This morning, R.E.M. posted a statement on their website announcing the break up of their band. After over three decades and 15 albums, R.E.M. have outlasted the shelf life of your average American rock band. Their long lasting success can be attributed to the way they used lyrics to approach controversial topics in their songs (suicide, religion, and politics).
One of their most well-known songs, "Everybody Hurts" connects to listeners of all walks of life due to its admittance of depression and assurance of hope. The song's relatability was recognized by British emotional support listening service, The Samaritans, in 1995 when they launched a press advertising campaign made up of only the lyrics to "Everybody Hurts" and their hotline number.
If you're on your own in this life / The days and nights are long / When you think you've had too much / Of this life to hang on / Well, everybody hurts sometimes, everybody cries / And everybody hurts sometimes
The direct and candid lyrics make the song digestable for ears of any age. Peter Buck noted, "the reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers." And as we all know, emotions are the biggest in adolesence. In times of grief, confusion, and sadness, it can seem like you're the only person in the world who feels the way you feel. But "Everybody Hurts" wraps a big blanket around the listener and says "you're not alone in this, and everything is going to be okay."
Another songwriting talent the band possessed was alluding to controversial topics through metaphors without major offence. Take another one of their biggest songs, "Losing My Religion", where the subject matter is literally about giving up faith; while figuratively, it's about loving something or somebody so much that you lose control of your life over it.
That's me in the corner / That's me in the spotlight / Losing my religion / Trying to keep up with you / And I don't know if I can do it / Oh no, I've said too much / I set it up
"I wanted to write a classic obsession song, so I did", stated frontman Stipe to Rolling Stone Magazine. As well as the obsession topic, Stipe has also referred to "Losing My Religion" as a song about unrequited love. The following lyrics tap into the sensation of loving somebody without them loving you in return:
I thought that I heard you laughing / I thought that I heard you sing / I think I thought I saw you try
On top of tapping into human emotion and religious imagery, R.E.M. was also known as a politically-charged band, especially at the beginning of their career in music.
"Even my overt political writing wasn't that overt." says Michael Stipe about his right-wing protest song "Exhuming McCarthy" The song talks about a modern rebirth of right-wing extremism last seen in the 1950's when Senator Joseph McCarthy took a fanatic anti-communist stance.
Vested interest united ties, landed gentry rationalize / Look who bought the myth, by jingo, buy America
Although REM's lyrics are sometimes vague or mystifying, everyone is able to relate to at least one of their songs. We're sad that the band which Michael Stipe once likened to an idea machine will cease to turn. REM, it's been a slice!
- AH, AL & SJ