they shifted the statues for harboring ghosts

Madison Square Garden
June 19, 2008

mapsandlegends 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.

But, “Harborcoat”! Who would ever think that that was a song that would ever show up on a R.E.M. setlist ever again? Who remembers what it was like standing in endless echoey college gymnasia listening to the band play it as a new song? Who remembers what it was like the first time you put Reckoning on the turntable and that jangly intro (from a band that re-invented the jangly intro) burst out of your speakers?

I love Reckoning. You can keep your Chronic Towns and Murmurs, Reckoning is my favorite R.E.M. album, even if it feels a little bit like a period piece now. I know no one claims it as their favorite album (according to a conversation I had with Mike Mills in the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton circa 1992. Okay, typing that also makes me feel ancient as dirt). Reckoning was one of the first albums I recorded on both sides so I could listen to it on repeat and when that failed me, I actually *bought the cassette* at the newly-opened Tower Records at Lincoln Center so the tape deck in my mother’s cornflower-blue Rabbit (my main method of transport in those days) could flip it over automatically when it sensed the end of the tape (which was modern technology then. And before you take up a fund to send me to assisted living, I’ll point out that I had my car hardwired to connect my iPod in 2003, back when you were still busily connecting your six-cd changers).

I did this because I couldn’t stop listening to Reckoning. I loved Murmur and adored Chronic Town but Reckoning was the thing that got me hook line and sinker. Because it sounded better in the car with the windows open and the sound of the wheels on the road. Because that record is sunny and green and sounds like small towns and the long expanses between exits on the freeway. It sounds like a band that drove all over America in an Econoline van and could tell you about New Wave night at the PIzza Hut and yes, it does feel like every other town is named Greenville and hey, there’s another Magic Mart. But it also captures the lack of sameness in America at the time, and the innocence and the freedom and the sense of no one is watching, so we can do whatever we want which is how I remember that time best.

And now, of course, many more people are watching. And listening. But it’s different, I think they now more than ever are at peace with Michael’s last-song adage, “That’s Peter Buck, that’s Mike Mills, I’m Michael, we’re R.E.M. and this is what we do.” It felt different last night, loose, comfortable, and even more fun than the VFC shows were. Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest setlist ever and other people got “Wolves, lower” or “1,000,000” or whatever chestnut I would have loved to see. But I got “Harborcoat,” a song that in a million years I never would have thought I would ever hear live again, and it was this little sunlit slice of boundless joy and optimism bursting through.

I loved that record so much that i specifically detoured to Little America when I drove cross-country for the first time a few years ago, and yes, Reckoning was on the stereo the whole time, sounding as great as it ever did.

Other thoughts:

  • Ignoreland: the song that they SHOULD have done on Vote For Change
  • Let Me In: Please release that version as a video I can download from iTunes. That moment was awesome and I wish they had figured out some other songs to do with that ensemble, some of the other big heavy ballads (like “Sweetness Follows” or “Country Feedback”
  • Rockville and Driver 8: funny to consider that those were once the “omg they are playing this again, the girls in front of us only came to hear that” songs. god love bill rieflin, but I miss Bill Berry SO bad during those moments
  • Johnny Marr: JOHNNY MARR!! Or, as I yelled, “Hey, an APPROPRIATE use for Johnny Marr.” (Don’t get me started on Modest Mouse. Do not get it. Do not care.)