This is an attempt to recreate a piece I wrote back in 2007, originally inspired by a contest and now by a song tournament. One of the greatest moments of my life. Really.
I first heard of R.E.M. in 1984, when I was at college. I can’t remember if I saw So. Central Rain on MTV before or after I read the article about the band in Rolling Stone. I like to think it was the former. At any rate, it was love at first note.
I went to Streetside Records on Delmar and asked a clerk there which R.E.M. album I should get. At the time, there were only two, which made things easier.1 ”Which do you think I’d like more?” I asked.
“Reckoning is probably more commercial,” she said. So I bought it, took it home and fell in love. The chiming guitars, the almost inaudible vocals and the mystery of it all hit me like a wake-up bomb. I was an R.E.M. fan from that moment on. 2
Then—I’m unsure how much later it was—I heard the announcement. R.E.M. was coming to St. Louis! Even better, they were playing at Graham Chapel, right on campus! I wasted no time snapping up a ticket. And then, through the grapevine, I heard the biggest news of all. R.E.M. would be at Streetside in Delmar on the Saturday before the show, signing autographs. Be still, my beating heart.
Come the morning and there I stood in a very long line running outside the store, my copy of Reckoning clutched in my sweaty hands. We whiled away the time waiting by talking about the group and their music. I didn’t have much of value to contribute then. As the line inched forward and I entered the store, I looked across the room and saw the table there, with the four of them. I can still remember the order: Buck was first, on the rightmost side, then Berry, then Mills, then Stipe, on the leftmost side and last to autograph. This was back when he still had hair, and it hung in his eyes like a sheepdog.
My heart in my mouth, I finally reached Peter Buck and held out my copy. ”Did you play piano on Reckoning?” I blurted. This was based on the photo on the back, but somehow I didn’t make that clear, and he looked confused.
“No,” he replied, signing my copy. Oh, shit, I thought, blushing hard. I’ve made myself look like an idiot in front of R.E.M. I moved on to Bill Berry, and he smiled at me and signed. I can’t remember what I said, if anything. Berry, Buck and Mills were chatting like crazy, though, engaging the fans and having a great time, apparently.
Mike Mills was next. The bass player, and the cutest one by my standards. I’ve always had a soft spot for bassists. I must’ve shown a bit of my feelings, because he seemed to like me, asking my name. Or maybe I just like to think that maybe we could’ve had a fling. Either way, it was awesome, having him sign.
Finally, Michael Stipe. I stepped up to him, and he gave me a look as if he wished the earth would swallow me whole. I didn’t realize that he was just as shy as I am, and my own shyness took over. I held out the album wordlessly.
He took it, flipped it over, and signed his photo on the back. Then I had it and was going out the door, where I studied the album intensely. Mills and Berry had personalized their autographs.3 Buck and Stipe had simply signed their names. Stipe’s was unreadable, a scrawled line.
I walked back to my dorm somewhat disconcerted. Most of the band seemed really cool, but that lead singer Stipe was so cold. I didn’t know what to think of him. It made me wonder if they’d be any good live. Had I wasted my money on a ticket?
As it turned out, I had not. The show, which I think was that evening, was incredible. They were in a small church on a dimly lit stage and played for hours, going from their originals to weird covers like Paint It, Black, In The Year 2525, and Moon River. I didn’t make it to the end since it was after midnight at that point and I had to walk back my dorm. But it was a helluva show.
I will treasure my signed copy of Reckoning until I die. I knew after I saw them live that R.E.M. was going to make it big. It took several more years of a steady climb, but eventually they proved me right. And I’ve always felt as if they were my own personal band (that and Wilco, but that’s another story). Talk About The Passion.45