25 years ago, I was the label manager for Warner Bros. in Tel Aviv. I’ve written about this a little bit before; it was a gig I fell into because I was in the right place at the right time, spoke English and had been working at the outer edges of the U.S. music business for a couple of years. There was a lot of music I was continually told would not ever be popular in Israel, and R.E.M. was one of those bands.
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.
Admittedly, I am a tough audience for this show. Admittedly, I am the person you do not want to be playing in front of, the fan who knows every line and tone and shading and nuance and the six alternate takes and can quote you chapter and verse about when it was written and what the band was eating/drinking/thinking that inspired it. I admit this freely. But I am also (at least at this point in my life) the fan who gives bonus points for intent and feeling and style, and who can admit that, say, Josh Ritter was awesome at the Springsteen tribute last year.
Last night, Michael Stipe commented at the conclusion of “Harborcoat” that he’d never realized how influenced they had been by the English Beat. The aural connection was obvious as soon as he said it, and knowing that R.E.M. went on that endless tour supporting the English Beat (remembering a tinny echoey night suffering at the Nassau Coliseum, for some reason the only one of those performances I witnessed) made it spot on. OF course, the fact that I knew this made me feel old. The fact that I was one of 12 people in the first 10 rows jumping up and down when the intro was played made me feel old. The fact that I was getting knowing smirks while I danced in the aisle made me feel old (and the smirks were coming from old people. I can’t figure if the smirks were because they wished they could dance in the aisle or if it was, ‘look, old person trying to act like she did in 1984’). It was high-fiving with total strangers across the aisle. It was missing absent friends.
R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden, 11-4-04 First show after the election. I can’t even imagine how the band, as well as any other musician involved in Vote For Change, were feeling, today of all days. So I was not expecting a party or a powerhouse, and I didn’t get either. But they got up on […]