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.
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