It’s the end of the world as we know it

Well, I’m gutted.

Without R.E.M., my adolescence would have been different. Without Automatic for the People, I would never have known the joy of being a whiny, introspective emo kid, who shut herself into her bedroom all day to listen to music and write lyrics in her journal. I would maybe also have had a boyfriend, rather than saving myself for a probably-gay rock star, but hey, them’s the breaks. In retrospect, modelling myself on Michael Stipe probably wasn’t the best move in terms of my already shaky high-school reputation, but I did it, and let’s face it: I would probably do it again.

Without Reveal, my first summer with Terry would’ve been different, too. It was the soundtrack to that summer, in the same way that the R.E.M. back catalogue became the soundtrack to various other stages of my life, after I’d gone out and tracked down every single thing they’d ever released, and arranged them in chronological order in my bedroom.

In my last year of high school, I had to do a creative writing course as part of my English mark, and I decided to be a little brat about it. For one thing, I refused to allow anyone to read my stuff. (To this day, the only people who ever read those stories – with the exception of one of them, which I grudgingly allowed my teacher to see – are the examiners who marked them.), and for another, I announced that I COULD NOT BE CREATIVE unless I was listening to music AT ALL TIMES. Then I tried to flounce from the course in protest at the OMGHORROR that was being inflicted upon me. (You would’ve hated me as a teenager, seriously. If you think I’m bad now, you should read my journals from my R.E.M. stage…) To my absolute amazement, the school called my bluff on this, and I was allowed to sit in class listening to R.E.M and Smashing Pumpkins on my headphones (Yes! I was the bitch with the tinny headphone music! If I could go back in time and slap myself, I would. And not just for that, either.), and I extended this to listening to those bands (and some others) at all other times, too. I would wake up in the morning and switch on the stereo before I did anything else. I would walk to school with my earphones in, and I wouldn’t take them out until I was back home, at which point it was back to the stereo. My parents realised they were powerless to stop this: all they could do was beg me not to play THAT Kristen Hersh album more than once per day. (During this time, I also converted my parents to R.E.M. They gave in at the point where they realised they knew all the songs anyway, having been forced to listen to them approximately 3,986,285 times in any given week.)

I sometimes miss those days, when my life was seeped in music, and I felt like I couldn’t function without it. Life is quieter now. I can’t concentrate on writing if there’s music playing (I listen too hard and start typing out the lyrics. That’s probably what I did in my creative writing class, now I come to think of it.), and because I’m writing more or less all the time, music has become relegated to in the car, when I’m out running (which doesn’t happen very often at the moment) and occasional other times. And that makes me sad.

In my second year of university, R.E.M came to Edinburgh. None of my friends would come to see them (The concert was during the summer, and most of them had gone home. And also, they hated them.), so I got up at the crack of dawn one morning and stood in a phone box on South Bridge Street, dialling and redialling the ticket hotline until I finally got through and secured a ticket. (I have no idea why I did this, by the way: I mean, we had a phone in the flat? I think it might have been that I had an early lecture, and that was the closest phone, but that would mean I was actually ATTENDING early morning lectures at that point and, well, let’s just say that doesn’t sound like me after first year.)

The concert was on one of those rare, blazing hot summer days. I got the train into the city early, and got myself a spot near the stage, where I proceeded to have my scalp burnt to a crisp by the sun for the hours that I waited there patiently. I remember I had planned this so badly that not only had I failed to bring sunscreen, I’d also failed to bring a book, or anything else to pass the time. So I just sat there with my thoughts. If I’d been a normal person, this story would end with me bonding with my fellow R.E.M. fans and forming lifelong friendships with them, but I was too shy, so I just sat there and hoped no one would try to speak to me. It was worth it, though.  The support act was Belly (who I also loved), and during their set, Michael Stipe just casually walked out onto the stage, a few feet away from me.

I. ALMOST. DIED.

When the band came on, the crowd surged forward, and the crush was too much for me to survive at the front of the stage for a full concert, so I wormed my way out and went to get a drink. And when I came back, they played So. Central Rain, which was – and is – one of my favourite tracks of theirs (Did you never call? I waited on your call. These rivers of suggestion are driving me away…) and I danced on my own at the edge of the crowd and felt completely happy, and only a little bit self-conscious.

As I said on Twitter yesterday, I’m glad they waited until now to break up. If it had happened in my teens, or my early twenties, I don’t think I’d have handled it well. I imagine the band all sitting around a table saying, “No, no, we can’t break up NOW: Amber’s still too young (mentally). We’ll have to wait until she leaves high school. Until she leaves university. Until she gets married. Until… you know, we can’t wait forever here: let’s just do it.”

And so they did, and I’m a little sad. But at least I still have all of those CDs, arranged in chronological order…

(I also know that Michael Stipe still loves me, really, even although he rejected my Facebook friends request that one time. Here’s how I know:


RUBIN HAT
! And OK, it’s really a panda. But at least he’s trying, you know?)

 

[Image:PRPhotos.com]

 


18 Comments

  • Roisin says:

    Aww, this was so wonderful to read, Amber! R.E.M. are the defining band of my youth, teenage years and early twenties (and Tori Amos the defining singer) and like you, while I’m so sad they’ve split up I’m glad it’s at a time when I’m emotionally mature enough to handle it! To this day I struggle to remember which date my dad’s birthday is on, it’s either the 3rd or 4th January, because Michael Stipe’s birthday is also on one of those dates. Hey, I know I could look it up but whatever… I can still have three hour conversations in the pub about that time Peter Buck wore his pyjamas to the Grammy Awards, or how it felt to finally see R.E.M. live (on the Up tour, at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, with one of my other favourite bands The Divine Comedy playing support)

    Oh, also, So. Central Rain (I;m Sorry) is one of my favourites too. Hell, all of Reckoning (that three hour pub conversation recently extended to Seven Chinese Brothers/Voice of Harold) Lots of my R.E.M. CDs are at my parents’ house. I’m going home on Saturday, it’s time to give those boys a good sendoff and listen to everything again.

    • Amber says:

      I think it says a lot about me that as soon as I started reading this comment I thought, “The 4th – his birthday is January 4th…” And I remember it every year, despite having to write down some of my friend’s dates – oops!

      I really wish I had known you years ago now: the conversations we would have had! I hardly ever get to talk to people who are into the older stuff, too, and not just Automatic… I have to admit, I got into them around then, but within about a year I’d bought the entire back catalogue, and was fully obsessed! I’m definitely going to get out my old CDs now, too!

      (Were you ever in the Murmurs fan forum? When I first got a computer, I used to be on their aaaaalll the time: that, and REM groups on Usenet. God, I feel old.).

      • Roisin says:

        We would have had SOOOO much to talk about, my word! A few of my friends were into R.E.M. too, but not to the extent that I was so my fandom had a limited outlet. I was on the Murmurs fan forum, and I can trace my internet addictions back to the days of haunting that and the Elliott Smith forum at Sweet Adeline!

        I got into R.E.M around Out of Time and like you, bought their back catalogue and every book I could get my hands on about them, and my bedroom wall was covered in posters and magazine cuttings. The really rewarding thing about R.E.M for me was the puzzle – like, I would spend hours listening to their albums and trying to decipher what the lyrics were and what they might mean, and I remember how thrilled I was to find a 4 superimposed over the R on the cover of ‘Green’ – I was a supergeek!

        • Amber says:

          Seriously, you sound like the young me! I am so excited by this! And yes, the working-out-of-the-lyrics was the best bit… I actually came across a blog a few months ago where the author had written these long, incredibly detailed posts about some of the songs, and what they might mean. Miraculously, Michael Stipe had somehow come across this, and had sent the guy an email saying, “hey, this is fascinating, but some of it’s wrong…” They got into a conversation, and somehow the guy managed to get Michael to agree to let him publish a bunch of the emails, where he was talking about the lyrics and saying what they REALLY were, and what he’d meant at the time (although, being Michael, there were parts where he’d say, “Actually, your version is better…”). It was completely amazing, because as you know he never, ever explains this stuff. Will have to see if I can find it again…

          • Roisin says:

            Ooh I would love to read that. I made my friend Joanne a book full of R.E.M. lyrics – all handwritten and in a pretty notebook – I’m sure lots of them were desperately incorrect, though!

    • Stephen says:

      And on my birthday too! How inconsiderate. Still, my tickets-to-Tori came today, so that was nice.

      Ah, the concert. I remember Belly (I loved ‘Star’ at the time). I remember The Cranberries (big crush on Dolores O’Riordan!). I remember a band that began with ‘S’, but not which one! I remember What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? blowing the roof off. I remember an entire stadium of lighters during Everybody Hurts. I remember (hah!) It’s The End Of The World, as it’s one of my faves. And I remember bumping into your mum and dad outside, afterwards, and your mum asking “Have you seen Amber?” It’s possible that I looked at her like she was slightly mad, given we were surrounded by about 80,000 people!

      (I remember being slightly jealous of a certain M. Stipe when I was younger too.)

      I love R.E.M. I thought Collapse Into Now was a brilliant album, a real return to form. Like you, so many songs are a soundtrack to so many parts of my life. (I lost my virginity to ‘Radio Song’, how’s that for a revelation?! ;+) I always had a soft spot for Life’s Rich Pageant. Vocally, I think it was where Stipe really kicked in and ‘fronted’ the band.

      Ah well, at least I still have PJ!

      • Amber says:

        Ha. yeah, I remember them saying they’d bumped into you – think they were wondering how on earth they were going to find me in a stadium full of people! You know, I had completely forgotten that The Cranberries played at that too, which is weird, because I loved them, but if anyone had asked me, I would have said I’d never seen them live. I must’ve been too excited to see Stipey :)

        The band beginning with S were called Spearhead – I had to Google that, though, I have no recollection of them at all! (I’m obviously forgetting quite a lot of stuff in my old age!)

        • Stephen says:

          Ah, I’m so glad you Googled that!

          See, I thought I remembered hearing ‘Television, The Drug Of The Nation’. But I knew it wasn’t the Disposable Heroes that played the concert. Having Googled Spearhead myself, I now know that Michael Franti was the link between the two!

          Don’t blame you for not remembering them, though. From what I do recall, they weren’t that good!

          P.S. Roisin sounds like our kinda girl! :+)

  • lila says:

    I still sing everybody hurts on the karaoke on the tv quite regularly, for me though my teen band was depeche mode.

  • Alison says:

    Was also gutted to hear this :o(

    I think the best, most atmospheric concert I was ever at was when REM headlined Slane in 1995 (Monster tour – the critics may have hated it but I LOVED that album). I’ll never forget the crazy, abandoned feeling that too me over during End of the World. Another memory was Michael Stipe introducing ‘Tongue’ as a “song for all the ladies” fnar fnar.

    I still have my original tapes somewhere, even though they’ve been long since replaced by CDs and digital downloads, as I can’t bring myself to throw them away. I spent quite a lot of my teens and early 20s being that music-obsessed girl too and REM provided the soundtrack. Good times.

  • Natasha says:

    LOL, I enjoyed this post so much! Were we all the same back then?? I especially remember that feeling of having to have music on at every single moment of my waking life. Actually, my waking life began every morning with a song which was carefully picked the previous night, to set the mood for the entire day (I had an alarm clock on my hifi). Or, remember when you got a new CD (or tape, before that) – that feeling of excitement, like it’s Christmas morning or something? I think computers and mp3 players have ruined music for me. There’s just too much of it now, and it’s too readily available. I hardly ever play an entire album from beginning to end anymore. The excitement is gone most of the time :(
    Was sad to hear about R.E.M. yesterday. I used to love them (UP was the last of their albums I was really into), although I was never that fanatical about them (all my crazy was reserved for Tori Amos).

    • Amber says:

      Yes, I know exactly what you mean! Getting a new CD was an EVENT: I used to love unwrapping it, looking through all the artwork and the lyrics… And if a band I liked was releasing something new, I would count down to it for months, and be so excited: now I don’t even know about it unless someone mentions it. And I’m the same with not listening to albums all the way through, too: I tend to listen to music on Spotify most of the time, and I’ll make playlists and stuff, but I’ll rarely get something new and listen to it the way I did when I was younger, which is a shame, really.

  • God you are unleashing serious nostalgia, I saw them on the same tour as you did. I loved Spearhead, can’t remember Belly supporting them, REM played a huge venue outside of Dublin and my boyf (now husband who hates REM) got us tickets. About 20 of us went, it was amazing! Oasis were also support to REM and were CRAP! Funnily enough I got badly sunburned too and nearly got squashed at the front! Yep very sorry to hear they have stopped. Seen them twice and they are just a great band. Great post Amber you’ve made me so nostalgic! Thank you!

  • KON says:

    This is, why I only listen to dead musicians. Well, not really, but when I think about it, most of my favourites are.

    And again I feel like a little kid, since I hardly know these bands and no nostalgia is evoked. But both my sisters are devastated^^

  • Louise says:

    It’s amazing how much of an influence music has on our lives isn’t it? I only wish my musical tastes had been as sophisticated as yours when I was a teenager, Boyzone and TLC anyone? Lol. X

    • Amber says:

      Haha, I wish I could claim to have been sophisticated, but I listened to pretty much anything: was never into Boyzone, but I DID go to see New Kids on the Block!

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