It is pretty common for things to flow in and out of our lives. There are certain fads, hobbies, etc that when we initially get involved with we know that they just won't last very long. They will be a fleeting moment in our life, and we're okay with that. Others though, well, we can't even imagine going on with life without them! R.E.M. was such a thing.
The 80's and 90's rock band shaped my teenage years. I don't just say this loosely. The desire to play the drums at the age of fourteen was because of the simple, yet beautiful, drumming of the famously unibrowed Bill Berry. The fact that in 1998 he quit the multi-million dollar band so he could live a more peaceful life as a farmer in Georgia only added to his awesomeness. Many times drummers try to be flashy, adding fills and beats that show off their incredible talent, but take away from the music that they are participating in. It comes off as an inferiority complex: they are uncomfortable being in the back of the stage behind the guitar and singer. As a result an outburst of complex, rapid and obnoxious drumming comes forth. (Side note: Jimmy Chamberlain of Smashing Pumpkins could effectively pull off the flashy drumming that never detracted to the music; It added to it). Bill Berry did not fall under this category. He was famous for playing beats and fills that were simplistic, but not because he didn't have the skill. He intentionally played simple because that is what the music called for. To more clearly show this, but with the guitar, is the song "Every Body Hurts." It's arguably it's R.E.M.'s most popular song. If you listen to the music, you'll recognize that the chords are in a simple progression with an arpeggios. Nothing flashy, complicated, or difficult. Who wrote the music? Bill Berry.
I liked to think that he thought of the drums as another melodic component to the song, not just as an instrument to keep time. As a result, he was fine with the simple beat. Bill Berry was the biggest reason why I loved R.E.M. I loved constantly experiencing the simple yet beautiful example of the melodic interpretation of how the drums should be played. His view (or at least my interpretation of his view) on drumming shaped my philosophy on drums, which then caused that instrument to be so much more to me than it would have been otherwise. And to say that the drums didn't greatly influence my teenage experience would be a gross error. Drumming was my teenage experience.
As a result I thought I would never stop listening to R.E.M. I had so many fond memories and emotions associated with them that the thought seemed highly unlikely. Yet, every album since Bill Berry left in 1998 has been lacking. I could never put my finger on it. Was it the lyrics, or the new direction that R.E.M. was taking? No, it was the absence of Bill Berry and, however cheesy it may sound, lack of his constant reminder of how important melodic drumming can be to the musical experience.
As R.E.M. is coming out with a new CD this March I will, for the first time in my life, not buy their CD. R.E.M., it was fun, but no matter how hard I try, your magic is gone for me. Nostalgia will only go so far.
Coldplay has replaced R.E.M. I never really knew why until very recently when I discovered why I didn't care for R.E.M. like I used to. It is because Coldplay's drummer, Will Champion, is in my mind the new Bill Berry. Melodic drumming, simple beats, and a constant reminder of why I loved playing the drums. But thank you R.E.M. (but really Bill Berry) for providing me with a great teenage experience. Even though your purpose is complete, it is very much remembered in fondness.