The first album I ever bought for myself was R.E.M.’s Green. On tape. I was — 9 or 10, I think. I loved the hell out of that album, and it led me, in middle school, to newer R.E.M., and in high school, to older R.E.M. They were the first band I ever said, “That’s my favorite band” about.
When I was 16 and 17 and 18, my ex TC and I spent a lot of time just driving around, talking. About everything, but mostly about books and music — music was always one of the things that connected us. (I sometimes wish he and I were still in touch, because I’d love to know what he’s listening to now. If you read this, man, you should email me.) We drove around in suburban Baltimore County in his dad’s old maroon Mercury, the one with the hole in the front bumper from where TC ran it into a dumpster, and we basically listened to the same handful of mix tapes and taped-from-CD tapes over and over again. One of them was a 120 minute tape. It had The Joshua Tree on one side, and Automatic for the People on the other side.
It’s safe to say that I fell in love for the first time to the sounds of “Nightswimming” and “Find The River”. R.E.M. was not the only band that TC and I had in common, but they are the one that I remember most fiercely in connection with him; sitting under streetlights out at the Loch Raven Reservoir, talking and making out and talking some more. Figuring out life’s problems at 18 years old. Falling in love.
I know without having to look it up that Bill Berry left R.E.M. in the fall of 1997, because I heard the news while I was standing in TC’s dorm room in Binghamton, NY. The college radio station announced it, and they played “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”, and that was the first time I ever noticed the counterpoint lyrics at the end of the song: it’s time i had some time alone.
TC and I, obviously, broke up. I have spent a lot of time alone in the last few years. And I’ve never seen R.E.M. live, which just seems wrong at this point. Last week, before the Big Star show, Pam and I were talking about them, and how I’d never seen them, and how I hoped that after the Big Star set maybe they’d play a secret show at the Cave. They didn’t — you’d have heard about it if they had — because it ended up that only Mills was in town, but Pam told me a great story about one of her sisters seeing R.E.M. at the Cave back when said sister was in college and keeping old t-shirts because of that, and it was just a reaffirmation of so many things for me, this thread of R.E.M. through a million different lives: one, that the scene in the CH, where R.E.M. played the Cave in the 80s, remains a historical treasure that somebody needs to mine for a book, and two, every song has a story. Every band, too. Not just one story, but hundreds and thousands. One for every person who loves that band.
The first time you heard that song. What was playing when you got your heart broken, your first speeding ticket, when you picked up the pizza last Thursday and suddenly felt like you were back in high school. Where I was when Bill Berry left R.E.M. How it felt to stand five feet from Mike Mills.
Every song has a story. R.E.M. has a hundred of my stories, and I know them by heart, and someday I’ll tell them all to someone. But right now: what are your stories?