When I was thirteen years old, I lived in Brooklyn (Sheep’s Head Bay – to be exact) and my step-step said that we were going to go to someplace called Madison Square Garden to see some (dumb) band that some of his (dumb) friends were in … I couldn’t have been any more underwhelmed or unexcited.
However – as often happens with thirteen year olds … I was a bit off the mark and totally wrong about what was in store.
It was my very first concert (that I have in my memory) and the band turned out to be R.E.M. and it was tremendous. It was loud and I didn’t know the music and there were a lot of people it was a *cough* magic night … Yes – I said ‘a magic night.’ Afterwards, we got to stick around and hang out with the band. It turned out that the step-step had grown up with Mike Mills and Bill Barry – and the fact that they tortuously made fun of him to his face made their stature all that much higher in my eyes. While I never held the step-step in any high regard – I will always begrudgingly acknowledge his part in setting this experience up. We were even given a cursory – polite – but short mumble from Michael Stipe. I think that I was star-struck/dumfounded that these guys were just on stage in front of an astronomical number of people a half hour before they were just normal guys in a giant empty room talking to/near me …
At some point after the show, we packed up and headed back down to Georgia (yes – I know that is a leap of a non sequitur) and I started hearing “The one I love” and “It’s the end of the world as we know it” on the radio – and – being the genius that I am – I realized that it was the same band that I had seen and met. For a kid that age … whatever age that was … it was kind of mind blowing. What had started off as a trip to a place to see a band that I didn’t know turned into a certifiable cultural touchstone in my life. R.E.M. was my little band – who were (at least partially) from the same crummy town that I had been born in – that was making music that I genuinely enjoyed – that I had an actual (amplified in my head) personal connection with – and I loved it.
R.E.M. grew in popularity, we went to see them a couple of more times – never with the same after show closeness that had happened after the first show – the step-step left the picture – I wrote a story for a girl (who also liked R.E.M.) using all of the song titles in it as bits and parts of the narrative (seriously – if you still have that story – please send it … seriously) – and my connection just continued to grow. I have a friend who used to live in Macon who worked at the Mark Smith Planetarium (https://www.masmacon.com/macon-museum-astronomy.da)- and there was a story about how Mike Mills had stopped by one night and hung around (maybe he even played some music – I can’t remember) … and that made me love the band even more … they seemed so accessible to be in such a big band – and people seem to forget that at the time, they were a very big band. But, they were just normal people who happened to be famous. Famously-normal. Normally-famous.
Then the time came for college and I only applied to one school – the University of Georgia – mostly because it was just the school that I was supposed to go to (because) – but also because I wanted to go to Athens. Athens has as many pulls on my heartstrings as New York … both are just places where it feels all right. Maybe I could go and be in a band – or – figure it all out – or – do a bunch of things and make a bunch of stuff … and – maybe along the way – I could reinstate my relationship with the band with a supremely slick “Hey! You guys remember how we met at a show in New York 6 years ago?” — “You don’t?! Okay, that’t totally cool … I totally get it … How about that planetarium?!” – yeah – that relationship.
I was immediately struck when I got to school that it wasn’t “cool” to outwardly gush about R.E.M. … if you liked them – you had to be able to maintain … You had to take that part of your heart off of your sleeve and tuck it away. So – tuck it away I did. I started working at WUOG 90.5 fm (http://wuog.org/) as soon as I could and shortly thereafter started writing pitifully bad music reviews (I’m hunting for those) for the Flagpole (http://flagpole.com/) … I wanted to be immersed in as much Athens as I could … I have always liked having as many spoons in as many pots as I could muster – I figure that it helps to even some of the odds out – a bit …
During my freshman year, my roomie and I found out that R.E.M. was playing a super-secret show at the 40 Watt (http://www.40watt.com/) and we were determined to use either our radio station or our weekly magazine “strings” to get in … in the end – we went to Kinkos (which used to be out on Atlanta Highway) to make and laminate credentials from some failed show that we were working on for the closed circuit dorm television channel (Two Guys Plumbing). When we got to the 40 Watt … full bluster in tow … the doorman – knowingly – wouldn’t even give us the time of day … So, we sat outside and listened to the show yapping like little puppies about how we were supposed to be on the list – until eventually being allowed in – as the last bit of the last song was being played. Mostly – I think that they let us in because they were sick of dealing with us at that point.
When “Automatic for the People” came out, my photo with my backwards and frighteningly dirty hat was on the cover of the Red and Black (I just looked everywhere for the article – but can’t find it – http://redandblack.com/) as one of the people clamoring to buy it … maybe I was at Wuxtry (http://www.wuxtry-records.com/) … and that album still makes me sniffle a bit when I listen to it in my head. I think I get nostalgic.
At some point, I started being in a band (Chase Park Girls – http://www.myspace.com/chaseparkgirls) and doing a bunch of the stand-up (ha ha) and making a lot of nifty things and being a little butterfly (the social kind) and as it turned out … I became friends of friends and would every-slightly so often from time to time find myself at the Manhattan in conversations with none other than Mister Stipe. It was never a big deal (it was never a big deal) … at the time in Athens – it kind of just was – and – I’m happy with that. It was better all the way around – because it was natural.
I never actually brought up the concert where we had met all those years ago … it seemed like to would have been a silly thing to do – and – I am nothing if not silly … No – never – never. Nuh-uh … Not me.
My favorite story that I will hold onto forever and ever is the time that I performed with Mott the Sheep at the Globe (http://www.classiccitybrew.com/globe.html) as part of some art festival that had the word ‘Star’ in it … shoot, can’t remember the name … And, it was great fun. I had a great show but Mott really carried the lions share of the act at that time. Afterwards, there was some big sort of art opening with (maybe) beers and I was (maybe) tipsy and someone tapped me on my shoulder and I turned and it was Michael Stipe and he said “You were brilliant.” I was very lacking in comprehension and just uttered “Ubble-de-huh?” and he said again “Your show. You were brilliant.” And – after all of the years of training – I lost my ability to maintain and after a gibberish explosion of “Oh thank you very much!” I turned to my then roomie (who was standing with his girl) and was like “Oh my god, ________, Michael Stipe just told me that I was brilliant … he just said that my show was brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!” To which my roomie replied with an air of disgust and delight at what a boob that I was … “And, he’s still standing behind you.” I turned, looked, gave a weak grin and a “hey, how did I get here – anyway” shoulder shrug … It couldn’t have played out any better – for me.
While I do enjoy compliments – but don’t usually carry them around with me. I worry that if you get too many compliments stuck in your head that you start to live strictly off of and for them … but – if I am ever mopy and about to go up – or – if I explode in a miserable ball of fail on stage … I do enjoy that I have this one to float by on it’s little compliment cloud and say “Hello there, Bumpercar!”
I’m not sure what my favorite song is … there are fast songs that I like – there are slow songs that I like – there are a lot of songs that I like … and that is kind of the point, for me. I just like the fact that R.E.M. existed and that they – as a band and as people were a part of my life (even if in your eyes the tie is tenuous … to me it is a solid-solid) and that they made lots of music that I will listen to for the rest of my Bumpercar life.
My stomach is at a moderate state of floppy-floppy after writing and reading and thinking about all of this.
Thanks to you.
Thanks to them.
Thanks a bunch.
Hem. Haw. Hem.