R.E.M.'s debut album, released in 1983, was so far removed from the prevailing trends of American popular music that it still sounds miraculous and out of time today. J. Niimi tells the story of the album's genesis - with fascinating input from Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. He also investigates Michael Stipe's hypnotic, mysterious lyrics, and makes the case for Murmur as a work of Southern Gothic art.
In the course of an interview that took place some twenty years ago, Michael Stipe made passing reference to an essay that had a deep impact on him. It's what came to his mind when, after having been harangued by fans and journalists alike about Murmur's lyrics, already grown weary from having to continually entertain their broad speculations, he finally threw up his hands. "Anyone who really wants to figure out the words to our songs should probably read this essay, then go back and listen," Stipe told the interviewer. "It talks about how people misinterpret something that's being said, and come up with a little phrase or word that actually defines the essence of what the original was better than the original did." What Stipe was trying to say is that if you want answers to R.E.M., you're not only looking in the wrong place, you're also asking the wrong questions.