R.E.M. has been unexpected present lately. While the band hasn’t been together for three years, they’ve still had a continuous presence, with the release of Unplugged: The 1991 & 2001 Sessions, and the recent documentary R.E.M. By MTV. Today marks the release of the 6-DVD box set R.E.M.T.V., which collects dozens of hours worth of concert footage from throughout the band’s run. To celebrate, let’s look at some fascinating facts about the legendary Georgia alt-rock band.
1. They were the last Saturday Night Live musical guest of the 20th century.
R.E.M. played Saturday Night Live three times, with all of their appearances occurring in the ’90s. But they have one honor that no other band can claim: they were the last musical guest of the 20th century. On December 11, 1999 they appeared on SNL with Danny Devito to perform “The Great Beyond,” their contribution to the Man On The Moon soundtrack.
2. Their debut album, Murmur, was named album of the year by Rolling Stone.
Even when R.E.M. were an up-and-coming band in the college rock scene, it didn’t take long for people to notice them. Their debut album, Murmur, was named the best an album of 1983 by Rolling Stone. An impressive feat for sure, especially when you consider that it was up against Thriller.
3. They got just as tired of “Shiny Happy People” as everyone else.
In 1991, “Shiny Happy People” became one of R.E.M.’s biggest hits, getting frequent radio play. But the song, and its super-peppy lyrics, could certainly grate on one’s nerves. Michael Stipe seemed to not enjoy the song, based on a 1995 appearance on Space Ghost Coast To Coast in which he said that he hated it. He would make peace with the song later in his career, but no matter how much you hated that song back in the day, you probably didn’t hate it anywhere nearly as much as its creator.
4. Bill Berry had an aneurysm in 1994 — he would quit three years later.
While touring in support of the Monster album, drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm — one that could have been fatal. He soldiered on for the rest of the tour, and would play on 1996’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi, but in 1997, he called it quits for good.
5. Peter Buck caused a huge scene while drunk on an airplane.
Sometimes, getting drunk on a plane isn’t as fun as Dierks Bentley makes it sound. In 2001, Buck became intoxicated on a plane and went on a rampage. He apparently tried to steal cutlery from the plane, and when confronted by the pilot said “You’re just a f***ing captain and I’m R.E.M.!” Buck was never convicted of anything, but it was still far from his proudest moment.
6. When Berry left, they made three albums without a drummer.
Replacing a drummer like Bill Berry isn’t an easy task. When he left in 1997, the band decided they weren’t even going to try. For 1998’s Up, the first album without Berry, the band continued on as a trio, using a drum machine. They would continue this for 2001’s Reveal and 2004’s Around The Sun before bringing on former Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin as a session drummer for 2008’s Accelerate.
7. Automatic For The People was named after a restaurant owner’s catchphrase.
Automatic For The People is one of R.E.M.s best-known albums, and its cryptic, mysterious title fits in well with its dark themes. But the origin of that title is surprisingly happy. It comes from an Athens, Georgia restaurant called Weaver D’s, whose eccentric owner would promise that your food was “automatic for the people.” Sadly, the restaurant closed down last year.
8. The title of 1991’s Out Of Time was quite literal.
One of the more amusing moments of the recent documentary R.E.M. by MTV came when the band was discussing the origin of the title for Out Of Time. They had gone through several album titles without being able to decide. Finally, everything was printed up except the album title, and they needed a decision. When one band member cracked that the band was “out of time,” that became their eureka moment.
9. Questions about Michael Stipe’s sexuality circulated for years — until he addressed them in 1995.
Michael Stipe’s sexuality was talked about for years — he had never given any hints, in his music or interviews. Finally, he relented in 1994 by identifying himself as gay. 20 years later, in an essay for Rolling Stone, he said that the decision to reveal this “helped develop the clarity of my voice and establish who I would be as an adult.”
10. The band called it quits in 2011 — and a reunion seems unlikely.
In September 2011, R.E.M. stunned the world by announcing that they were breaking up. When the band made Collapse Into Now, they knew it would be their final album. The split had less to do with the band getting sick of each other and more to do with having nothing left to do as R.E.M.