Story: 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.
Fletcher draws on both primary and secondary research throughout the book, with many references to the band’s press coverage and interviews. Buck represented the band for additional exclusive interviews with Fletcher, and the author also hit the pavement in Athens and sought out bootleg recordings and other memorabilia. There is a lot of detail here, and while I have not read the earlier version of “Remarks,” the author’s introduction suggests that “Remade” is significantly expanded even in its treatment of topics covered in the original editions. I do think that, beyond the added detail, the band’s very different status in 2002 as opposed to the early 90s affects Fletcher’s tone throughout the text. He is definitely protective of the band and its reputation, defending them against charges of selling out in light of their lucrative contracts with Warner Brothers. While he does not try to ignore contentious events such as the band’s separation from longtime manager Jefferson Holt, he doesn’t dig for dirt, and while he doesn’t sugarcoat things like the negative reaction to the band’s first post-Berry concert appearance or its declining American record sales, he makes sure to make the case that R.E.M. is still a relevant musical and commercial force overseas. Of all the books about R.E.M. I’ve read, this is my clear favorite.
Author: Tony Fletcher
Publisher: Omnibus Press
Pages: 408 pages