The Visual Evolution of R.E.M.

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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.


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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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