R.E.M., the band, is best known for being the kings of alternative rock in Atlanta, Georgia. And, while Atlanta is about as far away from Portland, Oregon as you can get in the contiguous United States, I’ve always felt that R.E.M. had a real Portland vibe. Their music is a little off kilter and full of passion and aplomb, their politics are far to the left and their lyrical content is thought provoking. You could transplant them to Portland, Oregon and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
So, perhaps this is what Peter Buck, guitarist for R.E.M., had in mind when he packed up his Atlanta home and made his way out to Portland, Oregon back in the 1990’s.
Peter Lawrence Buck was born in Berkeley, California on December 6, 1956. After spending time in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, he and his family moved out to Atlanta, Georgia where, after graduating from high school in 1975, he attended Emory University. After dropping out of college, he moved to Athens, Georgia, and attended the University of Georgia. While a student there, Buck worked at a record store called Wuxtry where he met future bandmate Michael Stipe as well as R.E.M.’s future manager, Bertis Downs.
R.E.M. formed in in 1980 and immediately was a hit with college radio stations, but eventually became household names with hits like “Stand”, “Losing my Religion”, “Everybody Hurts” and “Bang and Blame.”
Buck is an influential and unique guitarist. Notoriously reclusive, to paraphrase Bono of U2 in a G rated way, his style could be described as “I’m only here to play music. I don’t care about anything else.” Buck’s style of guitar playing is unassuming and yet idiosyncratic. Skip over this technical jargon if you want too, but, as a musician myself, I find this interesting. He uses open strings extensively while using chords to produce chiming, jangly, and unforgettable pop melodies. His primary guitar is a Rickenbacker and he has been widely associated with that brand of British six strings. He is a multi-instrumentalist, most notably, playing the mandolin for the lead part of mega hit “Losing my Religion.”
He made his trek to the West Coast in the 90’s, splitting his time between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. And while he currently lives in Mexico, he did marry his third wife on June 1, 2013 in Portland, so there is no doubt that this city will always hold a special place in his heart. It certainly does in his music and his outlook on life. Once you spend time in Portland, it never leaves you. Not all the way.
So, maybe we in Portland can’t claim R.E.M. as our own, but Peter Buck has spent a good portion of his life here. Enough that I feel we can at least claim him as an honorary Oregonian and Portlander.