REM Breaks Up After 31 Years as a Band – Reactions Pour in From Around the World

“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.” – R.E.M.

To this, Michael Stipe adds:

“A wise man once said–‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it.

“I hope our fans realize this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.

“We have to thank all the people who helped us be R.E.M. for these 31 years; our deepest gratitude to those who allowed us to do this. It’s been amazing.”

Full story is here.

And here are some immediate reactions –

Sorry to hear this, but have to agree it was time. There was a time when REM seemed the most vital band in the world. They were still good and creative even after they jumped to arena status, but, somehow, they just seemed less vital. Clubs and mid-size auditoriums just seemed to capture the intimate nature of their music better.

Rich Horton

I got on the R.E.M. bus at “Life’s Rich Pageant,” which I still feel is their shining hour. I am not a fan of the records that are considered groundbreaking, like “Murmur” and “Reckoning,” yet I think “Out Of Time” and “Automatic For The People” show a band maturing without abandoning their fanbase. Since then, it’s been one mediocre release after another, all with the promise of bringing R.E.M. “back to basics.” Quite frankly, the break-up should have happened 4 albums ago.

Sal Nunziato

Jeez, I thought REM broke up a while back. Sal Nunziato said exactly what I would have written, except that I got on the REM bus in early 1983. The IRS years were so influential to me, the first time I met Peter Buck, I said, “Thank you for supplying so much of the soundtrack to my youth.”

Steve Stav

“Wow, no way!”

– Jennifer Shultz

As a live entity, the post-1997 R.E.M. was a very worthy proposition, with Bill Rieflin kicking their asses into a gear they’d never known on stage, and various Seattleites-for-hire fleshing out the sound of their greatest hits quite nicely. I fondly recall seeing them at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival in 2003.

On the other hand, and not to put too fine a point on the matter, the four albums the band released post-1996 are unquestionably the four WORST recordings of their long, acclaimed, worthy career, and so perhaps this breakup announcement might more profitably have been made 14 years ago, when Bill Berry walked away from the group.

As a fan of their first twelve releases of new material (CHRONIC TOWN through NEW ADVENTURES IN HI-FI, 1982-96) I think the fact that quality dropped off so precipitously speaks volumes. Not to say that first drummer Bill Berry’s important contributions were irreplaceable by any means, but his decision to retire from the band in 1997 now seems terribly prescient.

End of the day, who cares, I suppose. Creative folks who’ve hit it big have every right to carry on doing whatever they wish. But a broken-up band (by definition) leaves nothing more than its legacy, and R.E.M. certainly harmed theirs by continuing to release the albums they did.

Tom Kipp

Not a shock. I have not followed their music for the last 15 years or so, but regard the early years as ground breaking. A true American band with incredible courage and an unmistakable original sound. They gave inspiration to countless half assed musicians to do their own thing regardless of the current musical landscape. College Radio will never be the same.

– Rob Cunningham

I think Tom has encapsulated more or less what I would have said. At the time I defended everything they put out, but in retrospect, yes, Berry going was possibly the defining moment. I heard a real nice story about a US soldier who went to Gulf War I with just a tape walkman and Murmur to see him through.

Mike Hughes

They had a lingering death.

– Erik “Howlin’ Houndog” 4-A (Owner, Vagrant Records of Seattle Washington)

Several albums and MANY years too late. Stipe said they wanted to wanted to know when to leave the party, but they ended up being the guest that just WOULDN’T leave. I saw them open for English Beat at the Boston University Hockey Arena around 1984. Didn’t like them then, and only slightly liked them later. Overrated. Just my humble opinion though… HA

– Kevin DeBolt

Yeeeaaahhh! They died when Bill Berry left the band in 1997. He was a founding member, their drummer, and background singer, but also played piano, bass guitar, guitar and synth. He was a songwriter whom essentialy wrote, “Everybody Hurts,” “Man On the Moon,” “Driver 8,” “Can’t Get There From Here.” and “Perfect Circle.”

James Bresnahan

As much as I liked REM you are correct, when Berry left they should have called it quits.

– Nick Kapetan

You can’t DANCE to REM.

– Tom E. LP

The thought of buying one of their albums has never entered my mind. Not even when I perused the local used cd/lp/dvd stores. Go Sooners!

Mark Erickson

A couple years ago my brother – age 27 – asked me pointedly why anyone ever considered this band interesting. Not having listened more than once to anything they made since 1993 – when in the interests of their legacy they probably should have broken up – it took me a while to answer. Of course, they were incredibly important to Americans of my sub-generation, who came of age after the Sex Pistols had burst calculatedly from the underground into the headlines (a mastermind PR scam with a great band incidentally attached) – stranded in the dry middle of a wretched decade, before the digital world, we had only what we could literally place our hands on – and that, in the corporate suburbs of a nation part of whose tactical nuclear strategy was the scattering of its target citizens and the debasement of any cultural moorings they might have in the interest of their full subject-commercialization, R.E.M. was the first predictive artifact – away from the soft hippie dreck whose stink always repelled us – of a deeper path. If you are a white, urban American in the first half of your forties who did not have early and privileged access to anything profound beyond that cathode-ray curtain, (was your Reagan-era high school music teacher turning you on to good jazz? I know then I had to strain to hear Hardy or Faulkner or even Hemingway through all that cultural white noise) you know that their importance to your life trajectory cannot be overstated. We dove right in. And in their wake rose the SST bands that had been there barely noticed, Black Flag and the Minutemen and Sonic Youth and Husker Du, and then zines and skate culture (oh, yeah, laugh now) and then Big Black and the Butthole Surfers and the Pixies and Fugazi and Nirvana and then… you know the rest. The idea that you could bear down on something in a place, (even if it was an ordinary private life of work and friends and family) and put it out or simply have it hold its place in a web of communities – strung together by roads, not wire – to tremble it like ripples on a pond: R.E.M. was the dredge that brought a whole soup of plankton and strange fish from the sea floor to the surface. We live now to a great extent in the territory they charted, a network of nodes that were once actual street addresses in college towns and cities whose ages were tallied by century, beyond the psychic restrictions of our own time: there were dark massacres, labor wars back there, a civil war, and its generations-long settlement: the weight of history our then-current culture gods would have rather we ignored. We smelled this action – this life, and moved out of the suburbs and Kmart towns and hung out shy at record stores and went to shows and hung around the edges of this thing, waiting for our future selves to come into resolution. Let us thank them.

Grant Cogswell (

I am writing (briefly) from my hotel in city center Stockholm. I was invited to work with a grad student and deliver two research papers and I spent the day at Stockholm University. I just got the news about REM. My first thought was, what does it mean to break up right now? Or I guess, were they still together? …. Making music? ….New music?…. so I will listen to Murmur or Reckoning as I change clothes for an evening dinner event at a professors home in Kungsholmen (last night a cafe in Gamla Stan).

Lawrence Spaulding

Until the re-union. Aren’t you as tired of being suckers as I am? Their last great record was Fables, which was very great indeed. It was like a U.F.O. swooped down, took the band who made Reckoning (and Stipe’s hair, lyric book & sanity) and replaced them with whatever made Lifes Rich Pageant! They should have stuck with Easter. Where are my LET’S ACTIVE records?

– Mike Neptune Skyline Pitts

It’s hard to get over the travesty of justice that resulted in last night’s execution of Troy Davis off my mind but I’ll try! REM shook the music scene in the 80’s from the top down (as they rose in prominence) back to the roots! They were originally an integral part of the Athens scene and became fixtures in Seattle for many years. Peter Buck will continue his collaborations with many Northwest artists and will remain prominent here. I respect the impact REM has had and wish them all well in future endeavors.

– Al Milman

Saw them once at the Met Center. They were great. Robyn Hitchcock played before them and he was equally great. Had no idea who Bob Mould was before he was introduced on keyboards that night as part of REM for the evening or at least a song or two. Peter Buck was easily among the nicest of the Seattle stars one would run into on occasion in Belltown. They were sort of my second U2 in the sense that I didn’t know how to cope with an indie band blowing up into the mainstream. I owe Ross Sabes a lot for my exposure to both. The things you learn in a social studies class. Anyway, this is my favorite REM song. Selah.

– Paul Stinson

REM has definitely been one of the most successful and influential bands of the past three decades. Sorry to see so many people dismissing them as not that great. My kids and I saw them perform in Naples a couple years ago, and they were amazing. Michael Stipe poured incredible energy and heart into his performance. How a singer keeps that up for so long never ceases to amaze me. He gave everyone at the packed venue their money’s worth, so I gotta respect that.


REM. Quick, name any song on any of their last 4 albums? Who knew the drummer with the giant eyebrow held this band together? That confirms my theory on the magnetic power of the unibrow.

– John Richards of KEXP, written in one of his Deathbag columns in early 2000.

I was not a big follower of REM. I remember listening to their songs in the early 1990’s and liking them. REM stuck it out a long time as as a band, though their split does not seem too suprising. I want to mention a few achievements of the band outside their music, as we note their breakup: REM was an an inspiration for other alternative rock bands, REM raised funds for charities including human rights and the environment. They also encouraged voter registration. Not everyone agreed with the liberal political stands (that they sometimes spoke about at their concerts), but at least they took a stand for something.

REM used their popularity and platform well to make a make the world better. They should be remembered for that along with their music.

Natasha Spence

From a songwriter’s perpective, I greatly admired their early stuff. It was about nothing. But it was a very compelling form of nothingness. I lost track of them for a few years and then all of a sudden, many of their tunes were about something. It wasn’t as fun, but they proved themselves capable of dropping anthems at will. That was another admirable ability.

To tell you the truth, like a lot of other people writing here, I thought they had already called it quits a while back. In any case, it’s not like they’re being led out into the woods to die of exposure. I’m positive this isn’t the last we’ve heard from them – either as a group or as individuals.

Igor Keller

From everything I’ve read, and my personal interactions with the bandmembers, I would characterize R.E.M. as having real integrity, so it’s no surprise they would bow out in a dignified manner, at the top of their game.

Playing in a Seattle band in the 90s meant performing/hanging out at the Crocodile Cafe several times a week. Since Peter Buck was dating the owner of said cafe, he was frequently in attendance. I’ll always appreciate the way he introduced himself, and immediately offered to help my band in any way he could. Of course, I was starstruck, but he showed his true colors by sweating through rehearsals with us and producing our demos. He was confident, funny, and always had a good rock story to tell. My understanding is that this kind of generosity was not uncommon to Peter, and the band as a whole.

R.E.M.’s music meant a lot to me at specific times in my life. ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’ helped me transition from college and my first relationship. ‘Green’ was my soundtrack to falling in love again, while never failing to make me cry. I mentioned my love of these albums to Peter once, to which he replied (re: ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’) “too much reverb”, (re: ‘Green’) “of course, the simplest song i could write became the big hit.” This just reinforced my notion that the great artists rarely get the same pleasure from their work that we do.

It’s easy to say that R.E.M. influenced all of us, and probably changed the course of popular music to some degree but knowing that they actively gave something back to their communities and the world makes their star shine that much brighter in my eyes.

Long Live R.E.M.

– Gavin Guss

I always said REM was U2 without the cause.

– Jim Anderson

I’m fine with it. I do, however, dig the earlier stuff…but once they got super-jangly, it got boring for me…

– Jeff Tobin

I was in my twenties and discovered them as they began to rise up out of obscurity. What should be remembered is they were the staunch band that PLAYED their instruments! I hate how the 80’s music gets lumped together – there was the live scene and the disco-esque Madonna, Flock of Seagulls, Frankie Goes to Hollywood – that at the time caused horrors among the ranks of musicians! It was drummer versus drum machine – “Radio Free Europe” it still rings like an anthem for the fight to me! I think REM has enough money to retire and that’s great. Now somebody tell the Rolling Stones and U2 to hang it up!!!

– Sheryl Shumsky

REM has announced that they will be breaking up after 31 years. It is curious to me that anyone would either think they were still together or care that they had parted company. Even in their heyday, when critics considered them an ‘innovative’ musical act, I hated them. Their self-absorbed preciousness and sentimental psychobabble was too much for me.

Here in Seattle, I saw Michael Stipe walk up to the kitchen at Etta’s one night and pick up a bag of take-out food. No one has ever mistaken me for George Clooney mind you, but Stipe was one ugly dude. Before I recognized him I said to myself, “Who let that ugly little troll in here?” He was short, with a thick torso and bad skin. He wore mismatched shorts and print shirt with flip-flops.

I remember seeing him in a television interview once making the ludicrous claim that REM was ‘not at all’ influenced by the Beatles. Anyone who has ever listened to John Lennon singing “Rain” can attest to the fact that REM has spent their entire 31 years trying – unsuccessfully – to capture the vibe of that great song. Good riddance, boys!

I did see Peter Buck once years ago at the now-defunct Sostanza in Seattle’s Madison Park, having dinner with his wife and daughters. He looked every bit the disheveled stoner I’d seen on television and album covers, but there was something sweet and civilized about the scene. It was my brother’s birthday (December 6) and I later learned it was Buck’s as well.

Jim Demetre

Arcade Fire… that’s who the new REM is….

– Dennis Shin

Comments are closed.