Editor's note: On the new comedy podcast "R U Talkin' R.E.M. RE: ME?", hosts Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott dive deep into the legendary Athens band's discography. Local superfan Tim Kelly is reviewing the podcast for Flagpole.
“This record rewards repeat listens” — Adam
“Listen to it more than 340 times and you’ll get it” — Scott
Up was released Oct. 26, 1998, when I was in the midst of my third year at the University of Georgia. I knew Athens like the back of my hand. Knew all the finest places to eat (RIP Compadres on Clayton's $5 lunch special). Knew all the bus routes. It was all falling into place. I was comfortable, everything was stable, I was settling into this new life in my new home and into a routine that would remain unchanged for decades.
Of course, that was all nonsense, but events and decisions feel so BIG when you are 20 years old. We’re 20! Adults! Little thought was given to just how close the end of college, that chapter of my life, was approaching—everything was about to change, total upheaval.
R.E.M. had gone through that sort of seismic shift just a year earlier, when Bill Berry announced he was leaving the band. R.E.M. had always been Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe. Was there even an R.E.M. if one of them left? This band had been a rock within rock and roll. Death, taxes and R.E.M. Then, just like that, it all changed.
I was very excited to hear Scott’s take on this album, considering he hadn’t listened to it before. But yet again, by episode’s end, I was more fascinated hearing where Adam and Scott were in their own lives when the album was released, as opposed to their takes on the songs themselves. Scott and Adam both tell the stories of how they met their future wives during the year that Up came out. I met my future wife, Carrie, the very same year. Stars: They’re just like us!
Listen to Up and you hear the story of a band in upheaval, trying to find its way forward after everything had changed. When I listen to Up today, I instantly recall that year—the year I met Carrie and my Athens routine had been blown up. I remember driving in my car, obsessing over what to say to her when next we met while listening on the stereo to these wild, unexpected sounds from an old familiar friend. Everything had changed. I very much relate with Adam buying an extra copy of Up to give to his soon-to-be wife—that desire to share, to connect with that person that you might just love.
Up is chaotic ("Hope"), familiar ("Daysleeper"), somber ("Suspicion"), noisy ("Lotus"), adventurous ("Walk Unafraid"), and nostalgic ("At My Most Beautiful"), all at once. It’s an album I look back on now, thinking about that wild year when everything changed and remember feeling all of those things. It’s an album that I had trouble cracking in those first few months after buying.
And yet, after being with this album and Carrie for 20 years—after listening to it at least 340 times—it’s a record that brings me a sense of peace. The ups and downs, the wildness from track to track eventually gives way to a fulfilling whole. It’s an album that reminds me of Carrie—the confusion and excitement of dating, that time when everything changed, eventually giving way to something foundational, a truth, a rock that my life now rests on.
[Personal Highlight: Thanks to Scott in this episode for acknowledging these reviews. It's been great fun writing them, but it’s still way more fun listening]
Stone Cold Classics:
One of R.E.M.’s most underrated videos, "At My Most Beautiful," featuring Rain Phoenix:
"Walk Unafraid" (Live):