from the Critical List September 11, 1987
R.E.M.: Document (I.R.S.). The new TV season will be up soon. I see where John Ritter's coming back. I see where William Conrad's coming back. Four new Perry Mason specials. Dolly Parton's own variety series. The poinsettias survived the fumigation -- and no one's more surprised than I. Ed Chadd writes from Florida, "Don't know much about cleavage, but I found Tammy's Womanhood at the local library and I took it out just so I could stare at her hairdo." Bruce and Janet are having a baby. The men from St. Vincent de Paul are due for the stove before 5. Someone's garage is being taken away. And it's time now for this year's R.E.M.; all-new LPs have been arriving annually like clockwork ever since 1983 -- a whole musical generation ago. Tom Jones is a character in a book by Henry Fielding; Englebert Humperdinck wrote Hansel and Gretel .
    There is some kind of rumor going around here that I think R.E.M. is God. Oh, you should hear the jokes. You should hear the things those mean boys in the editing room say to me, 'til the tears well up in my eyes and my lip begins to tremble. Of course, they've got pictures of Madonna all over their walls, and I guess they think that is okay. I'll admit that some of those pictures are pretty nice. I'll admit that I'd rather look at Madonna than look at Michael Stipe, and that if I had to choose one of the two to take to a desert island, or even to a traffic island, it'd sooner be her than him. But that's just my hormones talking; it isn't meant as music criticism. I will tell you this: It's better to own than to rent, as long as you don't make a religion out of it.
    I find pleasure in simple things: a leaky faucet, a well-turned ankle, a paycheck, stigmata. For inventing the lightning rod, Benjamin Franklin became famous all over the world -- and he did it in his SPARE TIME. Later, they made him ambassador to France, which is the last place I saw R.E.M. Afterward, Dennis and Peter and I went to a well-known restaurant where the light fixtures are bowls of frosted-glass fruit. My reputation being what it is, I felt as though I were expected to fall down dead immediately upon the release of the album, but instead I decided to take my time about it. We got to know one another slowly, the way grandpa and grandma did. This is old-fashioned music now, made by grizzled veterans whose effect upon their posterity is already considerable and who are no longer nearly as mysterious (personally, artistically) as they used to like to be, and as we used to like them to be. That was then, however, and this is not. Though the honeymoon be over (it was only inevitable), the marriage proves hardy. Oh sure, it takes a little more work these days, listening through familiar themes to find the girl you kissed under the apple tree. But patience is rewarded....


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Copyright Robert Lloyd 1987 and 2002