Without Berry, R.E.M. has recorded three quiet, unimpressive albums. Meanwhile, U2 is on top of the rock heap again—a brand as much as a band, representing both sincerity and success. Just check out their Successories-ready aphorisms in U2 by U2: "I always thought the job was to be as great as you could be," says Bono. "If it is not absolutely the best it can be, why bother?" says bassist Adam Clayton. And that's just in the flap copy!
Either you loved U2, or you liked them fine. Either you loved R.E.M., or you hated them. The delicacy at the heart of R.E.M.'s 1980s albums fostered introspection and brotherhood among those of us who loved them in those years: introspection, because the songs pushed the listener inward, finding significance in every line; brotherhood, because we had to band together to defend our heroes against the unfeeling jerks who found R.E.M. precious and maddeningly opaque. I assumed, of course, that those jerks were U2 fans.
There never really was a rivalry, of course. In 1992, members of the two groups combined to perform a sweet version of "One" at MTV's Inaugural Ball. Despite all of my righteous teenage anger on R.E.M.'s behalf, U2 and R.E.M. were entirely friendly. Bono even discusses Stipe in U2 by U2: "Michael Stipe's friendship means more to me than I can ever tell you," he says on Page 162. Then, he doesn't mention Stipe's name again in the book.