(I’m going to start running some of the greatest hits from my old blog here. Inspired by Jon Wurster’s heartwarming Facebook post about seeing REM as a teenager, and then getting to play with Peter Buck in Minus Five, I present to you…well, not quite as heartwarming a story. Originally posted September 26, 2007.)
“Can’t Get There From Here”
“Wasting Time, Sitting Still”
“Flash Back to 1983; Chronic Town Was The First EP”
“…And There Stands R.E.M.”
It was the fall of 1983. I was suffering through my senior year of high school, impatient for college to begin. My parents had just announced their plans to divorce – a relief, honestly, as both of them were far happier apart. One of the reasons for the divorce was my dad’s chronic inability to keep a job. He’d had several over the past few years, and now he was working as a desk clerk at the East Brunswick, NJ Ramada Inn. I cannot imagine how my father, by no means a people person, managed to do this job, but he did manage to keep it for awhile.
One afternoon, Dad called me from his post. He knew I was into this new wave stuff: had I heard of this band that had just loaded into the hotel? A band called R.E.M.?
Had I heard of them? Uh, yeah, the name rang a bell. R.E.M. was absolutely my favorite band in the world. I’d been spinning Chronic Town and Murmur incessantly that whole year. And I knew they were playing at Rutgers University that night – I’d heard about it on the radio and just assumed I couldn’t go. I relayed all of this to my dad. I guess he told their road manager – it had to be either Jefferson Holt or Bertis Downs – that his son was a big fan. And the road manager offered to put me on the guest list for that night’s show.
When my dad called me back to tell me this, I was beside myself. I could see R.E.M.! For free!! When my mom came home, I asked her if she could drive me – I only had my learner’s permit – and she flat out refused. She’d had a hard day, she said, and the last thing she wanted was to drive all the way back to Rutgers, where she’d just worked all day, and then drive back again to pick me up. (She was not the kind of mom to attend rock shows. In 1983, it was all still “punk rock” to our elders.) Dad couldn’t drive me since he was at work, and I had no friends with cars that I could call on short notice.
So I stayed home that night. Here is the set list from that night’s show. Note support by the original Let’s Active, whose afoot EP was another favorite of mine. And here is the room in which they played. It was a Hardees at the time. You can’t tell by the photo, but it’s a tiny room.
The next day, my dad brought home a present. It was a t-shirt signed by all four members of the band. In my world, this was like getting all the Beatles’ autographs. One of the band members wrote the following inscription:
FROM RUTGERS U
AND SEND ONE ALONG
TO HERBIE TOO
(“Herbie” was my dad.)
I wish I knew what happened to that shirt. I haven’t seen it since college. It was too small for me to wear, but I can’t imagine I’d actually throw it out. It must have inadvertently ended up in a Salvation Army giveaway pile. Maybe a roommate or dorm visitor stole it. Who knows?
You know what? It literally still hurts that I didn’t get to go. I know it’s irrational. I’ve actually asked my mom – recently, like in the last couple of years – what the deal was. She doesn’t even remember it happening. Perhaps she was preoccupied with the divorce; maybe she was annoyed that my dad had set this up without telling her. All I know is that I still feel cheated as I sit here, a grown man with children of my own and a budding career in the law.
It wasn’t a completely unhappy ending. R.E.M. came back to Rutgers in 1985 and played outdoors at the same student center. It’s the best show I’ve ever seen, and probably always will be at this point. Let’s Active returned in 1986 with a new lineup. After a few songs (and a fine Winter Hours opening set), Mitch Easter stepped up to the mic and reminisced, “The last time we played here, it was at Hardees.” Ouch. Well, at least I finally got to see them.
Coming up (someday): the time I was too scared to see Black Flag play a roller skating rink near my house.