Friday, March 16, 2018
the one about memory
One of my favorite albums is "Green" by what is likely my all time favorite band, REM. I played my really old CD in so many different cars, dragging it to college twice and otherwise treating it rough, giving it a few serious scars. The scars didn't become a problem until I copied all my music to iTunes several years ago. "Green" copied but only one song would play. My favorite song on the album wasn't there. I've been without it for years. ("You Are The Everything" look it up.)
I found a few copies at used record stores and checked them. All scratched. A few weeks ago I found one that wasn't scratched and snatched it up. Back home I discovered it wouldn't copy to iTunes. Ugh. I so wanted to have the physical copy of the album instead of a soul-less digital download but I'm at my wits end.
I saw REM in concert in August of 1999. I'll admit to being a bit of a concert snob. I want to see live music in small venues. I don't want to pay a mortgage payment to see an hour of music and when I do see the music I want to actually be able to see it. With my eyes, not on a big screen beside the stage. By the time I got into REM in high school, they were already a stadium band. The concert in 1999 was a big deal though. Bill Berry, one of the founding members of the band had recently quit the band to spend time on his farm in Georgia. The band opted to get guest drummers to fill in and continue on. This concert though, was going to be a hometown show. Atlanta was just a short drive from Athens where the band first met and from Berry's farm. Everyone assumed he would be there. Everyone hoped he would play a couple of songs with them.
I was thinking about this concert last week. August of 1999 was a long time ago. I had just started grad school and was basically going to have to stay up all night to make the concert and still be at work and school the next day. I remember being very tired. I also remember Bill Berry being at the concert. There was a crazy bunch of hoodlums as the opening act. They all wore costumes and rubber masks. When REM started playing they kept mentioning Berry and dedicating songs to him. They kept looking backstage which made everyone think he was there and was on the verge of coming out to play. In my memory, he came out to a standing ovation, waved shyly and then sat in on the drums for a couple of songs.
But what actually happened was he came out to a standing ovation, waved shyly and then ducked backstage, never to be seen again. And I'm sure about this. Luckily for me and my memory, there are people dedicated enough to journal these things and post them on the interwebs.
I understand that what I remember is what I want to remember. It's what I wanted to be true. I saw it in my mind well enough for it to register as a memory. I can see him taking his place behind the drum kit right now. It's just that it never happened.
I've been thinking about this all week. I've got a lot of stories in my head. My dad told great stories to us when we were growing up. I had a pretty fun childhood and some crazy friends so I've got a few stories of my own. What's going to happen to them?
Sometimes we'll be doing something with the kids and a story will pop into my head. If it's appropriate, I'll tell the story to the kids. They'll laugh and giggle and ask me to tell it again and again. Every once in a while I get this weird feeling as we're sharing a story. I feel it like it's my dad sharing the story with me. I remember what that felt like as a kid and how it bound us together. On this side of parenthood I now see it as a way of living on through your children. When I'm no longer telling stories, my kids will be driving their kids somewhere and they'll remember the story about some midnight teenage shenanigans their dad may or may not have been involved in and they'll share that story with their family.
And Bill Berry not playing the drums that night has me thinking that it might be a good idea to record these stories somewhere for safe keeping. I mean, the details are important. There's a big difference between the founding member playing a song and not playing a song. If I had kidnapped a life sized concrete dog sculpture and painted it garnet, I wouldn't want time and hazy memory to turn that color to blue. It would lose the whole Clemson/Carolina angle of the story, you know? That was a hypothetical situation. I would never steal or vandalize Kenny McDowell's Dalmatian lawn ornament. That would be wrong. But if I did, I'd want someone to tell it right.
I'm going to have to find a way to document some stories. Maybe I'll tell more to Blue and Violet. Maybe I'll post some here. Maybe the sketchbook will have to catch the ones that are not age appropriate or suitable for public consumption.
But Bill Berry was there. He didn't play but he was there. The concert was really good, the seats were good and Michael Stipe looked just like me. He still does. You can Google it.
A postscript for any students reading: In August of 1999 I was working full time and attending graduate school. The concert was on a weeknight. I drove 4 hours to Atlanta, saw the show, drove 4 hours back, slept an hour or so and was at work at 6am the next morning. After work I drove 1.5 hours to school and never missed a minute of class. That's how you concert. Take note.
A postscript for anyone old enough to appreciate it: There was an amateur band handing out demo cassette tapes at the exits of the concert. That band was Train.