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What's in iJamming! Music
Thu, May 23, 2002
From the Jamming! Archives:
interviewed in 1978
"A number one single would be a bit scary."
The iJamming! interview:
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.'"
The Best Of 2001
Tony Fletcher's Top Albums, Songs, Concerts, and Books
Strange Currencies:
R.E.M. at Carnegie Hall
In his room:
Brian Wilson at the Festival Hall
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain."
Latest album reviews
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
iJamming! interview:
Jesse Hartman, aka LAPTOP
"Every New York band knows the meaning of failure"
MIX Albums:
Who, what and why you should bother
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The iJAMMING! chat:

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
Musing with SALLY TAYLOR:
"I'm not interested in what the major labels have to offer."
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
The iJAMMING! interview:
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
They love rock'n'roll but they don't want to deal with the hassle
The full iJamming! Contents
Why I re-wrote the book
The introduction to the new edition of my R.E.M. biography, due out this summer through Omnibus.

The original edition of Remarks was researched and written during the first six months of 1989, at a time when R.E.M. were finally breaking out of cult status and into the public domain of hit singles, platinum albums and sports arenas. At least that was the case in the USA, where Remarks was published in 1990. In the UK, where it came out in the autumn of 1989, R.E.M. had yet to score a top 50 single. They were critics’ darlings for sure, and their imprint was indelibly stamped upon the 1980s as one of the decade’s most influential groups, but they were hardly a household name.

Myself, I had been an impassioned fan of R.E.M. from the moment I first heard Murmur in 1983. I witnessed all three of the band’s debut performances in the UK that November (at the Tube TV show, where I was then working, at Dingwalls in London the following night and at the Marquee three nights after that). I interviewed the group on several occasions when they visited the UK; I saw the band at least once on every one of their five further trips to Britain up to and including 1987. Somewhere between the release of Document, the band’s fifth album, and Green, their sixth (and first for a major label), I moved to the band’s home country, the United States. Shortly after the release of Green, the subject of an R.E.M. book came up in conversation with Andrew King and Chris Charlesworth at Omnibus Press (for whom I had written the official biography of Echo & The Bunnymen); the band seemed a suitable, if somewhat uncommercial, subject for a biography, and the fact I was now living in the States and a committed fan with first-hand knowledge made me a suitable candidate to write it. I was delighted to take up the challenge.

To attract R.E.M.’s passionate but limited following, Remarks was kept short. It was then artfully laid out by Liz Nicholson with nearly a hundred photographs, many of them rare and/or unseen. The up side to this was a book both attractive and inexpensive, an accessible and accurate introduction to a group that had long been shrouded in mystery. The down side was that some people looked at its photo-intensive layout and took it to be frivolous and/or lightweight, as if it had been assembled from press cuttings rather than solid research.

Hardly. In assembling Remarks, I spent a full week in the group’s home of Athens, Georgia, interviewing friends and acquaintances, visiting first hand the locations from which R.E.M. and their sound had emerged, and experiencing for myself the sometimes intangible attributes that make the town so unique. I traveled to Winston-Salem to interview Mitch Easter, to Charlotte to meet Don Dixon, and to Cincinnatti to present my case for the biography to R.E.M. themselves, then on a major arena tour.

The group initially took the perfectly logical view that they were still a work-in-progress and therefore not yet ready to be ossified in print. At the same time, they understood that biographies were an inevitable by-product of the fame game. Peter Buck, in particular, as the band’s resident rock'n'roll obsessive and archivist, seemed to agree that they would be better off telling their story than letting others tell it for them and volunteered to be interviewed on behalf of the entire group. I rejoined R.E.M. in Florida for a couple of days, interviewing Peter on the tour bus between shows. The office then helped me track other interviewees down, and confirmed my credentials to those I contacted myself. Personal lives and family backgrounds were considered firmly off limits, a rule I respected. None of this was mentioned in the introductions to the previous editions of Remarks: in typical R.E.M. form, the band’s co-operation came with the strict caveat that under no circumstances could I advertise that they’d given it.

The three Omnibus-edition Remarks so far: The original - and still the best cover - from 1989. The update from 1993, which made sense, and the update from 1995, which didn't.

Remarks was received well by fans and band alike. In fact, R.E.M. felt warmly enough toward it that when I.R.S. Records insisted on releasing a European ‘Best Of’ in the autumn of 1991, the band suggested that the sleeve notes be taken from Remarks; I had a call direct from management requesting as much. Again, I was informed that their involvement with the project would not be announced, and the public generally assumed the band were not even involved with the album. Such is R.E.M.’s manner.

The Best of R.E.M. was released to cash in on the group’s sudden, enormous success in Europe after years on the fringes - for R.E.M.’s seventh album, Out of Time, released in the spring of 1991, finally connected the group to the masses. Propelled by the timeless global smash ‘Losing My Religion,’ and followed by the band’s first UK top ten hit, ‘Shiny Happy People,’ ‘Out Of Time’ spent an unprecedented two years on the UK album charts, on its way to notching up 12,000,000 worldwide sales, all without the band playing a single advertised concert in support.

Other R.E.M. books began appearing, some much better than others. Remarks continued to sell well, but it was clearly in danger of becoming dated, and looking a little flimsy in comparison to rightfully weightier tomes (most notably, Marcus Gray’s It Crawled From The South). Omnibus Press suggested an update, and I agreed. I had interviewed the band in Athens in early 1991 on the eve of Out of Time’s release, for the Rapido TV show, and I now sat down with Peter Buck in New York, in the summer of ‘92, as R.E.M. prepared to release Automatic For The People. The revamped Remarks was published in 1993.

Four more Remarks: US edition 1990 (crap cover and terrible paper quality); Polish, Japanese and Spanish editions. There's an Italian edition with a cover almost identical to the original UK printing, and there's also meant to be Greek and Israeli versions around, though I never got to see them.
In 1995, Omnibus suggested an additional chapter and a new front cover. I should have said no, for this second attempt to bring the book up to date, in advance of Monster, was half-hearted and carried no real original material. Then again, I never expected anyone to buy the book more than once; I only wanted to ensure that those looking for an introductory biography on the band had Remarks as an option. My apologies to anyone who bought the third edition to ‘collect the set.’

In the late 1990s, I wrote, and Omnibus Press published, an exhaustive biography on Keith Moon, which topped out at almost 600 pages. Its success proved a point I had always believed: that rock books need not be inexpensive, slight and photo-intensive to succeed. So when Chris Charlesworth, - still, I’m glad to say, at the Omnibus helm - suggested in the summer of 2001 that with four more albums under their belt, with their European fan base still solid, and with Remarks entirely out of print and unavailable, there might be reason to approach the subject again, I decided to accept upon a few small condition. While the revamped Remarks would not be a hardback, it would be the soft-cover equivalent. Photos would be limited to two eight-page sections; my word count would be unrestricted.

The opportunity to edit and expand the original manuscript was the clincher. I had held on to all my source materials - tapes, transcripts, demos, press cuttings and even early drafts - and could see that I had left many sub-topics and tangential points out first time around for sake of brevity. Yet I could also tell that Remarks had become a reference for other R.E.M. books over the years, which had then added their own observations and theories to the group’s legacy; I now felt a need to counter or complement some of these points in turn.

And, to be fair, other books had corrected some of my original errors. Back in 1989, if I wanted to comment on one of Michael Stipe’s lyrics, it meant trekking through vast numbers of interviews and fanzines to see what the words might actually have been; now every one of his lyrics is available on a single web site. At the time of researching Remarks in 1989, there were many discrepancies about the recording dates and locations of important early bootlegs; now every single show and recording session has been studiously catalogued and published. When compiling the original edition, if I wanted to see what Rolling Stone had written about the group over the years, or where R.E.M. scored in the annual Village Voice critics poll, it meant going to the Lincoln Center library for a day at a time and studying microfilm; now, Rolling Stone has published its own book that contains every sentence ever written by the magazine about the band, and the Voice maintains all its poll results on an online database. I’ve therefore taken advantage of these reference materials to improve where necessary the accuracy of my commentary

Once again, R.E.M. themselves proved amenable to my approaches. Or, I should say, once again Peter Buck decided to talk on the band’s behalf, and I spent several days catching up with him in Seattle in December 2001, including a lengthy interview on his 45th birthday. Michael Stipe and Mike Mills have never sat down to be interviewed for the express purpose of a biography; Bill Berry is sadly no longer part of the band. Jefferson Holt is no longer their manager, either, but Bertis Downs, who now handles that role, was as helpful and forthcoming as always. The group’s newer, semi-permanent members Scott McCaughey, Joey Waronker and Ken Stringfellow all granted interviews; likewise their producer Pat McCarthy. This time around, co-operation was not given on the understanding that it go unannounced, and I’m happy to advertise the band’s long-term involvement.

There are two perspectives to writing about R.E.M. in the 21st Century and they depend very much upon location. In the USA, where I now live, R.E.M. have suffered a drop-off in record sales that began with the release of New Adventures in Hi-Fi in 1996 and reached catastrophic proportions in 2001 when Reveal came and went in the time it takes to spin a radio dial and notice R.E.M. are no longer on the airwaves. The group’s name continues to carry enormous weight among adults in America - there are few music fans whose lives were not touched by R.E.M. either in their 1980s rise as the rightful poster-boys for the ‘alternative rock’ movement, or else by their mainstream triumphs in the early 1990s when even the most defiantly anti-corporate outsider could not begrudge them their lengthy moment in the spotlight. Yet these fans have abandoned the group by the millions. There are many reasons for this, and they’re considered in detail during the latter chapters of this book, but none of them alter the harsh fact that R.E.M.’s story, as told from an American audience’s point of view, follows very much the classic arc of a rise, a peak, and a fall.

That might serve to make the story more interesting for those reading from a European, or otherwise global perspective. For outside of north America, and away from the pockets of cult interest that were for the first five years confined to those who read the British music papers, the R.E.M. story only really kicks in at the end of the eighties. Most of their current audience bought into the band with the early nineties trio of best-selling albums - Out Of Time, Automatic for the People and Monster. Some of these fans turned out to be casual ones who dropped away once R.E.M. made a conscious decision to become less commercially viable, but never in such proportions as in the States, and not for as long either. In many countries - almost everywhere except north America, in fact - Reveal has been R.E.M.’s best-selling album since Monster. It’s been their best-received too. Watching the spring 2001 footage of R.E.M. playing my home-town city’s Trafalgar Square to an adoring audience in the tens of thousands, or the broadcast from a similar show in Cologne that garnered MTV’s biggest ever concert viewing figures, has served to reinforce for me that R.E.M. is not just the most important post-punk American rock band still in existence, but the most popular, too.

Listening to R.E.M.’s dozen studio albums and their scores of extra songs, viewing their concert movies and promo videos, reading their many interviews and reviews, and of course talking to the band and the people around them, have all then served to remind me why this should be so. There has always been a joyous sense of purpose to R.E.M.; it permeates everything they do and it continues to this day. As Michael Stipe explained upon the release of Reveal, "There's no time for dedicating what is my entire life for any reason other than a great love of the medium. Money is fine. Fame is fine. Power is great. But those are ancillary to the reasons as to why I do what I do." On a vastly smaller scale, I couldn’t write this book unless I got an emotional kick out of it. I have done. I hope you do too.

Tony Fletcher, New York, April 2002. POSTED MAY 23 2002.
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