Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

Let’s raise a glass to the ones we’ve lost this year — “To the Lost” — because, damn it, we lost some great ones.

R.E.M. LCD Soundsystem. The White Stripes. All are top-20 all time bands (at the least), and all called it quits in 2011. It’s been a tough year. We’ve discussed their retirements and break-ups in more detail (here, here, here and here), but let’s examine how each of these monumental bands chose to go out.

There’s a human instinct to take the final moments of a life and imbue them with false meaning. So that’s what we’re doing with the lives of these three bands: picking apart their last moments to see if there’s anything there.

The White Stripes’ Final Song (the last track on their last album, not including any posthumous b-sides or whatever): Effect and Cause

Final lyrics of the band’s career:

Well, you can’t take the effect and make it the cause
I didn’t rob a bank because you made up the law
Blame me for robbing Peter, but don’t you blame Paul
Can’t take the effect and make it the cause

As befits Jack White and the Stripes, this song doesn’t take itself too seriously. The lyrics are full of silly wordplay and rhyming, and a catchy but ultimately forgettable melody provides the framework. It wouldn’t be like the White Stripes to leave us on some epic, career-defining song. “Effect and Cause” is an anti-climax, but that suits them.

R.E.M’s Final Song: Blue

Stipe’s final lyrics:

I want Whitman proud. Patti Lee proud. My brothers proud. My sisters proud.
I want me. I want it all. I want sensational. Irresistible.
This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive.
Living. Blessed. I understand.
20th century, collapse into now.

Yuck. It’s a shame that R.E.M.’s career ended on this second-rate knock-off of “E-Bow the Letter,” the band’s other duet with Patti Smith. And given that Michael Stipe revered Smith, we can safely assume the band thought this was a track worthy of her involvement, and worthy of curtaining their final album. They misjudged. “Blue” is a droning, neverending vacuum whose only highlight is the re-emergence of the riff from “Discoverer” at its very end. Stipe’s lyrics attempt to deepen his pop-culture, snapshot summation from “Electrolite,” but only serve to showcase how much he declined at a lyricist in R.E.M.’s last years. Collpase Into Now has some good songs, and this band featured some fantastic album-closers in its day (“Find the River,” “Me in Honey,” “Wendell Gee”), but “Blue” falls into neither category. Sad.

LCD Soundsystem’s Final Song: Home

James Murphy’s final lyrics:

Yeah no one ever knows what you’re talking about
So i guess you’re already there
No one opens up when you scream and shout
But it’s time to make a couple things clear

If you’re afraid of what you need
If you’re afraid of what you need
Look around you, you’re surrounded
It won’t get any better

Until the night

That’s more like it. Like R.E.M. with Collapse, Murphy knew when recording This is Happening that it would be LCD’s final album. Unlike R.E.M., he got the finish exactly right. Perhaps because Murphy is so familiar with music history, he was cognizant of his band’s place in it, and had a better plan for how to bow out. “Home” is one of LCD’s very best songs, and one that manages to encapsulate much of what made the band great while adding a sheen of closure and nostalgia fitting for a last song. We shouldn’t be surprised. LCD went out on a great album, and a blazing concert — so why not one more masterpiece as their last song? This is the trick/forget a terrible year.

——————————————————————————————–

We also lost Clarence Clemons  in 2011 — a different kind of loss than the end of a band’s career, of course. And because I refuse to accept that Clemons’ last recorded sax solo was on a Lady Gaga song, here he is in his final show with the E Street Band. Buffalo. November 22, 2009. “Growin’ Up.” As Bruce Springsteen tells the story of the band’s origins one…last…time. “It was a stormy, stormy night in Asbury Park, New Jersey…”

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