Each night before I go to bed, I thank the Lord for keeping hidden from me the number of forms in which I will have owned my favorite recorded music by the moment of my death. In the case of R.E.M., for instance, I have all of the band's albums and EPs from 1982 through 1996 on cassette tape, and have purchased duplicates of many of those on CD over the past decade, not to mention the R.E.M. vinyl I have accumulated over the years. Thank you, Lord, for your mercy in hiding that number from me. I know what you're thinking: that I do not want to know the number because, like the speaker in "Catullus 7" ("Quaeris quot mihi basiationes," etc.), I am afraid that if a bad person knew that number, he or she could use it to cast spells on me. But that is not the case! For, unlike Lesbia's kisses, recorded media do not give love to a poor and lonely poet, but accumulate on his shelves and in his closets and fall on his head and break on his floor and terrify soft animals and remind potential mates of the meaning of the word "hebephrenia," and so their number would not be particularly useful in unspeakable occult practices. No, I don't want to know the number because I think that, if I were to read in the Almighty's ledger that when I die I will have owned the same recording of "Driver 8" imprinted on 23 distinct official products, it would force me to re-examine my faith in global capitalism, the greatest and most perfect system ever to have strangled everything under the sun.
The wisdom of producing a new Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987 compilation is called into question by the continuing availability of 1988's Eponymous collection, which also claims to represent the best of the band's music during the same set of years. And the continuing availability of the band's complete, unabridged original albums, which are available at bargain prices, forces one to look coldly upon EMI's motives for assembling this product. The formula is one you will recognize. As a "best of," it targets the casual listener wishing to acquire a broad familiarity with R.E.M., and yet includes a number of "rarities" so that the rabid, mad dog fan will yet again have to buy the same recordings for which she has already parted with her coins once, if not twice. In this way, the casual listener is frustrated; he cares nothing for the Hib-Tone single version of "Sitting Still," which will in fact vex him and clog his iPod. No less will the rabid fan be dismayed when she realizes that many of the songs on the "rarities" disc are by no means rare, and that seven of them are merely album versions of songs that did not make the cut for the first disc. On the other hand, the DVD, When the Light Is Mine, is welcome because it replaces R.E.M.'s out-of-print Succumbsvideotape and supplements that program with live TV performances, interviews and music videos from the Document album.
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