June 19, 1981. That’s not the date of the photo above, but is the date I saw R.E.M. play for the first time. The way I always remembered it, this was a Sunday night, the day I graduated high school, but the calendar tells me it was a Friday night. There was a club in Mount Vernon, NY, that was an old converted bank; it was called the Left Bank, and opened my senior year of college. By virtue of not actually being in New York City, but rather in Westchester, I was freely allowed to go to shows there. I was not legal; I am not sure if I even had a fake ID at this point. But I quickly became a regular at this club, which was about half an hour from my parents’ house, and it was a godsend to a girl who wanted to be in the City but couldn’t get there every time there was a show.
I went to this show because the Gang of Four were playing. I did not know that R.E.M. were opening until I got to the club, and took up position near the front of the stage. I asked someone if they knew who the opening band was going to be and they told me “R.E.M.” I have no idea how I knew the name or had any familiarity with them at that point, because the first single wasn’t even out yet. But they were familiar enough to make me stay at my spot in the front of the stage and watch.
I wish I could tell you that I remember everything, but I don’t. I remember Michael’s hair flying, I remember thinking that he was hiding behind his hair, I remember that he was shimmying around the stage wearing brown corduroy pants, which seemed a poor clothing choice for New York in the summer. I remember Peter Buck reminding me of Pete Townshend, and I remember him asking people in the audience if anyone had an extra belt, because Michael’s pants kept falling down as he shimmied around the stage. I know that I liked them enough to go find them after the set, and ask them if they had a record out yet, and offered to buy them beers because I was graduating. And then I went and watched the Gang of Four.
This is how it began, inauspiciously, ingloriously, just another opening band and me feeling brave because I was finally getting out of high school and getting out of the suburbs and heading into the city. I could not know then that it would be dozens and dozens of gigs later and putting out the first R.E.M. fanzine and ending up working for Warner Bros. and a whole litany of other adventures around this band.
It is time to dig out the artifacts and tell the stories.
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