R.E.M.'s Murmur is on the stereo when another aging ex-hipster gets in my cab. "Oh man, these guys were my favorite band all through the '80s." "They're still mine," I respond. We argue, good-naturedly, about their later work. He can't forgive them for having a massive hit 15 years ago with "Losing My Religion," because it was so "commercial." "Are you kidding?!" I ask. "The lead instrument on that was a mandolin. Think about what was on the radio at that time. Mariah Carey. They didn't go mainstream—the mainstream came to them."

He concedes this point. We both cheerfully dis "Shiny Happy People," a song even lead singer Michael Stipe deems "an abortion." But what we talked about most was about how important R.E.M. was for so many people way back then, about how they brought the underground up with them, paving the way for Nirvana to take over the world.So many people learned about so many books, new bands, underground movies, etc., from every R.E.M. interview.

"You can play Six Degrees of Separation from R.E.M. with half my record collection," I say. He laughs and admits the same. "I saw them live last year," I say.

"Oh god, I've been afraid to myself for years. How was it?"

"Fan-fucking-tastic," I respond. "They were as good as when I saw them in '84, even if they're moving a little slower."

He chuckles. "Yeah, well, aren't we all." —nightcabbie@wweek.com