Begin the Begin: R.E.M.'s Early Years

Begin the Begin: R.E.M.'s Early Years

by Robert Dean Lurie


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Robert Dean Lurie’s biography is the first completely researched and written since R.E.M. disbanded in 2011. It offers by far the most detailed account of their formative years—the early lives of the band members, their first encounters with one another, their legendary debut show, early tours in the back of a van, initial recordings, their shrewdly paced rise to fame.

The people and places of the American South are crucial to the R.E.M. story in ways much more complex and interesting than have been presented thus far, says Lurie, who explores the myriad ways in which the band’s adopted hometown of Athens, Georgia, and the South in general, have shaped its members and the character and style of their art.

The South is more than the background to this story; it plays a major role: the creative ferment that erupted in Athens and gripped many of its young inhabitants in the late 70s and early 80s drew on regional traditions of outsider art and general cultural out-thereness, and gave rise to a free-spirited music scene that produced the B-52’s and Pylon, and laid the ground for R.E.M.’s subsequent breakout success.

Lurie has tracked down and interviewed numerous figures in the band’s history who were under-represented in or even absent from earlier biographies, and they contribute previously undocumented stories and cast a fresh light on the familiar narrative.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781891241680
Publisher: Verse Chorus Press
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 464,969
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Robert Dean Lurie's other books include "No Certainly Attached: Steve Kilbey and the Church" (2009) and "We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie" (2016).


Several books have already been written about R.E.M., a few of which—Fiction by David Buckley; Perfect Circle by Tony Fletcher; and Reveal by Johnny Black—are very fine examples of music journalism and near definitive treatments of the R.E.M. saga as a whole. However, most of the R.E.M. biographies to date (including those listed above) were written by British authors and first and foremost for UK audiences. Perhaps inevitably, they tend to overlook many details about Athens and the American South that are important to longtime residents. I get the sense that their depictions of the region have been largely shaped by the comments of the band members themselves. But since Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe's claims to authentic Southernness are tenuous at best, as we shall see, to attempt to appraise this unique locale through their eyes can be a bit like squinting at a blurry photo of a blurry photo. The people and places of “the South” are crucial to the R.E.M. story in ways far more complex and interesting than have been presented thus far, and it has been my intention in what follows to provide a more thorough assessment. I make no claims to factual infallibility, but I do bring to this task the benefit of having lived in Athens specifically, and the South generally, for a significant portion of my adult life.

There is another major reason why I feel this book needed to be written. I have been aware for some time that several local figures who were pivotal to the band's early history have been under-represented in previous accounts, even completely omitted in some cases.

I also believe there is value in returning to people and events with the benefit of knowing the full arc of the R.E.M. story. Many of the earlier books were written and published in the thick of R.E.M.’s mainstream success. The ending of the story was not yet known, and because the band were still a going concern, some interviewees were reluctant to divulge personal details. Such reticence has dissipated considerably in the years since R.E.M. disbanded in 2011.

Like any dutiful journalist I have attempted to obtain the participation of the members of R.E.M. themselves. Traditionally, their approach to biographies has been hands-off (with the exception of the various versions of Tony Fletcher’s book and the occasional single-member interview). In response to my enquiries, Bertis Downs, R.E.M.'s manager, explained, “The band doesn't really take a position—people are welcome to write [biographies] and we don't generally have much to do with them.” This is understandable, particularly now that the band is no more. It could even be argued that the members of R.E.M. have been over-interviewed by the press through the years, and as a result have developed standard responses to most biographical questions. It is more interesting to the long-term fan, I would argue, to offer the stories the band members haven't told, as well as alternative interpretations of the well-worn mythology. This book attempts to explore those threads whenever possible.

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