Maps and Legends: The Story of R.E.M.

John Hunter
Maps and Legends: The Story of R.E.M.

Any balanced rock-and-roll bio scrutinizes a band’s more-unsavory side. And scrutinize is exactly what John Hunter does in this unauthorized bio of ’80s indie darlings turned ’90s megastars R.E.M.

The band’s more-egregious tendencies deserve the stink eye – like guitarist Peter Buck’s infamous reputation as an unreliable source and the band’s proclivity to privately contradict its preachy public politics. Unfortunately, the author too often veers into territory that’s rock crit at best, an airing of grievances at worst. Devoting 30 pages to why Monster is a bad album, for example, is a slog. Elsewhere, he harps on Buck’s lack of musical chops on early records and performances. One gasping passage even implies that the guitarist’s dislike of ’80s synth-pop is a “hair’s breadth away from homophobia.”

A musician himself, Hunter does take care to provide decent coverage of the band’s evolving studio methods, Buck’s gear and his arpeggiated style, throwing in details like his iconic, drone-string tuning. Not to say R.E.M. warrants a shiny happy hagiography, but at 704 pages and with no new band interviews to lean on, the author’s critical voice ultimately stifles any sense of balance – or revelation.

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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