The next 10 years were rich with highlights, though the armor was cracking. Albums like Out of Time and Monster were decked with classics, but they also revealed an occasional weakness in the band's bulletproof run ("Radio Song," for instance). Then Berry bailed, and things have never been the same. By that time, I was working in New York City at Rolling Stone, where running around with rock stars was the routine. As music journalists begin the slow journey to Jadedville, it's always the bands that were important to them when they were growing up that leave them star-struck when they cross paths with their heroes backstage or at record-label soirees. During my professional career, however, R.E.M. managed to avoid me.

As I listen now to the I.R.S. years, I miss those days. There is a dull pain in Stipe's vocals on songs like "Swan Swan H," a live version from the documentary Athens, GA: Inside Out, that - while not nearly as loud and brash as Kurt Cobain's - is somehow just as raw and incessant. It's so undeniably indie (and in 1986, nobody knew what that even meant). On the simultaneously released DVD companion to the compilation, When the Light Is Mine... The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987 Video Collection, the band stupefies a live British audience with a performance of "Radio Free Europe" in 1983; they stare motionless, unsure of what to do. Dance? Swing? Sway? Feel sorry? The band was just ahead of its time. I mean, Stipe was singing about insurgencies ("Begin the Begin") back when the U.S. and Iraq were allies.

During the I.R.S. years, most of the lyrics were indecipherable on a grand scale, adding to the ambiguity of it all. Who are they? What are they mumbling about? I never did figure it out, nor did I ever officially meet anyone in the band. Perhaps it was because I didn't know what they looked like. And, anyway, it was always the music that mattered. R.E.M. never had an image. They were always in the business of selling records, not posters, and still are to this day.

But I do know what they look like now. And I Feel Fine ... The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 is the first release in the band’s catalog to feature a band photo on the cover.