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"Green" at 30: R.E.M.'s '88 album resonates strongly in era of Trump

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Photo of framed picture of R.E.M. and Ardent Studio staff during the 1988 recording of "Green."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Here we are, America. Thirty years to the day after the release of R.E.M.’s major label debut on Warner Bros., after years with I.R.S. Records, the Athens, Ga.-based quartet’s sixth album release Green.

This record remains my favorite R.E.M. record, as it still resonates with me musically, lyrically, thematically and in simple terms of cultural impact. This was the album that brought international attention and fame to Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills, as they embarked on a world tour which brought alt-rock/folk acts like Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians, Indigo Girls, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, The Go-Betweens, The Blue Aeroplanes, Throwing Muses and Pylon to far wider audiences as these bands opened up for R.E.M. And all bands I continue to love to this very day.

And yet, at the time, when I was a 16-year old high school student in Wichita, Kansas, haunting every single record store in that city, the discussion amongst the hipster-music crowd was about R.E.M. selling out to Warner Bros., so quickly after making waves in 1987 with Document and the hits “The One I Love” and “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

It was a legitimate question and the band was defensive about it. But it was the right decision, as it brought R.E.M. the superstardom they seemed to crave, while keeping their artistic integrity intact.

So, last month, I was in Memphis, Tennessee on an amazing tour of Ardent Studios where everyone from Sam & Dave (Soul Men) to The Afghan Whigs (Gentlemen) and many, many others (Led Zeppelin III was mixed at Ardent and Alex Chilton with The Box Tops and Big Star – and solo – kept busy at the studio over the years) recorded at Ardent. The walls are covered with photos of various musicians who have recorded there over the years and copies of the hit albums that were recorded there.

And Green was among them. Rightly so. This is when guitarist Peter Buck was utilizing acoustic instruments, like the mandolin, as heard on "The Wrong Child" and "Hairshirt." 

In May 2013, I wrote a review/essay about the 25th anniversary re-release of Green on Rhino Records titled “RDR reviews the 25th anniversary reissue of ‘Green’ by R.E.M.

As I wrote back then: “(Michael) Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry struck me and my friends as hip, secular big brothers in an alternative-music subculture that was going to take us to a better day in the waning days of the corrupt Reagan/Bush era where Iran-Contra, AIDS, poverty, the environment, apartheid, racism, and Cold War meddling in Central America were grave concerns for my generation. Yes, I was concerned about these things and yet, being 16, I had an adolescent optimism about the future and Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe would lead the way.”

The band's politics only grew as the band's exposure spread in the popular culture. I was excited by it, particularly in highlighting the criminal activity on the part of Reagan and Bush. I would say that R.E.M.'s politics (and that of other bands of the era, like 10,000 Maniacs and Midnight Oil, for example) helped inform me (like reading Bloom County daily) 

And the band, more or less, has remained vocal about their progressive politics. Just this past week, I've read Tweets from bassist Mike Mills (@m_millsey) going after Trump and GOP goons and bigots. And Michael Stipe made a video urging Georgians to vote progressive and elect African-American woman Stacey Abrams to the Governor's Mansion in Atlanta. Sadly, Abrams lost to sleazy Brian Kemp. 

So, when I listen to "World Leader Pretend," for instance, Trump comes to mind, even though the band's interpretation is said to be more of a personal nature. "Pop Song '89" could be revisited today and be retitled "Pop Song '19," which I think the band should consider.

I would love (and I know many others would agree) for retired drummer Bill Berry to get together with the three others and record some new material, even if it was only three or four songs. Sure, they broke up in 2011, but I think they could reform, record and go on a huge tour and it would be a very big deal. And I would hope a lot of the live material would be pulled from Green, my favorite R.E.M. album.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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