Peter Buck

On this date in 1956, musician Peter Lawrence Buck was born in Berkeley, Calif., to Violet and Peter Buck. He grew up in California and Georgia and attended Emory University and the University of Georgia without graduating. He met future R.E.M. bandmates Michael Stipe,  drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills at the university in Athens while Buck also worked at a record store.

They started performing as R.E.M. in 1980. The band never confirmed, and Stipe once denied in sort of a half-hearted way, that the name stood for “rapid eye movement,” the dream stage of sleep when closed eyes dart around under their lids. Before an amicable breakup in 2011, the band sold over 85 million albums and was among the top draws on concert tours.

“They were born of the punk and new wave generation, but there was something comforting and soothing about their music, while still being stimulating. It was Byrds-ian, jangly folk-rock with an aura of mystery in it.” (Rock and Roll Globe, Dec. 6, 2021) “Buck played guitar, bass, banjo and mandolin and was best-known, of course, for those open strings and chiming chords on his Rickenbacker.”

Such was the group’s cultural cachet that a 2001 episode of “The Simpsons” had them playing in Homer’s garage/bar, thinking it was a rain forest benefit. Homer sang along on “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” before Stipe realized they’d been duped and angrily smashed a beer bottle. Buck admonished him: “That’s not the R.E.M. way,” and they pick up the glass to recycle it. (Ibid.)

“Losing My Religion” from the 1991 album “Out of Time” and featuring Buck’s mandolin became R.E.M.’s highest charting U.S. hit and won two Grammys, including Best Pop Performance. That it wasn’t about religion per se didn’t stop some from embracing it as a sort of nontheist anthem. Stipe said the phrase was a Southern regionalism for “feeling frustrated and desperate,” calling it a classic obsession song about unrequited love.

Buck released several solo albums starting in 2012, joined collaborative projects with other artists and contributed to albums by The Replacements, Billy Bragg, The Decemberists, Robyn Hitchcock, the Eels and others. He has also produced on recordings by several bands.

He married Barrie Greene, owner of Athens’ 40 Watt Club, in 1987 and they divorced in 1994. He has twin daughters, Zelda and Zoe (b. 1994), with his second wife, Stephanie Dorgan. He became a partner in the Crocodile Café, the Seattle music venue she owned and where he often played with his band The Minus 5. They divorced in 2007. He married  Chloe Johnson in 2013 in Portland, Ore.

PHOTO: Buck in 2008 at the Lancashire County Cricket Club, Manchester, UK. Photo by Andrew D. Hurley under CC 2.0

Freedom From Religion Foundation