through fashion trends however a condiment. According to Edwards, Stipe spotted a bowl of mustard backstage one night and also said, “Doesn’t it make you want to stick your head in it?” Edwards stated no, however Stipe did that anyway, arising on stage with a new, quite pungent look. Because that a couple of weeks, Stipe wore a different kind of mustard on his head every night (“his favorite was French’s,” says Edwards) until finally taking the simpler route and also dyeing his hair.


When R.E.M.’s fourth album Lifes wealthy Pageant came out in 1986, that seemed more straightforward than its predecessor, 1985’s murkier Fables the the Reconstruction.

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yet Pageant was originally intended as a principle album, together R.E.M. Recorded a dozen short instrumental tracks to fit in between longer songs. Producer Don Gehman convinced the band to ditch that interstitial material; some of it became appropriate songs, such as “Underneath the Bunker,” i beg your pardon Stipe conveniently wrote words for just before it to be recorded.


Berry’s decision to leaving R.E.M. In 1997 was surprising, primarily since he determined to become a farmer instead. But in the ’80s, once Berry was dating Kathleen O’Brien—a an essential figure greatly responsible because that the band members meeting—he confessed his farming desires to her throughout a drive v north Georgia. Encountering a regional farmer, “they spent the much better part of the afternoon speak a tractor end the male fields,” to write Lurie, “and invoice was about the happiest Kathleen had ever before seen him.”