MATTHEW DAVID BROZIK: There’s not much that I want to write about the decision of Messrs. Buck, Mills, and Stipe to end R.E.M. after 31 years, and not because I don’t have an opinion. To the contrary: For the past twenty years (for context: as long as Pearl Jam has been in existence), R.E.M. has been my favorite band. Not one of my favorites; my favorite. It was with a very heavy heart indeed that I read that the band will no longer carry on even as the three-legged dog they had become after the departure of Bill Berry.
So here’s what I do want to write: The world is a better place for having had R.E.M. in it, and even if the group’s most recent several albums didn’t impress the American music-buying public as much as (a) it did impress overseas, and (b) the band would have liked—and putting aside any unresolvable debate about the merits of the music—weren’t we all better off just having R.E.M. together and not just making music but always potentially making more? Notwithstanding the maddening machinations of the music business, it isn’t a zero-sum game. There is no limit to the number of artists who might make music, and no limit to the amount of music to be made. The continued existence of R.E.M.—or any artist, for that matter—has no downside. I’m having trouble imagining what it will be like not to anticipate—to look forward to—the next R.E.M. song or album.
Perhaps Michael Stipe shouldn’t have quipped about “knowing when to leave the party,” as it exposed him and his bandmates to the easy jokes about the party having ended for R.E.M. years ago. It didn’t, but that’s not the point. Millions of fans are heartbroken. The party just won’t be as much fun anymore.