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R.E.M.’s Original Lineup Performs Live for the FIrst Time in Decades

The original four members of R.E.M. performed together publicly for the first time in nearly three decades at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony inn New York on Thursday night. Singer Michael Stipe delivered a heartfelt five-minute speech on behalf of all four members that had a few gracious lines about their own relationship and work, but mostly included a long list of people who’d helped them along the way. The group then concluded their just-over-ten-minute appearance by performing their breakthrough song, 1987’s “Losing My Religion,” acoustically.

In a characteristically understated appearance, the group — who were inducted into the hall this year along with Steely Dan, producer Timbaland and songwriters Hillary Lindsey and Dean Pitchford — showed their respect for the honor and the institution, their friendship and decades-long bond, and several dozen of the many people who’d helped them along the way.

“Writing songs and having a catalog of work that we’re all proud of — that is out there for the rest of the world for the rest of time — is hands-down the most important aspect of what we did,” said singer Michael Stipe, who delivered the speech while his bandmates stood alongside him. “Second to that is that we managed to do so all those decades and remain friends — and not just friends, but dear friends.”

Following the format of the show — which sees one of the songwriter’s hits played by an influencee before an speech and honoree’s performance — Jason Isbell played the group’s polysyllabic 1987 hit, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”

“I never sang so many syllables so fast in my life,” he joked, recalling memorizing the song’s tongue-twisting lyrics as a kid — and how he’d thought that feat would never be useful.

“I heard their songs on the radio all time, and it’s safe to say thousands of outcast kids in the South had that same experience.”

Stipe’s speech followed — beginning with him thanking Isbell, saying “I can’t believe you chose that song to cover,” to laughter. Turning more serious, he continued, “We are four people who very early on decided that we would own our own masters and we would split our royalties and songwriting credits equally — we were all for one and one for all,” a goal they attained in a remarkably short time for their era.  “Some of those song we we recorded turned out good, sometimes great, and what a ride it has been. It truly means the world to us to  be recognized for that, and tonight we thank you for this honor.”

Then the band walked over to the performance area and, in characteristic low-key fashion, performed their other 1987 hit, “Losing My Religion,” with guitarist Peter Buck on mandolin, bassist Mike Mills playing 12-string acoustic guitar and singing harmony, and drummer Bill Berry, who left the band in 1997, on percussion.

Their appearance was brief, but no one was disappointed.

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