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When a group of friends from Georgia got together in 1979 with the intention of, in their words, "making music without compromise," they could have so easily disappeared without trace like most other college bands of the time. But they didn't. When Bill Berry, a local record shop owner, and students Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Michael Stipe wrote and performed songs and played local gigs in neighboring towns, their distinctive sound earned them an immediate and devoted audience.
The television documentary Behind the Music: REM. features interviews with all four members of the band, their friends, and other artists in the pop music industry such as Courtney Love and Kate Pierson of the B-52's.
"The original college grunge band," as they are sometimes referred to, have never forgotten their roots. When their music began to put their home town of Athens, Georgia on the map, many parts of it began to be torn down to make way for new condominiums. Lead singer, Michael Stipe, began purchasing historical local buildings and the band has since contributed to many local charities. The mayor of Athens, Gwen O'Looney, is also interviewed who speaks very highly of the band and its' members.
Michael describes River's death as "the most shattering event of my life" and he would dedicate REM's next album, Monster to River. However, Michael Stipe was soon to be struck with a second blow the following year with the death of a second close friend - Nirvana's lead singer, Kurt Cobain. By 1995 though, it looked like the band had managed to put these tragedies behind them. In fact their problems were only just beginning.
To promote their new album, Monster, the band began a world-wide sell-out tour. Whilst playing live on stage in Lausanne, Switzerland, drummer Bill Berry collapsed with what at first appeared to be a painful migraine, but was soon diagnosed as not one but two serious brain aneurysms. The band was certainly due for some better fortunes now, and by sheer luck found themselves "2 miles from the greatest brain surgeons in the world" said Stipe. The band put the tour on hold and elected to all stay in Switzerland to remain at Berry's bedside.