The Visual Evolution of R.E.M.

James Parker traces the band's journey from art-school experimentation to high-budget stardom.

In the January/February issue of The Atlantic, James Parker looks back at R.E.M.'s origins in the college town of Athens, Georgia, during the early 1980s:

They performed, as a unit, like a bar band in a trance. [Michael] Stipe would jig, fret, wobble, gurn, and collapse in fits of inverted charisma, and from song to song the phrases would peal out with strange penetration: “It’s 9 o’clock, don’t try to turn it off” … “There’s a splinter in your eye and it reads REACT … “Goddamn your confusion” … Round and round went the vocal harmonies, two-part, sometimes three-part, incantatory and deeply encrypted, [Mike] Mills’s boyish tenor in lucid counterpoint to the yelps and rummagings of his lead singer.

Here, Parker shows how R.E.M.'s early videos reflected their experimental art school style -- and how that look and sound changed with the band's rise to superstardom.


Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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