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Begin the Begin is the first biography of R.E.M. wholly researched and written since they disbanded in 2011. It offers by far the most detailed account of the group’s formative years—their early lives, their first encounters with one another, their legendary debut show, early tours in the back of a van, initial recordings, their shrewdly paced rise to fame.
The people and places of the American South are crucial to the R.E.M. story in ways much more complex and interesting than have previously been presented, claims Robert Dean Lurie; he explores the myriad ways in which the band’s adopted hometown of Athens, Georgia—and the South in general—shaped its members and the character of their art. The South is much more than the background here; it plays a major role: the creative ferment that erupted in Athens and gripped many of its young inhabitants in the late 1970s and early ’80s drew on regional traditions of outsider art and general cultural out-thereness, and gave rise to a free-spirited music scene that produced the B-52’s and Pylon, as well as laying the ground for R.E.M.’s subsequent breakout success.
Lurie has tracked down and interviewed numerous figures in the band’s history who were underrepresented in, or absent from, earlier biographies—they contribute previously undocumented stories and cast a fresh light on the familiar narrative.
“Hope, yearning, and fear are visceral here, and the portrait painted is of something joyous, mad, and brilliant all at once.”
— David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars