Story: 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 It is by now several years out of date, and it just narrowly misses the natural close point of Bill Berry’s retirement.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.
Gray’s book is well-written and well-organized, supplemented by old promo fliers and music packaging images as illustrations. He recommends that readers not try and read the book cover to cover, and I concur; many individual chapters are chronologically organized, and it can cause a bit of whiplash to keep going from 1980 to 1995 and then back again. The early chapters are the closest to a unified narrative, as Gray recounts how each member found his way to Athens and eventually coalesced into the band. Particularly enjoyable is the passage where he tries to get to the facts underlying the legend that Buck has tried to weave in interviews over the years. He takes a stab at a lyrical analysis, and all I’ll say on that score is that he’s a braver person than I am, especially when it comes to early songs where even Michael Stipe is not 100% sure of the words. While obviously a fan, he also keeps some distance from the group, which allows him to be critical of what he sees as some of the concessions to commercialism the band made as the 80s ended and the 90s began. I tend to think he’s a little too hard on R.E.M. on that score, but I just may be more willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
All in all, a very helpful guide to any accumulator of R.E.M. trivia.
Author: Marcus Gray
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Pages: 560 pages