It's not surprising that this past Wednesday's R.E.M. breakup announcement brought on a wave of back-pages remembrances from folks who were around way back when. Ruminations like that tend to be as much about the writer as the subject, and R.E.M.'s core fanbase is decidedly middleaged and given to gazing in the rearview mirror these days.
But R.E.M. really did mean that much to people -- the soundtrack of our lives for those of us in the 1980s college-radio generation. Being a fan in the early days felt like belonging to a club or even a cult, and it was impossible to imagine just how huge they were going to get in the early '90s. The band's place in history is both large and small, from the Hall of Fame down to millions of personal firsthand fables from people who bore witness to R.E.M.'s pre-fame days. One of the best essays I've read about this is here, written by former Chapel Hill resident Jim Desmond.
ADDENDUM (11/3/11): "We All Go Back To Where We Belong."