Bands Should Know When To End, But Very Few Do 

Yesterday (June 13), CBS Mornings aired Anthony Mason’s interview with the members of R.E.M.: singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry. The band was sitting down for their first interview together in thirty years. It was the eve of their induction into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. Last night, the four of them shocked fans by performing "Losing My Religion" at the ceremony at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel. It may very well be the last time R.E.M. ever takes the stage. Across the river in Brooklyn, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads took the stage together at the King's Theatre at a special screening of their legendary concert film, Stop Making Sense. They only appeared - they didn't perform. Still, what are the odds that both R.E.M. and Talking Heads, two touchstones of alternative music, would be in the same city, on the same night, in 2024? Talking Heads have made a few appearances promoting the film's anniversary lately, and every time it's a big deal. The band broke up in 1991, and they only performed once in the years since: at their 2002 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But earlier this year, Billboard reported that the band recently turned down [inlink id="talking-heads-turned-down-a-ton-of-money-to-reunite" text="an $80 million dollar offer to do a reunion tour"]. R.E.M.'s performance last night was the first time the four original members performed together since their 2007 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Drummer Bill Berry left the band in 1997, and the other three carried on, without officially replacing him. Their final concerts were in 2008. The band announced that they were splitting up in 2011. But, surely, they've had several lucrative offers to return to the road as well. Reunions have become a bigger business than ever: huge festivals love orchestrating big reunions to anchor their lineups; No Doubt's reunion at this year's Coachella is the latest example. Over the past few decades, classic rockers like the Police, Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins with James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, Genesis, Van Halen with David Lee Roth, and Fleetwood Mac’s full Rumours lineup have had massively successful comebacks. Most band breakups are fairly acrimonious. Chris Frantz's 2020 memoir, Remain In Love, detailed some of the bad blood between David Byrne and the rest of Talking Heads. Although it seems that some healing has taken place in the years since. They seemed pretty comfortable together on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert recently. Still, their appearances haven't involved playing music, and there are no hints that they will do so, ever again. Watching Stipe, Buck, Mills and Berry hanging out in the CBS Mornings interview, you can see that they’re still pretty comfortable around each other, even when discussing the split. Peter Buck notes, “I think the main reason at that point was there wasn’t anything that we could really agree on, musically. What kind of music [should we do], how to record it, are we gonna go on tour. We could barely agree on where to go to dinner. And now, we can just agree on where to go for dinner.” Stipe, rightfully, notes, “We’re also here to tell the tale. We’re sitting at the same table together, with deep admiration and lifelong friendships. A lot of people that do this can’t claim that.”  Buck concludes, "I think we quit at the right time. [We thought] 'This is a really good place to finish,'" noting that their last tour and their last album were each great.  Mason asked, “Any second thoughts about that? Anybody?” Everyone said, “No.” When he asked Berry about leaving the band, the drummer was clearly choked up, and it was moving to see his bandmates still supportive of his decision a quarter century later. Mills interjected, “We respected your decision 100%.”  Of course, Mason asked if they’d ever play together again. They all said no. “It would never be as good,” Buck explained plainly. In an additional segment that aired on CBS Mornings today, they discussed why a further reunion is unlikely. "I just don't know what I'd be trying to accomplish if we got back together," Buck said. When Mason pushed a bit more, asking if they'd play the songs one last time, Stipe noted, "There's no 'one last time...'" Mills added, "All the reasons you don't want to do it are still in place. We are lucky enough to have a... legacy that we can leave in place and not mess [it] up. Once you change that, you can't go back." Money wasn't mentioned, but in an excerpt from Stipe's speech, included above, he notes that the band retained control of their master recordings, and they also agreed to split songwriting publishing four ways on every song, no matter who wrote what. (Publishing royalties often becomes a bone of contention with bands; see the bonkers Ginger Baker documentary Beware of Mister Baker to learn a bit more about that.) So, it stands to reason that none of the guys in R.E.M. are in financial trouble. Stipe concluded, "We had our day in the sun." I recently [inlink id="the-rolling-stones-mostly-great-60-yrs" text="wrote"] about how mind-blowingly great the Rolling Stones were when I saw them on their current tour, and I stand by that. I’ll also note that I love their Hackney Diamonds album, and I love that they are still adding chapters to their decades-long story, even as their two principal members are in their eighties. It’s certainly a very profitable approach for them, and it makes lots of people happy. But there are also plenty of bands whom I've said my "goodbyes" to, because their current performance ability doesn't come close to approximating their abilities at their peak. There's something really admirable about a band knowing that their "time in the sun" is over. It's admirable that they have the integrity, pride and self-awareness to say "no" to millions of dollars. Of course, with a lot of artists, we want to see them, just one more time. But that's one of the beautiful things about bands and artists: they're finite. Their art is eternal, but they themselves are not. That's one of the great things about records and live video recordings. You can see and hear your artists, just as you remember them.

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