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Old 10-30-2003, 11:13 AM   #1
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R.E.M. Talks about "Shiny Happy People", Bono & Sesame Street

Muppets cheer up REM
By Cameron Adams
October 30, 2003


IT should have been the shiniest, and possibly the happiest, day of their lives. REM had been invited on to Sesame Street to reinvent their 1991 hit, Shiny Happy People, as Furry Happy Monsters.

REM frontman Michael Stipe enjoyed Seasame Street.

Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck were to be joined by a colourful backing band: Herry Monster, Two-Headed Monster and the Day Care Monsters as the Muppet Rockers.

However, Stipe wasn't in the mood for fur or fun. Indeed, he was grouchier than Oscar.

"The night before we did Sesame Street I'd had these vivid cannibalistic dreams," Stipe recalls.

"I woke up that morning feeling horrible. I was going to shave and I couldn't even be bothered. I was in a really bad mood when we got to the studio but the Muppets kind of lifted my spirits - as they would."

The episode aired in 1998: the last time REM played Shiny Happy People in any form.

Not only has it been put out to pasture, it's been airbrushed out of history when it comes to the selection of tracks for In Time: The Best of REM, which covers the years 1988 until now, with new single Bad Day (actually the finished version of a song REM started in 1986).

The band took the compilation seriously.

"We each wrote a list of what should be on there," Stipe says. "We went to (REM) websites, we asked our office, we asked all our record companies, then we went to friends in other bands and asked what can't be left off. It was pretty clear. The big 15 are on there.

"The only sticking point was Shiny Happy People. It was a hit but none of us are particularly fond of it and we didn't really think it worked with the other songs on there. It's a song primarily written for children.

"I mean, so is Stand but Stand made the cut. Shiny Happy People is what it is. We were going for something like The Banana Splits or The Monkees. We wanted it to be the most pop thing of all time."

In Time reminds you of what an amazing band - and an amazing singles band - REM are.

That, it seems, is the point. Since the sales peaks achieved by Green, Out of Time and Automatic for the People in the late '80s/early '90s REM's record sales have seriously downsized.

2001's Reveal, which Peter Buck thought was "a really commercial record" tanked badly in America, despite being a global hit.

The band took advice from friend Bono, who reminded them they're a band and needed to get out there and remind Americans they're still around.

It worked for U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind and REM have their fingers crossed for the same magic.

"The music industry and radio kind of took a turn in the last decade and left us in the dust," Stipe says. "That's happened more than once in our career but at this point we're hugely popular everywhere outside our own country.

"So as our compatriots U2 did a few years ago, it makes sense to say 'Hello America, we're still here."

Bandmate Peter Buck is equally candid. He was the member who wanted REM to get back on the road after they jumped off world-tour circuit.

"We spent all of the '80s on the road; literally," Buck says. "I never even had a vacation until 1990."

Over the past few months REM have hit the live circuit in the US, rehearsing 75 songs (Buck calculates they've played 63 of them) from their back catalogue. Fans can log onto REM's website when the tour hits their town and get to request a song: the band play one fan favourite a night.

"Bono was right," Buck says. "We're a band, we make records, we play them. I'm not so much worried about being the biggest band on earth. At the age we're at we should do it while we can.

"I think we're lucky," Buck continues. "I haven't had to have a job since I was 20. I almost never have to get up in the morning. We sell millions outside of America. We can go to Italy and play to 30,000 people in a town I've never been to and probably will never go back to.

"It's ironic we're seen as quintessentially American band outside America and within America people just haven't really got it on the last few records."

Stipe sees In Time as a collection of "accidental hits". Despite the band signing a deal worth a reported $80 million with Warner several years ago ("that's just someone's idea of what our deal is, no one knows except us") he's unconcerned about the sales graph.

"I like selling records, I like having hits. It brings people to the other songs on the record which are not radio-friendly or whatever the term is," he says. "Does that drive the train? Absolutely not. Our locomotive power comes from the desire to write great music.

"Accidentally, we've had a lot of success but we've done the work. We've always been a little out of step with what's going on (in the mainstream) but from time to time the two worlds come together and you end up with these magic moments where a great song becomes a very well known great song."

While Buck insists REM are not an "alternative" band ("I hate that word") he does recognise the band no longer fit the radio formats they used to.

"Alternative radio played us in the past but now all they play is white funk metal rap. That's not us.

"We're just not mainstream. I feel we're an alternative band who just happen to sell a lot of records and from time to time write a pop single.

"I don't say that to be arrogant. My ego is firmly in check. I'm the most grounded person I know."

Stipe also hails the release of In Time as capturing a period where the band are finally comfortable as a trio. The departure of drummer Bill Berry was one of the reasons the band nearly split up during the making of 1998's Up.

"Our confidence level is at a peak," Stipe says, glowing. "I felt it on the last record (Reveal), I didn't feel it whatsoever on Up. I'm really excited about the next REM record.

"This band has never looked back. Now I can look back and put brackets around this time period and close that chapter with this 'best of' and move on."

In Time, of course, features REM's biggest hit, Losing My Religion. Buck admits it was written in five minutes - a very productive and lucrative five minutes.

"I've played that song every time we've played in public since we wrote it," Buck says. "But I still like it and the fact the audience like it so much gives it something extra. That's a song where you don't have to pay attention, I just look at the audience."

Stipe and Buck have a term for when REM are at their peak on stage: the songs play them.

"It's not like channelling; that makes it sound like we've got special powers, we're just regular guys," Stipe clarifies.

"Michael and I were talking about this," Buck says, "and we'd say 'Did we play Pilgrimage last night?' and we had no idea. It wasn't like we're drunk, it's just when you're really in the moment you just go. When it's done you don't remember it so well."

"When the music is playing us is when it's really happening on stage," Stipe adds. "That's when it feels great. That's when it doesn't feel like work."

When does it feel like work?

"Sometimes it's work if the audience on a Tuesday night are tired or they just don't return the energy, then I have to work. But I'm pretty professional at this point, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing."

Does Michael Stipe think he's a good frontman?

"(Long pause) from what people tell me, yeah. I think I'm kind of sloppy, to tell you the truth, but I guess that's part of the charm."

In time: The Best of REM (warner) is out now.

The Daily Telegraph
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Old 10-30-2003, 02:52 PM   #2
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"That's when it feels great. That's when it doesn't feel like work."

sounds like larry circa 1989...thanks for posting the article, j...
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Old 10-30-2003, 02:57 PM   #3
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Nice article.
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Old 10-31-2003, 02:38 PM   #4
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I saw them live at the Avalon in Hollywood on wednesday night. I was right infront of the stage, and about 1000 others in the audience

Was an AMAZING show!
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Old 10-31-2003, 02:41 PM   #5
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Wow, you are so lucky Elvis. That's amazing! I'm jealous, lol.
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Old 11-01-2003, 03:21 PM   #6
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My tripped out picture of Stipey....

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