R.E.M., Greek Theatre, LA, 8/10/99
It started as simply, responding to a friendly piece of mail from the R.E.M. fanclub offering to let me buy tickets before they went on sale to the general public. Along with my check, I sent my review of the show they played back in February following the taping of their appearance on Party of Five - the best way I could think of to say 'Thank You' for inviting me.
And then I waited.
And then a few weeks later, I found myself once again holding an industrial yellow-colored envelope with a return address "R.E.M. / Athens, L.L.C." This time, I knew from experience, good things come in industrial yellow envelopes from Athens, GA. Two tickets. Rain or shine. The Greek Theatre. Thank You!...Enjoy the show.
The weeks rolled interminably, but then I found myself once again rolling through Hollywood with my friend Glen on our way to an appointment with Messrs. Buck, Mills, and Stipe. Rolling through the hills to our destination, to the doorstep of the stage, three rows back from ground zero. Blinded by lights, not unlike the sensation of sitting too close to the television, its slender electron beam tracing a horizontal path on the retina. Sightless but for the flat horizon of stage before us. Wrapped in the wandering drone of 'Airportman'.
And then I found myself standing once again not 10 feet from Michael Stipe.
And it was like the past six months hadn't happened at all, like we'd never parted ways, the 'Hey hey!' of 'Lotus' echoing in the tender crevices of my memory like it did around the treelined hills of the Greek this evening. And here I was again, kindly allowed to study these three friends making their music.
Watching Michael Stipe's bald dome reflecting red in the projected glow, his hands flitting fingers like he was directing a chorus of cicadas in rhythm during 'Daysleeper', his body twisting in weariless motion during 'What's the Frequency Kenneth' like his skinny frame would never know rest, stopping only to pay homage to the influences on some of his more recent songs - Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, relating his fear that his favorite line from 'New Test Leper' was lifted from some unknown source, "so I called Vic Chesnutt and said 'Vic - is the line 'what a sad parade' on any of your albums?' 'mmmnope' 'You ever heard a song with 'what a sad parade' in it?' 'mmmnope' 'Alright then...I rock.'
Watching Mike Mills stand tranquil, fairly beaming as the words to 'Losing My Religion' slipped smoothly through his smile as if this weren't the thousandth time he'd sung it. It was, in fact, the first time he'd sung it right here and right now, his fingers slowly pulling the strings on his bass, its yellow skin worn white and white worn to wood - well loved and smoothed.
Watching Peter Buck leap and kick with vigor like the past two decades were just a warmup for this night, and then settle down to send those last few bars of 'Country Feedback' arcing around the darkened hills with a sad dragonfly's mournful buzz as it brushes past your ear.
And now I sit here with you, at my keyboard exactly one day later, with precise circadian rhythm. It's like the past 24 hours hadn't happened at all, but for the echoes in the tender crevices of my memory. And a small rectangle of paper. Rain or shine. The Greek Theatre. Thank You!...I enjoyed the show.
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