R.E.M.’s Revolution

How a post-punk band from Georgia changed rock ‘n’ roll forever.

Bill Wyman

R.E.M. performs in 2008 on the 'Today' show. Click image to expand.R.E.M., now no more, sparked the indie revolution

The world in which R.E.M. was created and came to artistic prominence was a much different one from today. They were a post-punk band, to be sure, but they sounded like the Byrds more than X. Their musical roots were in Americana (a genre that hadn’t been recognized yet), the static psychedelia of the Velvet Underground, and to some extent Nick Drakian dreamfolk, but philosophically they were inculcated in punk and its discontents. Issues like integrity, self-determination, and aesthetics were involved in talking and thinking about the band in a way that’s quite foreign now.

In the 1970s, a lot of the fury of the punk movement came from dismay at the limp and patently compromised work of artists like Rod Stewart or the Rolling Stones, or the flatulent excesses of art rockers like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or Yes. From those negative examples, and from the punks that confronted the issue head on, R.E.M. took a commitment and awareness of what appropriate rock-star comportment might be.

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