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R.E.M. | Fiction: An Alternative Biography

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R.E.M.'s public image has always been tightly controlled. Icons of anti-celebrity rock, who bacame huge celebrity rock stars, they were, according to the story, the first U.S. post new-wave band who were both commercially successful and cool. Drawing on exclusive interviews with Mike Mills, Peter Buck and other members of R.E.M.'s nuclear family, Fiction re-evaluates the m R.E.M.'s public image has always been tightly controlled. Icons of anti-celebrity rock, who bacame huge celebrity rock stars, they were, according to the story, the first U.S. post new-wave band who were both commercially successful and cool. Drawing on exclusive interviews with Mike Mills, Peter Buck and other members of R.E.M.'s nuclear family, Fiction re-evaluates the music and career of a group who sold almost no records for the first half of their existence, then became 'the biggest rock group in the world' in the second half.


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R.E.M.'s public image has always been tightly controlled. Icons of anti-celebrity rock, who bacame huge celebrity rock stars, they were, according to the story, the first U.S. post new-wave band who were both commercially successful and cool. Drawing on exclusive interviews with Mike Mills, Peter Buck and other members of R.E.M.'s nuclear family, Fiction re-evaluates the m R.E.M.'s public image has always been tightly controlled. Icons of anti-celebrity rock, who bacame huge celebrity rock stars, they were, according to the story, the first U.S. post new-wave band who were both commercially successful and cool. Drawing on exclusive interviews with Mike Mills, Peter Buck and other members of R.E.M.'s nuclear family, Fiction re-evaluates the music and career of a group who sold almost no records for the first half of their existence, then became 'the biggest rock group in the world' in the second half.

30 review for R.E.M. | Fiction: An Alternative Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    I can't remember whether I've read a band biography since I was at school and someone lent me a copy of, I think, Heavy Water, a Kurt Cobain bio, shortly after his death, but I'm familiar with Frank Zappa's dictum that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Unless you are a trained musician (which I am not) technical discussion of music will tends towards the impenetrable, and discussion of the mood, emotion or feel of music is all too often full of awkward metaphors that usuall I can't remember whether I've read a band biography since I was at school and someone lent me a copy of, I think, Heavy Water, a Kurt Cobain bio, shortly after his death, but I'm familiar with Frank Zappa's dictum that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Unless you are a trained musician (which I am not) technical discussion of music will tends towards the impenetrable, and discussion of the mood, emotion or feel of music is all too often full of awkward metaphors that usually fail to convey much about the songs they are describing. So you're left with analysis of lyrics, which is can so easily end up just being criticism of mediocre poetry. So why did I pick this up from my local library? I still remember when I first heard REM. I was twelve years old, sat in front of the television, watching the BBC's 'end of season' Formula 1 review in late 1990, and the show began with a montage of clips of the main action from the season, accompanied by REM's 'These Days' – an album track from 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant. I had no idea what the song was, or who the band were, but its fist pumping, anthemic quality grabbed the 12 year old me instantly and I remember awkward attempts to transfer a recording of the song from VHS to cassette – not helped by the fact that the middle eight was drowned out by motor racing's Alan Partridge, Nigel Mansell, whingeing about his reasons for retiring from the sport (he didn't, much to my disappointment). A few months later, I was sat in the back of the family car, in the middle of one of my Dad's epic single day drives, up from where we lived in Derbyshire up to near the Dounreay nuclear plant on the north coast of Scotland, where he was working at the time, and he was playing what I mistakenly thought was a single, very long album called 'Murmur and Reckoning'. I remember hearing a lot of different cassettes on long car journeys when I was young. Some I rather liked - Jackson Browne's 'Lives in the Balance' appeared to my minor key temperament even when I was 8 years old, and Paul Simon's Graceland I still put on from time to time. On the other hand, I could quite happily live without ever hearing Malcolm McLaren's weird experiments with pre-war dance music in 'Waltz Darling' ever again, and it would be many years before I eventually came to see the appeal of Neil Young. But that REM record? That was different. I couldn't get the songs out of my head, and the fact that I could scarcely make out a word that the singer was saying only added to the appeal. Made me think there was a mystery to be deciphered. Watching Tourfilm a few months later and realising that they just happened to be the mystery band used to soundtrack that F1 review sealed the deal. More than twenty years later, Murmur, in particular, remains one of my all-time favourite records and, though they did eventually jump the shark, I own all the studio albums. Anyway, I am digressing a little. What I'm saying is that if ever there was a band for which a detailed 'biography' might appeal to me, then REM is probably that band. Certainly, when I was younger, they meant something to me in a way that the Smiths did for many others (for all that I can admire the cleverness of Morrissey's lyrics and Johnny Marr's guitar work, I never loved the Smiths, found them easier to admire than to like.) David Buckley's book is a workmanlike attempt to tell the story of how a small indie band from a college town in Georgia became, for a while, one of the biggest rock bands in the world. To be honest, I think it would have benefited from a more ruthless editor. Buckley obtained limited cooperation from the band, getting, as best I can tell, an interview each from Peter Buck and Mike Mills, and he compensates for this by including long, unedited reminiscences from, it appears, just about anyone and everyone he could find who was prepared to talk to him and remembered the band from their early days in Athens. A little bit of this might have lent the book some colour, but page after page began to get tiresome. Nonetheless, something of a story does emerge from all the anecdotes. It is apparent, for instance, that for all their professed anti-commercialism, they were a band who understood better than most of their contemporaries how to play the music industry game. They were also rather more successful, rather earlier, in the USA, than I had realised. For all that Murmur never charted in the UK, it sold 100,000 copies on its release Stateside. If the book is accurate, their manager and lawyer were both as much a part of the band as the four musical members. Which, if I had known it when I was younger, might have come as a disappointment, but no longer being a teenage puritan about these things, labouring under the delusion that art and commerce must be in opposition, I think it merely helps to show that, swan-like, success so often comes as the result of a lot of hard work just below the surface. Buckley contributes his own assessment of their work, which, for all that I didn't always agree with it, was much more interesting reading than, say the eight pages given over to local projects the band had helped fund in Athens, or the different accounts of the internecine bickering between the various IRS Records personnel involved with the band. Nothing will persuade me that Reckoning is a better album than Murmur, and I thought he was too harsh on Out of Time and rather too generous about Document which I've always found hard to love. If you're not much interested in the band, then this is not a book which is likely to either change your mind or reveal anything especially interesting. But if, like me, you are an REM fan, it might be worth picking up for an overview of their story. As it was published in 2003, it has nothing to say about their final albums for Warners, but this is perhaps a good thing. Even the most contrarian revisionist surely can't summon up much enthusiasm for 'Around the Sun'. Perhaps the best thing I can say for it was that it made me want to go back and listen to the music again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Horton

    Probably the definitive R.E.M. bio because it delights in passive aggressive snark and mythbusting instead of just engaging in hagiography and hero worship while still spinning a deep, deep bio and career evaluation. I love that Buckley and the publisher seem to have just skipped the editing process entirely - forget paragraphs, we're talking full-page, unedited quotes that barely have anything to do with the main narrative just mixed in for the hell of it. In almost any other book, it would dri Probably the definitive R.E.M. bio because it delights in passive aggressive snark and mythbusting instead of just engaging in hagiography and hero worship while still spinning a deep, deep bio and career evaluation. I love that Buckley and the publisher seem to have just skipped the editing process entirely - forget paragraphs, we're talking full-page, unedited quotes that barely have anything to do with the main narrative just mixed in for the hell of it. In almost any other book, it would drive me mad, but I for one just love to suddenly read a page-long rambling quote from Nikki Sudden about that one time he stayed at Peter Buck's house, man.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I actually enjoyed 'Fiction' a lot more than I expected to, especially because its title and exterior seem to emanate "churned out-rock-bio". While not as comprehensive or essential as 'It Crawled From the South', Buckley succeeds in producing something Marcus Gray does not: a cogent, accessible narrative about REM. Buckley's use of quotations from relevant players in the story and from the band members themselves really lends an air of authority to this book. There are often entire pages of ano I actually enjoyed 'Fiction' a lot more than I expected to, especially because its title and exterior seem to emanate "churned out-rock-bio". While not as comprehensive or essential as 'It Crawled From the South', Buckley succeeds in producing something Marcus Gray does not: a cogent, accessible narrative about REM. Buckley's use of quotations from relevant players in the story and from the band members themselves really lends an air of authority to this book. There are often entire pages of another person's words, but Buckley uses these excerpts to great effect in constructing a clear presentation of the band's career. I learned a lot from this book, which surprised me considering I'd already read 'It Crawled From the South' and thought I knew all the minutiae. There's less fun trivia in this book, but Buckley's ability to hammer a real linear story out of REM makes this something of a page turner. Of special interest are Buckley's examinations of inter-band politics and problems, including the departure of Bill Berry, the departure of Jefferson Holt, and Peter Buck's batshit insane episode of drunkenness at 35,000 ft. Written in 2002/3, I realized at the end that the book felt super-incomplete. I think the arc of 'Fiction' would be a lot different if written today after the release of 'Accelerate'. Buckley is probably too nice when talking about Up and Reveal. It also ends with a kind of fart, talking about the band's website (Who cares?) and the entirely forgettable 'In Time' compilation. Best of all, 'Fiction' is almost charmingly ignorant to the embarrassment that will be 'Around the Sun'. 'Accelerate' and the public statements the band made around the time of its release basically render everything after 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' to the dustbin of history. It's a shame that Buckley didn't know he was ending the story at its most boring part.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dick Baldwin

    Very cool. I have loved R.E.M. for a long time (I liked the stuff I heard from Out of Time, but when Automatic for the People came out when I was 13, I was hooked). But, I've had a relatively small knowledge of the specifics on their history. So, I had wanted to read a good biography of them for a while. And, as it turns out, I knew quite a bit more than I thought. The slant the biographer has is a little annoying (same complaint I have with the Sonic Youth biography--the writer's view towards s Very cool. I have loved R.E.M. for a long time (I liked the stuff I heard from Out of Time, but when Automatic for the People came out when I was 13, I was hooked). But, I've had a relatively small knowledge of the specifics on their history. So, I had wanted to read a good biography of them for a while. And, as it turns out, I knew quite a bit more than I thought. The slant the biographer has is a little annoying (same complaint I have with the Sonic Youth biography--the writer's view towards sales is skewed to astronomical numbers). But, with R.E.M. it's an understandable attitude, because they actually achieve those incredible sales once they signed to Warner Brothers. Anyway, it was a nice read. I listened to all of their records as I read, which was nice.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Da fan dei R.E.M. ho molto apprezzato le storie e i retroscena dei loro primi anni e il racconto dell'ascesa al successo. Con l'avvicinarsi della cronaca al tempo presente i dettagli e gli anedotti diminuiscono per lasciare spazio alle speculazioni e alle analisi dall'esterno... come forse �� normale: il successo mainstream in calando e la proverbiale compatezza e ritrosia del gruppo non hanno probabilmente permesso di fare di pi��. Comunque ottimo, sia per i fan sia per chi vuole arricchire la p Da fan dei R.E.M. ho molto apprezzato le storie e i retroscena dei loro primi anni e il racconto dell'ascesa al successo. Con l'avvicinarsi della cronaca al tempo presente i dettagli e gli anedotti diminuiscono per lasciare spazio alle speculazioni e alle analisi dall'esterno... come forse �� normale: il successo mainstream in calando e la proverbiale compatezza e ritrosia del gruppo non hanno probabilmente permesso di fare di pi��. Comunque ottimo, sia per i fan sia per chi vuole arricchire la propria cultura musicale con un pezzo di storia fondamentale del Pop/Rock.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve Gillway

    I usually gravitate to these kinds of books because I like the artists/ music and I want to find out more. This is pretty good. It does conform to some unwritten rules; 1. The best stuff is always before they were successful. 2. There are loads of sources at the start, about the early work and this gradually tails off. The more famous/older/ successful the less we know or can find ouit about them. However, it was good for me to have the actual music on that I was reading about. I don't think I will I usually gravitate to these kinds of books because I like the artists/ music and I want to find out more. This is pretty good. It does conform to some unwritten rules; 1. The best stuff is always before they were successful. 2. There are loads of sources at the start, about the early work and this gradually tails off. The more famous/older/ successful the less we know or can find ouit about them. However, it was good for me to have the actual music on that I was reading about. I don't think I will give it 5 because it is written more by a fan than a critic.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Randy

    A charming, engrossing and unpredictable recounting of the band's rise — and some would say fall. I especially like the detailed account of how Peter Buck and Michael Stipe met. Pete was working in an Athens record store and Michael would stop in and soon the record buying turned to talking about records. They chatted up everything from Patti Smith to The Raspberries, Big Star to Television.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ginny_1807

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSV5mU... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSV5mU...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    A wonderful REM biography for any diehard fan. I found out so many interesting facts about my favorite band. Fiction was engrossing and not dry like some bios can be.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carey

    apparently, there are things even i didn't know about r.e.m.--or at least there were before i started reading this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Hall

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

  13. 4 out of 5

    John

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brock Hildebrandt

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jason Taylor

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Brown

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex McGhie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cira

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lyons

  22. 4 out of 5

    alamanda

  23. 5 out of 5

    Merv

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justin Gerber

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scott Cooper

  26. 4 out of 5

    Neyo

  27. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Todd

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lulu ⭐

  30. 4 out of 5

    Roy

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