R.E.M. Look Back

Page 2 of 4

4 Nashville 1987
[ Photograph by Sandra-Lee Phipps ]

Buck: That was while we made Document. Michael was reading that book about [Joseph] McCarthy. My mom had campaigned against McCarthy in the Fifties, and Michael and I were talking about historical tides – McCarthy and Richard Nixon – and how that was coming back under Reagan. Suddenly it popped up in "Exhuming McCarthy."

Stipe: He was such a bitter, confused man. I couldn't imagine that anyone could be that evil. But I saw it happening again under Reagan and the first George Bush. The song is also a reference to a portion of our audience. They were Reaganites, and I couldn't do the math – how these people could be my age and still be so blind. But I feel like performers get this kind of pass, where you can say these things on a record or stage. And Document was a very political record. "Disturbance at the Heron House" was my take on Animal Farm – this revolution that grinds to a halt under a hard-line regime.

5 Athens, Georgia 1985
[ Photograph by Tom Sheehan ]

Mills: That's from the video shoot for "Can't Get There From Here" [from Fables of the Reconstruction]. It was just a chance for Bill and I to show off our new "old" cars. Bill had a 1962 Ford, and I had a fantastic '65 Thunderbird that was turquoise inside and out.

Buck: We also wore these bird heads that reminded me of that Egyptian god Thoth, with a bird head and human body. Who wants to be in videos, anyway? Better to get some bird-headed guys to do it.

6 Washington, D.C. 1983
[ Photograph by Laura Levine ]

Buck: This was exceptional hotel-room squalor. We canceled a show because our van broke down. We stayed at the Harrington Hotel in Washington, D.C., for three days with no money. We waited for someone to come up and bring some cash. We had the newspaper we got for free and that was it.

Mills: We were living high on the hog when this was taken. We had separate rooms – one for me and Peter, one for Michael and Bill. That was a step up from when we were all in the same room. But I loved every minute of it.

Stipe: Touring was an adventure. We were out looking for the world, and we put up with just anything. We usually made enough at a show to get us to the next town. I remember staying at the Iroquois Hotel in Times Square. We were all in one room – Peter slept in the closet – and I had five dollars a day to eat. I'd get the biggest potato knish I could find for $1.30 to get me through the day. The rest was beer money.

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Song Stories


The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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