THE BOOK: Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years
PUBLISHED IN: 2019
THE AUTHOR: Robert Dean Lurie
THE EDITOR: Steve Connell
THE PUBLISHER: Verse Chorus Press
SUMMARY: 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, initial recordings, their shrewdly paced rise to fame. The book 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.
Additionally, BEGIN THE BEGIN shines a light on 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.
THE BACK STORY: This book was born when my editor at Verse Chorus Press, Steve Connell, asked if I’d ever thought about writing something on R.E.M. I hadn’t, but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Steve knew I had attended college in Athens, GA, the town that had given us not just R.E.M. but a host of other great bands. That conversation kicked off a seven-year journey down a very enjoyable rabbit-hole, exactly the amount of time covered in the book.
WHY THIS TITLE: “Begin the Begin” is the opening track of R.E.M.’s classic 1986 LP “Life’s Rich Pageant.” In addition to being a pun on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” it’s the only conceivable title for a book about R.E.M.’s early years!
WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: It’s a deep dive into the origins of a great American band that doubles as an exploration of the magic of regional music scenes and the brief golden age of independent, college-radio-supported rock ‘n’ roll.
“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
“BEGIN THE BEGIN: R.E.M.’S EARLY YEARS is a masterpiece that should take its place alongside other great band biographies. It’s genre-defining. But what makes it so good isn’t necessarily the job it does recovering factoids or sketching personalities from the past. BEGIN THE BEGIN is a well-wrought monument to the passing of time. It’s a testament to the loss that gives life its sweetness.” — Scott Beauchamp, Splice Today
“The start of R.E.M and the rise of the Athens, GA music scene has been the subject of countless books, but few crackle with the ring of truth of Robert Dean Lurie’s fascinating new volume BEGIN THE BEGIN.” — James Mann, The Big Takeover
AUTHOR PROFILE: Robert Dean Lurie is a writer and musician based in Tempe, Arizona. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is the author of WE CAN BE HEROES: THE RADICAL INDIVIDUALISM OF DAVID BOWIE and NO CERTAINTY ATTACHED: STEVE KILBEY AND THE CHURCH.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I don’t believe I would have written about R.E.M. if I hadn’t lived in Athens. The other R.E.M. biographers have already done a great job of telling the band’s story and placing them in the larger context of popular music. So — I felt like the only option that had been left for me was to deepen on place. One of the things I’m trying to get across is that the very specific clique of friends, fellow artists, and rivals in Athens at that time, along with the town’s culture and relative geographic isolation, all contributed to the formation of R.E.M.’s musical identity. R.E.M. assimilated their peers’ best qualities and filled in the spaces that had been left open for them in that unique ecosystem.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Changing Hands (Tempe/Phoenix, AZ), Powell’s (Portland, OR), Avid Bookshop (Athens, GA)
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Bookshop.org, Amazon.com