Thursday, December 20, 2012

How an REM tribute band (temporarily) changed me from a bitter cynic back to a bright-eyed youth

Regular readers of this space may be under the impression that I am an angry and bitter crank, content to hurl invective from underneath my bridge.  I can see why you'd get that impression!  It's only partly true.  People who know me in Real Life sometimes report that I can be charming and friendly.  Anyway, point being that yes, I am not the wide-eyed youngster I once was.

But then last night I was at the Makeout Room in the Mission District of San Francisco watching an REM cover band (or tribute band, I guess - the taxonomy, I think, is that if you play only songs by one band, you're a tribute band, whereas if you play cover songs by a number of different bands, you're a cover band) called Chronic Town absolutely TEAR IT UP and suddenly I was 17 again and seeing REM at the Mosque in Richmond Virginia and never had been in an unsuccessful first marriage and 9/11 had never happened and the only thing I had to worry about was how much Milwaukee's Best cost and whether this girl I knew liked me.

Typical crappy iPhone pic.  Sorry.
They started with a great one-two, "Begin the Begin" and "These Days," the first two songs off of "Life's Rich Pageant," one of my favorite REM albums (except for the treacly "Flowers of Guatemala," but let's not get bogged down).  I should probably pause here and explain the REM thing.

You see, back in the 80's, growing up far from any kind of "scene," music seemed kind of stale and lifeless.  What you got on the radio was lots of classic rock (and country, I guess, if you wanted that). When we discovered REM, it seemed like a revelation - here was something different, something interesting.  And it was like our secret!  We were in a special club. 

Of course, REM, and what was then called "alternative music," blew up after that.  REM went on to become huge and maybe The Most Important American Band of All Time (there can be a debate, but seriously? Who else?).  But you know what?  REM will always remind me of a certain time when I was growing up and figuring out how to be an adult and the world was full of promise and things didn't seem as shitty all the time.  And last night, Chronic Town kind of took me back to that age.  It was pretty great.

And the kids!  There were kids there dancing to this stuff who weren't even born when Murmur or Fables of the Reconstruction or, from the looks of them, even Green came out.  I guess REM to them is what the Byrds were to me when I was their age - a Very Old, very influential band from before I was born.  But hey, more power to you, kids.

So thanks, guys.  You sounded great, and maybe made me less of an asshole for a few hours.  (I would like to extend a special shout-out to the singer, also named Michael, who my friend Stephen described as the "Daniel Day-Lewis of REM cover bands" for his complete immersion in the role of Michael Stipe.  Voice, moves, everything.  Great job.)

ANYWAY, as luck would have it, I'll be back at the same venue tonight for the annual "Parker's Holiday Craptacular," a shambling, hours-long Christmas party that's also a benefit for the SF Food Bank at which a number of people I know will be playing music - some of them backing up John Doe, for Chrissakes! - getting drunk, and basically having a good time.  I go pretty much every year and it's a blast.  If you wanna come too, look for me - I'll be the old guy.  HA!  Kidding.  Everyone there is old.  Anyway, Kelley Stoltz!  Paula Frazer!  Mark Eitzel!  Playing Christmas songs!  What else could you ask for?


Tamagosan said...

You have regular readers? They must be serious weirdos looking to get their fix of cranky (oh, that all important 'y') or something...

But N-E-WEYZZZ, REM, yes. I once saw Michael Stipe at Pauline's when I was like 12 and really only knew them from when Brenda was all sad over Dylan on 90210 and locked herself in her room and listened to Losing My Religion. Same song, incidentally, that he played on the Sandy concert with the dude from Cold Play. That dude was STOKED.

TK said...

Wait, you only knew REM from 90210? KIDS! Sigh.

Stephen said...

As you know, I have long been onboard the "REM is super-important and why doesn't everyone constantly acknowledge their fundamentality to music as we know it"-train.

BUT, I was just thinking about it, and maybe, just maybe, in the world of MOST IMPORTANT AMERICAN BAND, the Ramones might warrant consideration.

This is just a blog comment, so no holding me to anything.

Tamagosan said...

In 1991, I was moving from my folks' Motown and Beatles tapes to crappy radio R&B. There was a significant amount of time spent with gangsta rap, then everything old and rock, then hip hop, then electronica by college. It may not have been a balanced diet, but I ate local in the Bay Area!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I was there last night and felt the same way myself.

I think it was Michael Stipend's version of "These Days" that most powerfully took me back to college and that feeling that every R.E.M. song was the secret key to the promise that was all around, waiting for us if we could just decipher what the liner notes meant when they referred to "predator-prey interaction exactly as it happens in the wild."

brightstar said...

Hurray! I am pleased to think we may have been counted among the KIDS out there dancing at the show! Or maybe we were counted in the cranky geezer section? All I know is it was a great night! Had so much fun dancing to almost every song !!!

Looking forward to the next show!

Jeff Fister said...

When REM broke up a few years ago, someone commented: "broke up? I thought they did that years ago." I stopped buying every new CD around 2005 and thought I'd tired of them. And then I happened to hear "Electrolite" the other day and I realized how cool and relevant they were for so long. Then it occurred to me... I bet there are tribute bands by now. Sure enough, I'll have to check them out next time I'm in SF. Maybe someday they'll achieve Grateful Dead status: here in the midwest, there are tribute bands to tribute bands of the Dead. Nice post!

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