Available now: R.E.M. Perfect Circle
I have a book published this week in the UK. It’s called R.E.M. Perfect Circle. Is it a new biography of the band? Not exactly. Is it a straight reissue of the book I originally published in 1989? Not quite. The story of how I came to write the first R.E.M. biography (Remarks), the various people I interviewed for it and to what extent it received the group’s co-operation, how and why it was then updated a couple of times and eventually re-issued as Remarks Remade in 2002, can all be found here. The following excerpt from the introduction to R.E.M. Perfect Circle helps complete the tale:
“Since the publication of what I like to term that ‘Director’s Cut’ of the book (Remarks Remade), the degree of professional respect that I hold towards R.E.M. appears to have been returned a couple of times. In 2007, I was recommended by the group’s long-standing manager Bertis Downs to give the keynote speech at a symposium entitled ‘R.E.M. In Perspective,’ held in the group’s hometown of Athens; the following year, I was asked by the band to write the sleeve-notes for the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition re-issue of Reckoning [available for download here]. In each case, I was flattered by the offer, and honored to accept.
In the wake of the group’s amicable break-up in 2011 my editor at Omnibus Press, Chris Charlesworth, suggested I bring the book up to date, completing what we would now rename, after an early R.E.M. song, Perfect Circle. I could not accept immediately: I was in the midst of writing a major biography of the Smiths, who exhibited many musical and cultural similarities to R.E.M., and whose success could well have reached R.E.M.-like proportions too, had they only been able to stay together. While considering such comparisons, I found myself pulled again towards not just the music, but the overall story and aesthetic of R.E.M., and agreed with Charlesworth that it would be somewhat silly to leave their story unfinished. And so, after finishing the Smiths book, I took to writing up the last ten years of R.E.M.’s 32-year career. I initially thought that with ‘only’ three studio albums during that time, it would be a relatively short process; by the time I factored in world tours, major compilations, intra-band disharmony and resolution, and then the fascinatingly friendly break-up, I had written five new chapters, adding 100 pages to the story.
Perfect Circle, as we are now calling it, is somewhat unique among rock biographies in that it has been written, and then updated and expanded, over the course of four different decades. My writing has hopefully improved over these years, but in contrast to the expanded Remarks Remade of 2002, I have not rewritten or added to earlier material, and in this final update have tried to stay consistent to the original writing style and approach.
I believe this will be the final update of Remarks, Remarks Remade, or Perfect Circle – at least in as much as I can not possibly imagine R.E.M. reneging on their word and reforming (for anything more than an all-star charity event). In many ways, it is sad to say a final farewell to a project that has been such a constant within my life, but as with the band itself, it’s time to leave the party. It was an absolute blast, and I’m thrilled that I got to attend – if only to have stood in the corner and observed.”