College

Its the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) – Providence, RI, 10/19/1987

I posted this song back in November, when we had an earthquake on the morning after Pennsylvania put Joe Biden over the top. I had really wanted to wait to post it until today, once we were sure we had actually rid ourselves of the Orange Menace, but how can you overlook the rare occurrence of an earthquake in New England?

In that post, I mentioned that I had a live recording from the best show I’ve ever seen, R.E.M. at the Providence Performing Arts Center, on the night of the stock market crash, October 19, 1987. I picked up the bootleg cassettes a year or two later at a record store in New Haven. This morning, I fired up that USB tape player I got for my birthday and transferred it over to SoundCloud. I think the intro to the song is especially relevant today, please give it a listen.

I am so relieved that today went off without a hitch. I am so glad we have a woman vice president. I am so thrilled that Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, killed the Keystone XL pipeline, revoked the Muslim travel ban, and on and on. In the Oval Office, he put up a big portrait of FDR and a bust of Cesar Chavez. His cabinet appointments are diverse and inclusive, and science and experts are welcome once again. That deserves a standing ovation.

 

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Oh. My. GOD. You guys. I didn’t want to be cheesy, or premature, in playing this song, but there was a LITERAL FUCKING EARTHQUAKE AT MY HOUSE THIS MORNING!!!!!!!

AN. EARTHQUAKE. Epicenter in southeastern Massachusetts. 4.0 on the Richter scale.

I am sorry, but I can NOT get over that. It was loud and rumbly, like a truck dropped a dumpster right outside our house, lasting a few seconds. It’s not like I live in California and can just overlook the symbolism here because this kind of thing happens every day. An earthquake at a place called Bliss Corner. I mean get the fuck out of here!!! There is some karma coming and I am here for it!!

I can’t wait. A woman whose parents were immigrants from India and Jamaica is going to be the Vice President after the virulently racist administration we’ve had to endure these past four years. What a giant slap in the face to Stephen Miller and all the other ghouls infecting the White House. I can’t wait to see the string of scientists and experts that are allowed to flood back into our government. A First Lady who is an educator with a PhD (and a master’s from my alma mater – we were there at the same time!). Kick that fucking Betsy DeVos to the curb, Jill! I can’t wait to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, to undo everything Cheeto has done by executive order or departmental guidelines. To return to treating our allies like allies. I read that they rang the bells in Paris and had fireworks in London (handy leftovers from Guy Fawkes Day). The bully is on his way out and the world is relieved.

It is the end of the world as we know it, and I really do feel fine.

The best version of this song is from the show I went to in Providence, RI (where they most definitely felt the earthquake today) on Black Monday, October 19, 1987, and no one can ever change my mind. I got a usb cassette player for my birthday so I can digitize my bootlegs and had intended to do that before I would post this song but was pre-empted by an actual earthquake and my need to post this song immediately!

Stomp!

The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!

How much do I love the videos of people celebrating and dancing in the streets? SOOO MUCH!! It’s times like this I really miss living in a big city. That collective feeling of relief and joy and just wanting to share that with people.

I spent a couple of hours this morning helping to clean out the headquarters for our local Democrats and taking all of the stuff back to people’s houses. The numbers hadn’t changed from where they were the night before and we were all fairly quiet, but calm. It felt like things were headed our way. I dropped some stuff off at one place and headed to the store. While I was in the store my phone started buzzing and my kids and husband had all texted me the news that Biden had won Pennsylvania. I thought about all of those Election Defenders and people partying outside of the Convention Center in Philadelphia to bolster the poll workers inside and drown out the Trumpsters. They brought spirit and fun and movement, while the MAGA idiots just stood there trying to look menacing and failing in the face of people just expressing happiness.

I made one more stop to drop off some signs, then headed home, got cleaned up, and changed into the most Philly t-shirt I have. I got it at a bike shop back in the 80s when I was going into the city as often as I could from my college campus out on the Main Line. It’s bright yellow and has Ben Franklin riding a bike and a Liberty Bell. I proudly put it on as a thank you to Philadelphia and those out there guarding the vote count, for getting us over the all important electoral college tipping point. As a nice little wink to them, the address of the former bike shop (now a ramen bar) is about a block away from where they were holding the outdoor dance party.

I harbor no illusions about Joe Biden being a visionary president, and we still have to fight for the two Georgia Senate seats and deal with the hated trio of McConnell, Collins, and Graham for six whole more years. We lost seats in the House. But we grabbed our nation by the scruff of its neck and yanked it back from the fascists and their ignorant, racist, bigoted supporters. We are not in the clear, those people are not going anywhere, plus there’s still the lame duck to get through. And let us not breeze past the significance of Kamala Harris. A woman, a woman of color, a daughter of immigrants, an HBCU graduate, is going to be the Vice President. This is a major slap in the face to the white supremacists that have been roaming the halls of the White House these last few years. Take that Stephen Miller!

Cool

Pylon – Cool

Ok! November 6th, three days post-election, still counting. Cool.

Obviously, yes, count every vote. Every vote counts. I am just impatient. And every minute that passes without Biden being declared the winner is another minute that Trumpsters can try and fuck it all up. Runoffs and recounts and lawsuits, oh my!

I was awakened this morning by a text from my daughter that just read, “BLUE GEORGIA!!!” đź’™ I would dearly love for Georgia to go to Biden, and even better if we can pick up those Senate seats.

It seems fortuitous that today is the official release date for the Pylon box set. I pre-ordered mine and received it early so I have already pored over the book filled with pictures and details I hadn’t seen before. The four albums, two reissues and two records of singles, b-sides, and previously unreleased songs, are beautiful. My stereo is not very high end so I can’t say that I really notice a difference between my originals and the new copies of Gyrate and Chomp but I am delighted to have them and I am really excited about the two other records, Extra, and Razz Tape. Now I have the song Cool on vinyl. I had it on the CD compilation called Hits that came out in 1989 (which is when I saw Pylon play at City Gardens and got my beloved t-shirt), but it’s great to have it included on these records. I was so happy about all this that I even posted an unflattering picture of myself in the t-shirt on Instagram. 31 years ago and today. Some things never go out of style.

If the box set is out of your price range (this was a combo birthday/Christmas present for me) you can buy Chomp and Gyrate separately and you can stream Extra and Razz Tape. Something to do while we wait for Georgia to be called. Come on!

Still Ill

The Smiths – Still Ill

Next up on my concert calendar is Johnny Marr. I never posted an entry about the time I saw him 4 1/2 years ago but I did write it down and I’m just so excited about the show, that tonight I went back and reread it. I don’t want to post the whole thing because that feels weird this much later but the concert exceeded my expectations last time and let’s just be honest, it’s because of all the Smiths songs he played. I like his solo material and if he didn’t bust out any Smiths songs, it would still be a good show. However, those songs, they are not just songs.

One of the things that strikes me as I read what I wrote, my emotions were on full display at that show and I just let it happen. I think I was caught off guard. When he played Panic as the second song, I was really not ready. It came so early! The crowd responded with cheers and dancing, and everyone sang along. I am normally not someone who condones audience members joining in for anything but the most obvious of performer encouraged participation, but you didn’t know how badly you wanted to be in a room full of people singing, “Burn down the disco, hang the blessed dj, because the music they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life…” until you were doing it. Likewise with Headmaster Ritual and Bigmouth Strikes Again.

Since The Smiths broke up while I was in college, it’s not like there are albums from my early adult years to muddy the waters. All of their songs are a perfect little time capsule of those mid-80s, highly angst-ridden and lovelorn years. And so it was when I finally got to hear songs like Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, or How Soon is Now, I was overcome by a wave of feelings that I hadn’t felt in decades. When he played Still Ill, I’m here to tell you that it was like the old days and that night, the body definitely ruled the mind as tears and sweat dripped down my face in equal measure while I danced the same way I used to in my dorm room. The last song of the night? There is a Light That Never Goes Out. I was toast.

So this time, I am aware. I won’t say I’m prepared because those songs, and the memories and emotions that are tied to them, are strong enough to knock me off my feet. In a good way. Now. I like going to shows and having my breath taken away. I love to be reminded of the power of music and to feel it, truly, physically feel it. Maybe he won’t play that many of the old songs and it’ll just be a show. Or maybe he’ll play Ask and Half a Person or The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, and I’ll be toast all over again.

Feeling Gravitys Pull

R.E.M. – Feeling Gravitys Pull

It is Michael Stipe’s birthday so I figured that was a good reason to finally write this post I’ve been mulling over for more than a month now. That I waited until nearly midnight just goes to show that these things are sometimes hard for me to actually commit to writing. It’s so much easier when it stays up in my head, where I know what I mean and don’t have to try to lay it bare.

Just after Thanksgiving, a friend from Instagram posted a very intriguing picture. Actually, the picture would have meant nothing to me but the caption was, “Michael Shannon and friends perform Fables of the Reconstruction.” Um, what? So many questions. 1) Who is Michael Shannon? 2) Why? 3) Why Fables? As opposed to, say, any of the other I.R.S. albums? 4) Had I known about it, and had I been able to go (no on both counts) would I have? The jury is out.

I have since looked up who Michael Shannon is but that did not answer anything for me. I also looked up the event itself and learned that not only was this happening, but the stage show was accompanied by live drawings of the songs projected behind the performers as they played them. I asked my Instagram friend what the drawings were like and she said she couldn’t see them from her angle. But then the artist himself commented with a link to his Instagram with the drawing(s)! Please go check it out.

So then I was really torn in an after-the-fact dilemma of would I have had the guts to go. I really loved the drawings and the idea of witnessing this illustration on the fly of my favorite album would have been really cool. But other people performing the songs from my favorite album of all time? I’m not sure. A number of years ago A.V. Undercover had “Driver 8” on the docket and it was the last song left in that season, meaning no one else dared to cover it and The Walkmen were reluctantly tasked with it. I didn’t make it through watching the whole video. It’s not their fault, really. I’ve often debated with myself if I were in a band and presented with the A.V. Undercover challenge and an R.E.M. song were on the list, would I say we should do it because I wouldn’t want anyone else to, or avoid it for fear of not doing it justice. I’m not sure why Michael Shannon and Friends picked Fables, unless it’s their favorite too and they are not similarly plagued by these thoughts, but I feel like some of the songs would be really hard to do. To be sure, “Driver 8” and “Maps and Legends” along with most of Another Side (as opposed to A Side) could be pretty straight forward. But where would you even start to try and cover “Feeling Gravitys Pull” or “Life and How to Live It” – songs that, to me, are so endowed by their creators with an other-worldly quality that it’s simply not possible for mere mortals to touch them.

A few weeks later, a different Instagram friend, who is in a band out in San Francisco, posted a video snippet of them at a party doing a little preview of their project to perform Fables. It was just a couple of acoustic guitars and a guy singing “Driver 8” in a living room. Didn’t I sit around with my friends in high school playing guitars and singing songs by bands we liked? Of course. My friend Tom and his band even did “Can’t Get There From Here” at a house party the summer after my freshman year of college. That seemed fine. But that was also before I ever saw R.E.M. myself. [And here I have to just interrupt this story to say that, OMG, it happened again at the office Christmas lunch that people started talking about concerts and someone asked what was the best concert you’ve ever been to and I had to just say, “we already covered this” and shut that conversation down.] It is just that no one, ever, will be able to do what Michael Stipe does with these songs. I know that they aren’t trying to do what he does. I’ll bet that at 59, even Michael can’t just summon that up on demand. After all, isn’t that why they disbanded? I guess I am just having a hard time understanding what would make people take the leap from, hey let’s hang out singing our favorite songs off of Fables, to let’s perform the whole album in a club in front of people.

Clearly, as was already known, I have issues with R.E.M. and me and being out in public. It wasn’t always this way. In college I proudly wore my pink R.E.M. bicycle shirt all the time. I spent over a year searching for shoes just like the ones Michael is wearing in this video (close-up at 1:50) and then wore them every day because “when you meet a stranger, look at his shoes.” Maybe it’s because I spent so much of my 20s trying to emulate Michael and falling woefully short that I find this so perplexing. Maybe people who are not trying so hard to be something they can never be are able to just have some fun with songs they love.

In the end, I wasn’t there, I won’t be there, and in these dark times, I feel like creative people should bring whatever light to the world they can. And I really like those illustrations.

Crazy (live)

R.E.M. – Crazy (live cover of a Pylon song)

A friend of mine recently posted about being taken to a concert by her parents when she was very young, a toddler really, and how you don’t see that happen these days. The very next day she saw Robyn Hitchcock at a small venue where a couple had brought their two young children under four to the show. It didn’t go well.

This whole situation reminded me of this one time at work a few years ago, when we had an office lunch outside in the summer, and the conversation turned to concerts we’d been to. A younger guy in our department, he was maybe 30 at the time, mentioned that he had always felt kind of cheated because he’d never been able to see some of his favorite bands when they were still touring. For example, he lamented that his mother could have brought him along to see R.E.M. play when he was a toddler. The very idea horrified me. I didn’t even like having frat boys at R.E.M. shows because of their lack of maturity, I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted actual pre-schoolers in attendance. Hoping to end that line of thought I said that as a mom I so enjoy going out on my own, to have a break from the kids, and would never want to bring them along because I wanted to enjoy myself and not be worried about my kid.Âą

But the nightmare didn’t end there. Somehow the subject changed to what was the best concert you’ve ever seen. I can’t remember what most people answered because I was gripped with panic. What was I supposed to say? My best concerts are the best I’ve seen because of how they left me destroyed and exhilarated at the same time. I couldn’t reveal anything like that to co-workers. Of course I wouldn’t have to say that but I was afraid that even just naming the show would betray a level of privacy that I would then never be able to regain. I debated lying, just pick some show that everyone would nod about and move on to the next person, but I worried that my body language would give me away. I am sure I am the only person at the table who was overthinking this thing to death. Probably because of the young co-worker’s earlier mention of having been left at home with a babysitter instead of at an R.E.M. show, I was really sweating it. If I said the best show I’d seen was R.E.M. at a 3,000-person, beautiful old theater in Providence, Black Monday 1987, would he press me for details?² There in front of everyone? I would probably have suddenly been a much cooler person in his estimation but I have spent decades obfuscating my devotions and this hardly seemed like the opportune moment to trash it all.

Just as it was nearly my turn to have to come up with something, our boss arrived and the question was to put to her. She was in her mid- to late-sixties and she answered without hesitation, “The Beatles!” I immediately declared that no one could top that so we should all just stop trying. Crisis averted.

But it bothered me for days afterward that I had been so tormented about it. I still don’t know what I would have answered. Why should it be so difficult for me to say what my best concert experience was? I toyed with the idea of telling him separately later but ultimately decided against it. I am still plagued by the fear that this knowledge in the wrong hands would be my undoing. Whether through cluelessness or maliciousness, I never wanted anyone to be able to unmask me. If people don’t know what your buttons are, they can’t push them.

When your favorite concerts are life-altering events, intensely personal defining moments, giving that away is too hard.

1. I would take my daughter with me to a show if she showed any interest but it’s only been in the last two years or so that I would have felt comfortable doing so.

2. Black Monday, October 19, 1987, the largest single-day crash in stock market history. Also, now a Showtime series. Something tells me they don’t include the awesome R.E.M. concert that night in the series.

P.S. Coincidentally, today (11/18) marks the 10th anniversary of the last R.E.M. show ever. My own last R.E.M. show was, holy shit, more than 29 years ago.

P.P.S. While I have bootlegs (tapes) of a number of the shows I went to, so far this is the only video I’ve found from an R.E.M. show I was at. Not the last, but close to it. Even sharing this video here is hard for me and I’m only doing it because it’s on YouTube and there’s nothing preventing you from finding it on your own. Dodgy quality but what do you expect for 29-year-old video filmed on a smuggled-in video camera?

Campus

Vampire Weekend – Campus

Today my daughter and I toured another college campus. She’s a senior in high school and while we visited a bunch back in April, I had felt there was plenty of time to do schools in New England when we both had more time in the fall.

There is never more time in the fall, I don’t know what I was thinking. But summer isn’t really a good time since many college campuses don’t have much going on and work was super busy for me, she also had a summer job, so here we are.

I’m sure you all remember that I was not enamored with my college experience. While I have tried really hard not to make this whole process be some kind of attempt to re-do my own college search, I think I have some valuable knowledge and if I can help my kids have good options available to them, then I’m going to do what I can to make that happen.

I was talking with my mom this evening about the campus we toured today and she surprised me by saying that she feels badly now that she didn’t take me around to look at schools. I told her she shouldn’t feel that way because how could she have taken me anywhere, when we were living in Maine and I was determined to go south of the Mason-Dixon line. Plus, my junior year grades were, shall we say, not my best work so it probably would have just made my disappointment greater when I got all those rejection letters. Besides, with my oldest sisters at Yale, and my mother’s job at a small liberal arts college, it’s not like I didn’t already have an image in mind of what college should be like. Therein lies the problem; nowhere I could have gotten in was ever going to match up to my expectations.

My daughter is less specific about where she wants to go. I think it still feels so far in the future to her that she hasn’t been able to put herself in the mindset of being done with high school and away from home. Going on campus tours definitely helps. With the deadline to get her applications finished looming, I thought reminding her about the end goal might motivate her a little. If that backfires, I’m moving on to bribes.

Among the Americans

10,000 Maniacs – Among the Americans

One can no longer be surprised or shocked by the “new low” that 45 now inflicts upon us day in and day out. Yet still, I was stunned by just how awful today’s completely unnecessary show of his vileness was. Oh how I wish those Navajo code talkers had started saying something, anything, in their native language after he made his remarks. It would have scared the crap out of him.

His attempt at a dig at Elizabeth Warren was probably the sort of thing you could have predicted, and I’ll bet some White House staffer was standing around sweating it out, just counting down the minutes hoping to get through it before he could screw it up. Uh, it doesn’t work like that. He’s going to say something horribly inappropriate and/or offensive no mater who it is or what the circumstances are. I don’t understand why anyone shows up at the White House these days. It’s a given that he can’t be welcoming, genuine, grateful, or anything approaching normal human behavior.

But then to even hold this “ceremony” in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who had signed the Indian Removal Act which forced other Native American tribes from their ancestral lands; that was no accident. I don’t begin to think Mango Mussolini is aware enough of history to have come up with the idea but as we have come to expect, those with devious designs know that just winding him up and turning him loose will net them results.

It’s a distraction, it’s just a distraction, you hear people say. Don’t lose focus! The tax bill! Net neutrality! The CFPB! Court appointments! Mueller investigation! It matters though. It all matters. I can be outraged at all of it.

Begin the Begin

R.E.M. – Begin the Begin

Thirty-one years ago tonight I went to my first R.E.M. concert. It wasn’t my first concert but it was the beginning of what became a way of life. I hadn’t known a live show could be so completely captivating. I hadn’t known that a concert could change your whole way of seeing the world. I didn’t know that I would need to see it again.

We bought t-shirts, a poster, and a tour program, all of which I still have. The t-shirt is in tatters. The poster is rolled up in a tube, a little worn at the edges from years of hanging and rehanging. The program is in pristine condition, having been carefully stored in a plastic record sleeve and preserved in a plastic tote lo these 31 years. And the stub. In the past I hadn’t paid much attention to what became of my ticket stubs after the show. But this stub was pinned up on my wall for the rest of my college years and stayed with me through all of my moves.

After getting back to our college campus, my best friend and I pored over the tour program. Where were they going to be the next night and was it anywhere near us? Could we get the train to DC in a couple of days and go to the show there? Was it sold out? Where could we sleep? Who would be able to sleep after a show anyway? By morning we realized we couldn’t really pull it off but we never made that mistake again. One show was never going to be enough.

This video is from the Work Tour the following year. There are very few videos out there from the Pageantry Tour.