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Talk About The Passion

Twenty years ago, R.E.M.'s Murmur -- one of the most influential albums in rock history -- was recorded in Charlotte



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Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor, Rolling Stone: "I was disappointed when I first heard recorded versions of some of the songs on Murmur on a tape that was given to me by Jefferson Holt, R.E.M.'s manager back then. I was living in Atlanta, just beginning to write about music, and was a huge fan of the band's, so I had already heard many of the songs in performance. To my ears, the versions on the tape paled in comparison. They sounded precious and enclosed -- the exact opposite of the exuberance and openness that excited me about R.E.M. Those versions differed somewhat from the ones that ended up on Murmur, but I felt the same way about the album the first time I heard it. Soon, though, I grew to love it. And, of course, Murmur's compelling evocation of a deeply internal space is precisely what makes it sound so rife with mystery to this day."

Peter Blackstock, editor, No Depression: "Freshman year of college, 1983. I'd found a ride from Fort Worth back to Austin for the Christmas holidays with a friend who tended to blast his car stereo alarmingly loud. Somewhere southbound on I-35, Rob slipped one of his new favorites into the tape deck, and out of the speakers wafted a most unusual music. It felt kind of eerie and spooky; lyrics hiding and seeking amid a melodic yet murky sonic riverbed. This wasn't like anything I'd heard on the rock radio stations that had informed my musical vocabulary to date. I wasn't really sure if I liked it, initially -- but it definitely made a memorable impression."

Bill Friskics-Warren, rock critic: "I think Murmur holds up very well, although today it perhaps sounds more like a folk-rock record than a post-punk record. I'm also surprised we don't hear it mentioned more as touchstone for alt-country bands. Certainly the more lyrical side of Uncle Tupelo's music derives from it, as, perhaps, do the rather oblique lyrics of the Jayhawks, circa Blue Earth. Those great Silos and Vulgar Boatmen records of the mid-to-late 80s? I can't imagine them without Murmur."

Anthony DeCurtis: "Years after the album came out, Michael would privately compliment me for pointing out in a review how Murmur is a kind of emotional travelogue ("a restless, nervous record full of false starts and images of movement, pilgrimage, transit"), something he hadn't realized until he read it. Years after that, I publicly returned that compliment to Steve Pond, the critic who actually wrote that apt description in Rolling Stone. I had been too flattered by Michael's kind words to correct him at the time.

Such misapprehensions, and small dishonesties, somehow seem part of what Murmur is about. It's a record whose songs come in and out of focus. Meanings are concealed, reveal themselves, then slip away again into the shadows. Right now, as I listen to it, Murmur sounds like a shimmering talisman from a more innocent, but no less dark, time, a souvenir, in Tom Verlaine's phrase, from a dream. Strangely, that's also what it sounded like 20 years ago."

Peter Blackstock: ". . .Soon enough, I found myself at the record store, plunking down a few dollars for my own vinyl copy of Murmur. It was the starting point for an entire new direction in my record collection. No longer would Tom Petty or the Police be the most adventurous things on my shelves. Soon there was Guadalcanal Diary, and 10,000 Maniacs, and Zeitgeist; gradually, the floodgates were unleashed. The 1980s became an era of discovery, of understanding what the word "alternative" could mean amid the arid landscape of popular music. The significance, of course, lies not in my own personal recollection, but in the fact that it was repeated dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times among my college-age contemporaries. The details may differ from person to person -- but I suspect the percentage of those stories that trace back to R.E.M.'s Murmur is remarkably high."

Jamie Hoover: "I was proud to have been around. They were such nice guys. It was strange to have seen them at The Milestone, and then, next time I saw them, they were playing the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh."

Mitch Easter: "You knew things in general were "happening' in those days and R.E.M. seemed happening, but beyond that we weren't thinking about it. I was pleased it was all turning out well, but in those days, thankfully, nobody was worrying about "hits' -- there was some residual attitude that "hits' = crassness! I had no idea whether people would dig it or not. I think the record stands up very well. Partly because we avoided paying any attention to the prevailing sonic fashions, and mostly because the band, as it turned out, were something special."

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