R.E.M.

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.

 

Disturbance at the Heron House

R.E.M. – Disturbance at the Heron House

Today should have been a celebration of Georgia electing two Democrats to the Senate, and a final formality of pronouncing a Democrat as the next president. Instead we had GOP Senators and Representatives making treasonous statements, and a deranged narcissist unleashing his rabid base of lunatic QAnon radicals on the Capitol.

“…The followers of chaos, out of control…”

I wonder if any of those Republican senators and representatives, who had to shelter in place today from armed white supremacists that had stormed the Capitol, ever stopped to think to themselves, huh, this must be what children feel like when they’re in lockdown at school. Except, you know, those are children and not full-grown ass-lickers that created and enabled the conspiracy-theory, crazed, cult members running around DC in mountain man militia outfits while Capitol police just moved the barriers aside and let them in.

Why are people surprised? I’m more surprised that it took this long for this to happen. Since NaBloPoMo falls in November and I’ve been doing it for many years now, I can go back and see that since Trump was just a candidate for the Republican nomination, I have feared something like this would happen. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back for being right, I truly would have been happy to have been wrong about Twitler and his supporters, and the GOP, but as an explanation for why I’m not shocked and why I’m not posting things about the unbelievable events in DC. It’s totally believable. They lied and misled and winked and fanned the flames and never once worried that this would somehow backfire. Meanwhile peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors were tear gassed, hit with rubber bullets and worse, indigenous people trying to stop an oil pipeline on their own land were blasted with fire hoses in freezing temperatures.

“…try to tell us something we don’t know…”

I’m not hopeful that we’ll see any meaningful accountability for this, not amongst members of the GOP or even those with their faces completely visible, caught on multiple cameras parading through the Capitol with Confederate flags, stealing things from congressional offices, breaking multiple laws. They should ALL be arrested and tried for sedition. This is a coup.

No Time for Love Like Now

Michael Stipe & Big Red Machine – No Time for Love Like Now

When this song came out back in the spring, there were a couple of different performances, varying only slightly by where did Michael seem to be? What was he wearing? Glasses or no glasses? There were interviews where he said, yes, it fits this moment really well but I actually wrote it back in the fall before we had an inkling of the pandemic to come.

The couple of songs he had released prior to this one didn’t really do it for me. I listened/watched the videos, but they weren’t going to be songs I put in my regular rotation. No Time for Love Like Now was different. I’m sure being cooped up in our houses, working from home, doing school from home, afraid to go anywhere, definitely contributed to my feelings about it. Here was Michael, just Michael, singing directly to me. Like a private little concert from his home to my living room. In the middle of a pandemic, in lockdown, in the midst of political turmoil, he was reaching out with a song that felt like a steady hand. Calm reassurance. And yet, at the same time, the power to completely destroy me. We were so fragile. I was trying so hard to hold it together, be strong for the kids and try not to let the worry show (I don’t think I succeeded well at that at all, btw). When his voice has that particular Michaelness about it, which not all the songs do, he still has the ability to just cut right to the very center of my being, exposing all those things I normally keep buried deep beneath the surface.

So now it’s November. We’re heading into winter, which you all know is my hardest season in the best of circumstances. Though we know more about the virus now, it’s still just as random who suffers greatly from it, who dies, and who doesn’t even know they have it. My worry about the pandemic is less panicky but my concerns about our ability to get through this winter, in round two (or whatever number it is) of COVID-19, are weighing on me. I don’t want a repeat of those first couple months from the spring. Everyone is weary after nearly 9 months of just holding on and nerves are frayed, tempers are short. I think this song will be even more important to me for the next few months than it was when it first came out.

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!

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.¹

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?

Finest Worksong

R.E.M. – Finest Worksong

WANT NEED

I wanted to win both the House and the Senate, but we really needed to win the House, at least. And there were some great outcomes, lots of fresh faces, lots of women, really progressive candidates, and we sent some truly awful people packing.

But the work is only ramping up, with Sessions getting axed and Mueller’s investigation in jeopardy, egregious attacks on the press today, threatening Democrats if they come after him he’ll sic the Senate on them, there is no time to coast.

I just hope the Democrats who won last night understand that they were elected as a bulwark against Cheeto and to never let slide any of these authoritarian pushes. Adam Schiff will be great. Maxine Waters will be on fire. Just don’t play into the GOP trap. You may WANT to be non-partisan and work together on some things but what you NEED to do is take some names and kick some asses. Don’t be confused. By now everyone should know you can’t hold a Republican to their word because they have no integrity. So have your eyes wide open. They will never play by the rules or follow the decades-old Senate traditions. They are going to lie and cheat and steal your lunch money and push you into the lockers. Until you fight back. Time to rise, rearrange, and work.

Exhuming McCarthy

R.E.M. – Exhuming McCarthy

I thought I had written about my resistance playlist before but I can’t find it so I must not have. During the months between the election and the inauguration I tried to keep myself from descending into desperation by working on a playlist to bolster my stamina for the fights ahead. I hadn’t listened to it for quite a long time but today, I couldn’t take listening to NPR on my way to work to hear about how Vlad Jr. was committing treason in Helsinki so I plugged in the phone and fired it up. I’ve just made one substitution and should probably go back and tinker with it since it reflects the state of things before we were in it up to our eyeballs, but it did the trick on my commute. I’m sharing it with you all in this still in-progress format in case you too could use a little shot in the arm. Here you go.*

There’s a lot of talk from some GOP members about how stunned they are about Twitler kissing Putin’s ass and throwing the US intelligence agencies, plus the country as a whole, under the bus. Really? REALLY?! NOW you’re surprised? NOW you’re shocked? NOW it’s dawning on you that you’ve been backing a fascist traitor? NOW? Listen, this has been obvious for years. I was looking back through my entries to try and find that mention of this playlist and I have been talking about this since a year before the election, at least. Maybe longer. What did they think would happen when he said he would have a private meeting with no other Americans in the room? I mean, Jesus Christ, you can’t possibly be that naive.

Talk without action to back it up is cheap. How many of those Senators expressing horror at this shit show are still going to happily approve Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court? Unless they take a fucking stand and defect from the GOP, and do it now, I don’t see how they are not equally complicit. Well, I think they are complicit anyway, some actually so much so that they were alluded to in the indictment of 12 Russians last Friday. I just can’t comprehend the mental gymnastics necessary for them to live with themselves. What a bunch of fucking cowards. If/when the shit hits the fan they’ll be falling all over themselves to say they couldn’t have known. Bullshit. “…Senator, look you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Crickets.

I’ve also seen a number of people wondering why we aren’t all out in the streets. One reply I saw was pointing out that we don’t have job protections and without jobs, we don’t have health insurance. If there is a large enough outpouring so people can’t be penalized, it could work, but everyone is afraid to take that first step or waiting for the trigger. So we settle for planned marches and weekend protests. It makes us feel good for a few hours, the pictures are impressive, but it doesn’t move the needle.

Then I came to think about something my cousin had said that time I went to Germany and we visited Dresden. They used to gather in the evenings at a particular church (which had been left in ruins after the war) and shake their keys. Thousands of people all standing together and making noise. They did it on Monday nights. The wall fell within a matter of weeks. We could do that. All over the country, pick a spot, turn out. Let’s go.

* Sorry if you don’t have Spotify. I will try to make a YouTube version if I get a chance.

 

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.

 

Can’t Get There From Here

R.E.M. – Can’t Get There From Here

I am on the train to Maine. Let me say that again. I AM ON THE TRAIN TO MAINE!!! I have waited 34 years for this day so I am just a little bit excited.

In 1983, my mother got a new job up in Maine and those of us still at home moved from our New York City suburb to a small town in Maine. Up to that point in my life I had never given public transportation much thought. Every kid I knew had a father who took the commuter train into the city to an office job. That’s what my dad had done up until my parents got divorced and his company transferred him to their LA office. My mother’s job situation had been bad and the cost of living in New York was high. Moving up to Maine for a better job and into a less expensive house came along at just the right time.

We’d spent our childhood summers at a tiny beach town up in Maine and I think my mother had dreams that life would become as idyllic as those summers had been. Those summers were idyllic. But summer in Maine and winter in Maine are two very different things. I can’t speak for my older and younger sister who made the move with me but I was not looking forward to moving at all. I was 15 and my mother’s rule about going into New York City had been that once you were 16, you could take the train into the city with a friend and without an adult, so long as the friend knew their way around and she knew where we were going and what we were doing. I was just a few months shy of my 16th birthday and suddenly the promise of that freedom was gone.

Life in Maine took some getting used to. It wasn’t just the snow and the fact that everyone looked like they walked out of the LL Bean catalog. We were city girls by the standards of the Mainers in our high school. We dressed differently, we listened to different music, I remember one kid commenting that he had never seen a girl wearing nail polish before I came to school. The place where I probably experienced the biggest culture shocks was in my German class. I’d taken Latin in New York but the Maine high school didn’t have a Latin class at the level I was at so I started over and took German 1. If you’ve ever taken a foreign language, you know that you start with very basic things. Our German teacher was a funny little man from an Austrian skiing village. Teaching us about the seasons he mentioned that spring in Austria and Germany came in March with gradually warmer temperatures and flowers starting to sprout and bloom. The other kids took this information in as if they’d never experienced spring before. Little did I know it was because they hadn’t, not in March and not gradually anyway. When we learned about different modes of transportation, he talked about how the cities are all connected by trains and how much people relied upon trains to get to work. One kid raised his hand and asked if that didn’t cause a lot of traffic jams with the cars having to stop for the trains to cross the streets to get to the station. I think that was the moment when I thought, holy shit, I am really living in East Bumfuck now. We had train tracks in town but only the occasional freight train would use them. The gates would come down and stop traffic so the long, lumbering freight trains could creak their way through. These kids had never seen passenger trains. Had never seen commuter trains with dedicated tracks and tunnels so they never needed to cross the roads.

I went off to college outside of Philadelphia where two different train lines made stops on campus. I took the train into Philadelphia as often as I could, became a master at hopping the local trains up to New York City, and the Amtrak to destinations far away. I fell in love with 30th Street Station. After college I returned to my mother’s house in Maine. Shortly afterwards, there was a bus strike. I hadn’t gotten my driver’s license yet because I hadn’t needed it but suddenly I felt trapped. There was no way to get out of that small town if you didn’t have a car. I longed for a train to come and deliver me from the small town that felt so remote. Never had the words to this song felt more appropriate.

Ten years ago or so, they started an Amtrak train to Portland. Now it goes all the way to my mother’s town. You can easily walk to the train station from her house. It’s my dream come true. I never managed to do it before because now we are a family of four and it’s easier and less expensive to drive when we go to visit. But this time I am travelling alone and my car needs a new clutch so it was the perfect opportunity. There is still a little of that can’t get there from here element because you have to switch not just trains but train stations in Boston and, just to make sure I really appreciate the final leg of this trip, they put us on buses for the stretch between Boston and the first stop the train makes because of track work this weekend. I took a train, a subway, a bus, and finally the train that will take me all the way to my mother’s house. It took twice as long as driving does but it was worth every minute.