R.E.M.’s Original Lineup Performs Publicly for the First Time in Nearly Three Decades at Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony (2024)

Jem Aswad

·4 min read

R.E.M.’s Original Lineup Performs Publicly for the First Time in Nearly Three Decades at Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony (1)

The four founding members of R.E.M. performed together publicly for the first time in nearly three decades at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony in New York on Thursday night, playing an acoustic version of their breakthrough song, 1991’s “Losing My Religion.”

With characteristic understatement, the group — singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry — showed their respect for the honor and the institution, their friendship and decades-long bond, and in gracious terms, fans, family, friends, and everyone who helped them along the way.

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“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 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.”

Although the four members performed together in 2016 at a private event for longtime manager Bertis Downs, their last major concert took place in 1995, concluding a problem-plagued tour that ultimately led to Berry’s departure two years later. The remaining three members last performed in 2008 and amicably split in 2011.

The group’s fellow 2024 inductees were Steely Dan, producer Timbaland, and songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Dean Pitchford and the late Cindy Walker.

Following the format of the show —which sees one of the songwriter’s hits played by an influencee, followed by the induction and then the honoree’s performance — Jason Isbell started R.E.M.’s segment by playing 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,” Isbell 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.”

R.E.M.’s Original Lineup Performs Publicly for the First Time in Nearly Three Decades at Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony (2)

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.”

After fans, families and several dozen music executives by name, Stipe concluded with a heartfelt tribute to the band’s longtime manager, Bertis Downs: “for allowing us the space to create, to follow our gut, to follow our instincts, to disappear into the music, to not have to be concerned with aspects of the industry that would have or could have prevented us from focusing on the most important part: the songwriting and the songs. And for that gift, Bertis we are forever grateful.”

The band then walked over to the performance area. “We’re R.E.M., and this is what we did,” Stipe said and the bandmembers — Stipe 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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R.E.M.’s Original Lineup Performs Publicly for the First Time in Nearly Three Decades at Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony (2024)

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