Ah, Fables! R.E.M.’s third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, followed a grueling tour schedule. In the interest of changing things up, IRS Records sent them to London to record. The Joe Boyd sessions found the guys worn out and pulled in different creative directions. They felt the expectations behind this album, and ultimately delivered a record packed with commercially viable singles, yet still true to the band.
Diehard fans were not initially impressed with the cleaner vocals and obvious MTV-ready catchy songs. Professionally, though, Fables of the Reconstruction set the course for future superstar status for R.E.M. The band delighted Athens friends with “Old Man Kensey,” a song co-written with friend Jeremy Ayers (Jeremy was previously named Jerry). Michael Stipe recently created an art installation called “Jeremy Dance” in tribute to his late friend.
Before GPS, finding Philomath, Georgia, required a kind gas station attendant who wanted to help R.E.M.-obsessed teenagers. We were obviously not the first clueless carload to ask for directions. Stipe knew the double meaning of both the local spot and the word itself, “lover of learning.” Perhaps that was a nod to his more obscure earlier lyrics contrasted with this more straight-forward album. The success of their video for “Can’t Get There from Here” shared the band’s quirky side for the video generation.