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.
I met my friend Bill in Athens in 1997 while attending the University of Georgia—a town I would not have visited and a school I would not have attended if not for R.E.M. We worked the evening shift at the on-campus hotel. Early on, we discovered our shared love for R.E.M.—it was the defining moment in a friendship. I can no longer think of Bill without thinking of R.E.M., and often vice versa. Countless nights over the next few years were spent listening to albums, going to shows, searching for the band downtown, poring over This Film is On and throwing parties where we unapologetically did the "Stand" dance.
So it was, on Sept. 21, 2011, when I started receiving texts that the band had decided to retire, that my first call went to Bill. We were still working behind desks at UGA, but now as respectable professionals. We scheduled to meet at my house after work to make sense of the news. That night we sat in my backyard drinking beers, listening to the albums we had memorized—having our own little wake for the band that had changed our lives.
Bill is the Scott to my Scott, or is it the Scott to my Scott? As a loyal "U Talkin’ U2 2 Me?" listener, it was a special day when the news broke that “the Scotts” would next tackle R.E.M. It was a delightful nexus of two of my favorite things, and I had to be a part of it. I was self-aware enough to know not to “out-funny” the podcast, but instead try to hone in on what I might be able to provide to complement and give context to each episode. Briefly, the idea of a “fact check” column was floated to help address some of the claims the Scotts were making (are Anton Corbijn and Corbin Bernsen the same person? Answer: No. Was Green released on Election Day 1988? Answer: Yes.) A fun idea, but one that might require a Pulitzer-level journalist’s skills to ask the right questions and get the right answers.
So, how to engage with this podcast that I enjoy so much about the band I love more than any other?
In the end, it was pretty simple. This podcast, like "UTU2TM" before it, is more about being a fan of this band than about the band itself. So, instead of trying to out-banter the podcast, why not offer a fan dispatch from Athens to offer some of my own thoughts about the episodes and my own experiences with it and R.E.M.? (A small online piece every few weeks from a fan of a podcast featuring fans talking about a band: peak 2018.)
In the weeks to come, I’ll group a few episodes of "RUTREM," recap some highs and some of my own experiences—a true celebration of fandom, that sometimes mocked, but vitally important part of many of our lives. After all, it's what connects so many of us, brings us joy, and occasionally drives a 14-year-old kid from Baltimore, MD to convince his parents to take the long way home to visit a Georgia town just so he can see where his favorite band came from and ends with that kid going to school in that town, getting married, buying a house, having kids and writing a column about loving a podcast.
One of the many reasons I love this podcast, and the U2 season before it, is being the fly on the wall when Adam and Scott talk about how they discovered and began to love these bands (Also, valuable investing tips. Thanks, “Talkin’ Bout Money”!). Their origin stories, along with the genuine passion and love they express for these songs has deepened, or in the case of U2, rekindled, why I fell in love with this music in the first place.
The first time I became aware of R.E.M. was as a 12 year old stumbling across Chris Elliott’s “Get a Life,” which featured “Stand” as its theme song. Within a few months, “Losing My Religion” was released, I bought Out of Time and I started down a path that led me to Athens. It was 1990, and I was teetering on a pop-culture cliff. Influences were everywhere, from classmates listening to boy bands, my mom playing James Taylor in the car and my three sisters—fans of everything from to country to punk—but nothing grabbed me. I loved music, l loved certain songs from all of those genres (I bought a Paula Abdul tape at our school’s book fair; why did our school sell Paula Abdul tapes?!?), but I couldn’t quite seem to find my thing.
We all have these “light switch” moments with pop culture. You might be aware that your parents, siblings or older friends “like” bands or movies or musicals, but you don’t truly “get it” until you find your thing. My thing was R.E.M. “Losing My Religion” changed everything I knew about music. How could anything be THIS good? From that point forward, I was a kid on a mission. Chore money was spent on new tapes, CDs and issues of Rolling Stone. My punk-rock loving sister Jane, along with 99.1 FM WHFS out of Washington DC and the amazing Jonathan Gilbert, aka “Weasel,” led me down a rabbit hole where I found The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., The B-52s, The Psychedelic Furs, Violent Femmes, Morrissey, Nirvana and on and on. The Paul Abdul tape was not played again.
Hearing how Adam and Scott found their fandom in these first two episodes is sheer joy made even better by the resulting nostalgia when recalling how their experiences paralleled my own. Scott recounting his love of Huey Lewis and how you “have to learn what pop music is before you can appreciate alternative” resonates deeply thinking about my 12-year-old self in his room listening to Vanilla Ice and Bell Biv DeVoe on the radio and not quite digging it. Then, once my R.E.M. obsession sunk in, I was the Adam of my school, my house—forcing others to sit and listen as I talked about a band from the South that they either 1. already knew about or 2. did not care about. To this day, I would gladly spend most of my afternoons (and evenings and nights) talking about R.E.M., and do to our two young sons who, often, have no other real choice.
As fans, friends and family, we don’t share these “light switch” moments with one another nearly enough. Mine is R.E.M.; for my wife, it's Michael Jackson, New Kids and (oddly enough after those two) Randy Travis; for a friend, it’s Batman. What we choose to become fans of becomes part of us, and learning how each of us came to love these things reveals deeper truths. I was an insecure, slightly timid kid that gained a new found confidence when talking about love for a band. The discovery of Batman (#ILoveFilms #ILoveILoveFilms) for my friend in 1991 awoke a love of movie-making and a quest to recreate the film, frame by frame, over a summer. In many ways, what we love is what we are, and more power to the Scotts for their earnest and honest celebration of fandom.
Now, some corrections. I’d like to take time out in this and future dispatches to correct or clarify a few of the statements made by Adam and Scott in their podcast. Please note, I have not spoken to, nor do I speak for, R.E.M., though I’m pretty confident they’d agree with me on the following:
Chronic Town: "Wolves, Lower"
Murmur: "Moral Kiosk"