R.E.M.: The Rolling Stone Files

R.E.M.: The Rolling Stone FilesOrder this bookStory: This compendium collects every item that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine concerning R.E.M. from 1981 to shortly after the release of Monster in 1995. Album reviews, cover stories, interview features, Random Note mentions and year-end Best Of lists are included, along with a new introduction by writer Anthony DeCurtis.

Review: I checked this book out of the New York Public Library shortly after reading of Bill Berry’s retirement; with the sense that an era was ending, I wanted to try and vicariously experience its beginning. There are a number of fine books on the band on the market, but all of those have the advantage of hindsight to lend perspective and structure to their narrative. The advantage of this book – which most of those other works cite as an enormously helpful reference – is that the story is being written as it happens; neither the band nor the writers know where things are going, so there’s an immediacy and occasional unintended irony as the band’s stature and career evolve. The album reviews and feature stories, by a variety of writers, all have an impressive level of depth, thoughtfulness and clarity – you can see why the band developed a rapport with the magazine, and how that pays off in the quality of the magazine’s coverage. […]

It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. Companion

It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. CompanionOrder this bookStory: In a thematically organized set of lists and essays, the author provides historical information and analysis of R.E.M.’s career from its members early musical activities through the band’s 1995 world tour.

Review: Last updated in early 1996, “It Crawled from the South” suffers somewhat from unfortunate timing. It is by now several years out of date, and it just narrowly misses the natural close point of Bill Berry’s retirement. As a result, certain comments come off as dated, such as the author’s speculation that Peter Buck’s decision to move from Athens to Seattle in 1992 might ultimately sink the band. But the book is a storehouse of trivia and information about not only the band but those people and places that intersected with R.E.M.’s path over the years. One chapter discusses collaborators and contemporaries, another maps out the clubs and hangouts where the band played its first shows. There are comprehensive lists of the band’s songs, both released and unreleased, along with the occasional pointer to well-known bootleg collections. Many television and promotional appearances are listed, and Gray tracks the development of the band’s video aesthetic from the grainy low-fi oddities like “Radio Free Europe,” “Driver 8” and “Fall on Me” to the high production values of “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” and the glitzy rock star clips from Monster. […]

R.E.M. Inside Out

R.E.M. Inside OutOrder this bookStory: Journalist Craig Rosen collects anecdotes and information about every song on R.E.M.’s albums from 1981 through 1996. Rosen draws on his own interviews with the band plus many of the articles and books on the band in print at the time to talk about production techniques, instrument lineups, lyrical inspiration and other tidbits. Heavily illustrated.

Review: There are a number of good books about R.E.M., so at first glance it might seem like this relatively short, photo-laden book is superfluous. But its subtitle suggests the niche that Rosen has managed to find and fill quite well. Every song gets at least a few lines of discussion, and many get considerably more. Some of the detail is probably best suited to the hardcore R.E.M. trivia fan who’s interested in things like the source of the siren wail on “Leave,” or why Buck plays drums on the 11th untitled song from Green. On the other hand, someone not fully immersed in the band’s lore might appreciate this quick history that focuses primarily on the band’s recording career (as opposed to live performances, work with other artists, personal biographical information, or political activism, to name a few topics covered in detail elsewhere). […]

Remarks Remade: The Story of R.E.M.

Remarks RemadeOrder this bookStory: In a revised and expanded edition of this band-authorized biography, music writer Tony Fletcher recounts how Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe made their way to Athens, Georgia in the late seventies and formed a band to play at a friend’s birthday party. Eventually adopting the name R.E.M., the band became leaders in the college/alternative rock movement of the 80s and broke through to enormous worldwide success in the 90s. Fletcher tracks their story through Berry’s departure in 1997 and Buck’s acquittal in a British air rage trial 22 years to the day after their first performance.

Review: Fletcher does a great job of collecting details of the band’s recording, touring and other activities and forming them into a coherent narrative that spans more than two decades. I personally enjoyed the earliest chapters the most, because Fletcher is so effective at bringing those days to life. He quotes Peter Buck as saying “I just figured that you’d meet the right people, then you’d get in a band, then you’d make the good music, and people would come and see it.” Buck makes it sound ludicrously easy, and yet that’s what R.E.M. made happen, thanks to talent, a lot of work, and a fair amount of being in the right place at the right time. I can only imagine what it was like to live that lightning-in-a-bottle experience, but simply reading about it in “Remarks Remade” is exciting in itself. […]

Powers: Roleplay

Powers: RoleplayOrder this bookStory: A group of college students impersonate Powers in a live action role playing game, breaking the laws that prohibit non-Powers from wearing costumes. When several of them are murdered, Walker and Pilgrim get the case. The trail leads to a long inactive former associate of suspected criminal Johnny Stompinato. The detectives’ efforts to enlist Stompinato’s cooperation go seriously awry, threatening the investigation and Pilgrim’s career.

Review: The second Powers collection is an interesting follow-up to Who Killed Retro Girl? The aftereffects of that story still clearly linger over the entire city, and the roleplaying imitators open up an interesting perspective on how regular humans make sense of a world with superhuman beings floating around. One of my favorite exchanges in the series actually covers that topic and takes place in this story, as Walker and Pilgrim banter about the nature of time and subjective sensory perception. But Bendis makes it a lot more entertaining than that last sentence might suggest. […]

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?Order this bookStory: Homicide detective Christian Walker specializes in cases involving the superpowered individuals that operate in the city. His new partner, Deena Pilgrim, is eager to work with Walker – and just as eager to learn what secrets he may be hiding. As the two get to know each other, they must solve the murder of one of the city’s most popular heroes amidst growing media scrutiny and take care of a child Walker rescued from a hostage situation.

Review: This is a book that clicks on all cylinders, with excellent dialogue, evocative art and crisp plotting. The story opens with homicide Detective Christian Walker being called into a hostage negotiation – the guy holding the hostage has powers, and he asked for Walker specifically. The pacing and dialogue in this opening scene are excellent. The build-up of tension is great, Walker really shines as a tough cop who can nonetheless empathize with a guy who’s so at the end of his rope that he’s ready to do something desperate and foolish, and the little asides between the cops have a world-weary wit about them. […]