R.E.M.-and-beyond guitarman in his own words and by his own hand.
As well as presenting his Self-Portrait image, the R.E.M. guitarist has wisdom to impart regarding optimism, embarrassment and dining with John Paul Jones.
I’d describe myself as… currently employed, which is nice, as it’s been a while. Still unmanageable though, and unknowable even to myself. It’s a long life, I still have a lot to learn.
Music changed me… by completely freeing me. It was always of utmost importance. Even before I heard The Beatles I listened to the radio or my dad’s Glenn Miller records. There was something about it that touched something in me that some people might have thought of as spiritual. It’s been a great companion, a way to deal with a lot of stuff. I’ll play guitar and write songs every day. Not to name drop, but I was having dinner with John Paul Jones and he said, “No one ever asks me, ‘How many hours a day does music go through your head?’” And I said, “Pretty much every second you’re awake?” And he was like, “Yeah.”
When I’m not making music… I probably walk two or three hours a day, and I read and I travel a lot.
My biggest vice is… I don’t really believe in vice. I’m not saying I’m a good person or a perfect person but I don’t see anything that I do as a problem. I probably spend more time in my head than I should, but I think of all the horrible things I could be doing with my time, and y’know, books and records and guitars, I still think of those as good things.
The last time I was embarrassed was… daily? Hourly? Doing interviews, being embarrassed by what I say or think is just part of my human condition. On the other hand, I don’t actually give much of a shit in a lot of ways. I don’t worry about looking stupid because I just assume that I’m gonna look stupid all the time anyway, so I just go with it.
My formal qualifications are… a ‘B’ average degree from a hillbilly high school in Roswell, Georgia. And believe me, that and a shovel
“MY GUITAR GOT STOLEN AND WE HAD TO RANSOM IT BACK.”
would allow me to shovel shit anywhere in America.
The last time I cried was… when we had a death in the family a few weeks ago. It was serious, different from just tearing up from just sentimental things.
Vinyl, CD or MP3?… They’re all great. I take my iPod with me everywhere, CDs in the car, I listen to vinyl at home. There’s nothing better than a wellrecorded mono 45.
My most treasured possession is… the black Rickenbacker guitar I’ve used since 1981 on every single R.E.M. record and tour, and every session I’ve done, that’s the only physical thing of ownership that I would miss if it was gone. It got stolen on the last R.E.M. tour and we had to ransom it back. I really didn’t like the idea of some creep-thief holding it.
The best book I’ve read is… I read [Jack Kerouac’s] On The Road when I was 13 and I’m really glad I did, because I’m not sure it would have had the same effect on me if I’d have read it when I was 25. It was a huge, life changing thing – I did hitchhike round the country when I was 18 and I still hop in a van and hit all the cities when we go on tour, so it must still be back there somewhere.
Is the glass half-full or halfempty?… I deny the existence of the glass. And that box everybody thinks outside of? That doesn’t exist either. I’m always prepared for the worst and I was pleasantly surprised at how well things turned out. I don’t know if that makes me an optimist or a pessimist.
My greatest regret is… I don’t really have them. I only look back when I do interviews, and I know I could have made my life easier, but it all seems to make sense, y’know, so I wouldn’t go back and change anything.
When we die… I’m completely prepared for a complete cessation of everything.
I would like to be remembered as… I could really care less if everyone forgets me the day I drop dead. But I guess, regarding my children and close friends, I’d like it to be like the end of Touch Of Evil, when Orson Welles is floating down the sewer and Marlene Dietrich goes, “He was some kind of a man.”
Man in the cartoon: How Peter Buck sees himself? Or is it unknowable? (Below) Buck for real.