One of my friends and longtime supporters of my little 80s radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (Sunday nights 7-9E on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine) reminded me that on this date (7.28) in 1986, R.E.M. released their fourth full-length studio album, the brilliant LIFES RICH PAGEANT.
LIFES RICH PAGEANT was recorded at John Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Belmont, Indiana and mastered by the incredible Bob Ludwig (before he made Portland, Maine his mastering home), this was the album that started the transition from R.E.M. being a College Rock band to something much bigger.
Featuring such gems as “Superman,” “Begin The Begin,” “I Believe,” “These Days” and “Fall On Me” (a personal favorite of R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe), LIFES RICH PAGEANT is my favorite 80s album by the Athens, GA Alt-Rock heroes. It also houses one of my all-time favorite R.E.M. songs, “Cuyahoga.”
“Cuyahoga” actually refers to the Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie at Cleveland, Ohio. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the name Cuyahoga is “believed to mean ‘crooked river’ and from the Mohawk Indian name Cayagaga, though the Senecas called it Cuyahoga, or ‘place of the jawbone’.”
At one time, the river was so polluted, it became famous for it, and in 1969, actually caught fire. One of the lyrics in R.E.M.’s eco-friendly song mentions this: “Let’s put our heads together, start a new country up / Underneath the river bed we burned the river down / This is where they walked, swam, hunted, danced and sang / Take a picture here, take a souvenir…”
An argument could be made that the serious pollution issues and 13 fires in a 100-year span on the Cuyahoga River (especially in 1969) helped spark the environmental movement in the United States, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972). Also in 1972, Randy Newman’s song “Burn On” referenced the events of the Cuyahoga (and can be heard in the opening credits for the 1989 baseball film set in Cleveland, MAJOR LEAGUE).
Today, the Cuyahoga River is in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (established in 2000) and is designated as an American Heritage River. And, while it’s a much healthier river than it was 40 years ago, there’s still a lot to be done on the Cuyahoga. I know they’ll get there. At one time, Maine’s Kennebec River, a 170-mile river that happens to run along the street where my parents’ house is in Central Maine, was once heavily polluted, so much you couldn’t fish or really boat in it, but over the years, the river is thriving and then some (though it could use some rain right now).
You know, like many others, I may have started my love for R.E.M. with “The One I Love” in 1987, but in 2016 (and for many years now), a great deal of my 80s love for R.E.M. continues to reside in LIFES RICH PAGEANT, and the beautiful and brilliant “Cuyahoga.”