WC Don’s, R.E.M., and Big Arm Dancing

 

In the days of my youth I was told what it means…oh, sorry.  I got sidetracked a little there.  In the days of my youth, Lynyrdskynyrdville had one of the greatest dive bars ever to sling a beer and hire a band. It was so cool that Rolling Stone named it one of the top ten dive bars in the United States.  That’s right.  Little ole Lynyrdskynyrdville had one of the top ten dive bars for a while there back in the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties.  It was called WC Don’s, as in “We Couldn’t Decide On A Name”, but we just called it Don’s.  It was an alternative music mecca, benefitting greatly from its reasonable proximity to Athens, Georgia – in other words, Don’s was a major stopover on the southeast dive bar circuit for Athens-based bands.  R.E.M. was among the plethora of bands that performed there in their early, college rock, pre-widespread-fame days, and I, naturally, was there.

As I told our rock-brother and fellow blogger over at the University of Music, I had no premonition of their impending enormous fame at the time.  They were just Georgia guys, pretty much the same as Mississippi guys, a couple years older than me, but of my own generation. The bar was tiny and there was, accordingly, always a close connection and a lot of interaction between the bands and the audience, and R.E.M. was no exception to this.  Looking back now, though, I should have realized that they were destined for greatness, because of their sound – it was really different and fresh, yet it had that delicious Georgia feel to it at the same time.  We all went crazy over it, doing that weird “big arm dancing” that was so popular at the time and which I’m so embarrassed at having done now.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Where you flailed your arms about wildly in big swinging arcs? If you weren’t around then, or don’t remember, go check out the girl with the ridiculous hat in the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” video.  I’m pretty sure she started the whole thing.  But her big arm dancing was mild compared to the throw-your-shoulder-out antics that eventually evolved.

 

I like to claim the seventies as “my era” because the music was better overall, and it was my era, if you count high school, but the truth is, I came of age at the dawn of the eighties, and so in actuality, horrible though it may be, I’m a member of the big arm dancing generation which big arm danced to R.E.M.  We were all part of what I think of as a gap generation – just a little too late for the heyday of classic rock, yet not really digging the Thompson Twins or Spandau Ballet or Flock of Whatever either, and looking around for jewels in the dust that played music which spanned these two eras, and R.E.M. was perhaps the biggest era-spanning jewel of all.

 

The main things I remember about R.E.M.’s stage presence in those early days are that they were tight and polished, and Michael Stipe was a really beautiful boy with his tumbled curls. He came across as the shy, intellectual type.  I remember my wasted friend hit on him one time, as I stood, horrified, behind her.  She was doing her best to flirt and seduce him, but it was that drunken kind of sloppy flirtation/seduction, and Michael was not amused. Finally, he just kind of rolled his eyes and very gently said something like, “You’re drunk.  Do you have someone to drive you home?”  She pointed at me, who was lurking awkwardly in the background, and he said, “Then you should let her take you home now.”  It was terrible. Of course, I didn’t really have to take her home – some fella gladly stepped up when Michael wisely stepped out.  But now she has to live with that memory her whole life – being told to go home by Michael Stipe.  And I have to be the awkwardly-lurking-in-the-background friend of the drunk girl my whole life.  Lovely.

 

Anyway, despite the big arm dancing and drunken, embarrassing friends, those were great times.  I dedicate these R.E.M. songs to my fellow gap-generation rockers – those tail-end Baby Boomers and early-Generation X’ers like myself.  R.E.M. made music that was uniquely ours and sounded like us.

I wish I had never made that rule about only having three videos per post, because I’m breaking it today. I have a long list of favorite R.E.M. songs – here’s four of them, starting with “Drive”.  Because nobody tells us what to do.

Follow me; don’t follow me…no really – please follow me.

This song still plays in my head regularly after all these years, and I can still visualize myself big arm dancing insanely to it.

And this one goes out to the ones I love and the ones I left behind, of course.

 

Questions?  Comments? Please Share!

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “WC Don’s, R.E.M., and Big Arm Dancing

  1. Great inclusion of nobody tells us what to do!
    Automatic For the People would be in my top 10, terrific record. I picked up a ‘Nightswimming’ picture vinyl for $4 at a record show recently, it was the find of the show!

    • I agree with you on Automatic for the People – what a fantastic album that is. Thanks so much for commenting and congrats on the cool record show find!

    • Thanks for reminding me about this story with your R.E.M. post and our conversation. Wish you could’ve been at WC Don’s too. 🙂

      • Ty so much.. I adored that band. I forgot if i told u that i went to see joseph arthur in ny city 2 weeks ago and mike mills was playing bass. I looked up and michael stipe as sitting at the next table. I wanted to walk up to him and say you have no idea how deeply you have touched my life.. But i decided to leave him alone..
        I havent been writing. I was going to my sons basketball game and slipped on black ice and completely tore my quadricep muscle from my kneecap. Soooo. Emergency surgery and 6 weeks before i can even start therapy.. I am in effect totally screwed. So any great reading suggestions send my way. I will have lots of time to read write read write etc.

      • Wow, that’s really cool – the part about the concert, that is. Mike Mills seems like such a great guy, in addition to being a huge talent. Congrats on your Stipe restraint, that had to have been tough!

        Sorry to hear about your accident – I hope you have a quick, smooth recovery, and I hope you get to do plenty of blogging! On the book recommendation, I’m going to go with my one of my favorite laugh-out-loud books – “A Confederacy of Dunces”. I’ve probably read it twenty times over the years, no joke! Hang in there. 😉

  2. Though I guess I enjoy REM rather than revere them (perhaps just a couple of years too late for that formative imprinting that makes artists ‘all time faves’ forever) I absolutely love ‘Fall On Me’. It its an utterly glorious piece of Power Pop! and as you know, that’s a big big tick for me. Cheers.

    • Yeah, “Fall on Me” is definitely one of my favorites – it’s just beautiful. Be glad you missed out on the big arm dancing, though. But maybe they didn’t have that in Australia? Nah, they probably big arm danced there too. Freakin’ Thompson Twins. lol 😉

  3. Great post and the first time I’ve heard of “big arm dancing” which made me LMAO! I’ve gotta watch that Thompson Twins vid and see what the heck you’re talking about. LOL

    • Big arm dancing is a Marie-coined term (I think), and probably nobody knows what I’m talking about, but you will see what I mean in that T.T. video, starting around 3:35 or so. The two dudes do it too, but the girl does it worse, and it got even more absurd in the clubs. That kind of dancing went on in the alt. rock scene in the eighties. It probably was killed by grunge, thank goodness. 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Sourcerer and commented:
    This is a very nice memoir of the 90s music scene. It’s funny, I don’t claim the 80s, either. Since I am just a few years younger, I claim the 90s. When my friends and I first discovered REM, they were referred to as a “college band.” If you’re interested in the development of popular music, late 80 to mid-90s Atlanta is sure to fascinate.

    • That’s so funny that neither of us will claim the 80s – me claiming the 70s; you claiming the 90s! Ha ha! Poor 80s. Surely someone somewhere must have come of age during that decade of mostly dreadful music. 🙂

  5. So glad I found this blog (thanks to Gene’O) My favorite REM song is Bittersweet Me… I was born in ’73 but I don’t claim the ’80s either… I am definitely more into 60’s, 70’s and current rock/alternative. Great blog!

  6. I’m willing to claim the 80’s as my heyday, since it was and I can admit to enjoying a lot of the music like arena rock groups and post romanticism bands like Spandau Ballet etc. I just find it unfortunate that the biggest impact during my time was MTV and not like The Beatles or something awesome. But at the time it felt like something that was ours and for me it was a way to learn about bands that preceded the era. Don Henley lead to Eagles, Robert Plant lead (led) to you know who, Steve Winwood to Traffic and so on and so on. REM was college radio then and I didn’t get into them until probably Automatic came out and then I worked backwards from there. Hard to believe they’ve called it quits but I think that has more to do with the state of music then their lack of interest. They could put out another great record and nobody would buy it and crowds generally only want to hear the “hits” so I don’t blame them for not wanting to play that game anymore.

  7. Pingback: Krystals, Cigs, and WFAT | My Wild Surmise

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