I was a Casey Kasem top 40 kid in my early teens. I fully own my former obsession with New Kids on the Block. I was not alone, OK?
And then a shift happened in 1991, when I discovered R.E.M.
It’s oddly fitting that R.E.M. is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Out of Time (the first album of theirs that I bought) as I am mourning the 5th anniversary of their breakup.
I still have the cassette version of Out of Time that I bought 25 years ago. I remember watching the music videos for “Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” and “Everybody Hurts” on MTV time and time again.
I loved Michael Stipe’s voice. I loved the lyrics and the melodies. I just plain loved (and will forever love) this band. Their music was a soundtrack of my late teenage- to middle-aged life. Therefore, I was devastated when they broke up in 2011. To this day, I try to be mature and tell myself stoically that they had a right to break up and they did so because they felt like it was the right thing to do. But deep down inside I silently weep whenever I’m faced with the cruel fact that there will never be another new R.E.M. album or concert tour.
Luckily I had the foresight to keep most of my concert ticket stubs in a book, so I am able to look back and confirm that I’ve been to 10 R.E.M. concerts.
The first time I saw them in concert was 1995. I don’t have the ticket stubs handy for these two concerts because I think I have a separate R.E.M. memorabilia book packed away in an unknown location. But I have photos of me and my college friends sleeping outside of a record store/ticket seller the night before tickets went on sale to buy tickets for their show in Buffalo, New York.
Soon after that, a few college friends and I drove 5.5 hours to Philadelphia to see them. I remember all of us trying to memorize the lyrics to “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” on the drive down. On the drive back, we wrote all over ourselves in pen like 20-year-olds do.
I saw the boys (minus Bill then) four years later at the Tweeter Center outside of Boston, on September 11, 1999. Four years later, I was back at the Tweeter Center on October 5, 2003. Three days afterward, I was on a plane to Baltimore to see them at George Mason University.
I do remember the euphoria I felt at the October 29, 2004, concert in Boston because I scored sixth row seats thanks to the fan club.
Seven days afterward, on November 5, I was watching them at Mohegan Sun casino. I remember the odd, cheap hotel room in nowhere Connecticut that my friends and I piled into at the end of the night.
My most momentous R.E.M. concert occurred in July 2005. My favorite band (R.E.M.) was playing in my favorite city (London). And I had tickets! As luck would have it, my mom and I were going to be in England at the same time as R.E.M. This was 2005, so my tickets arrived by Royal Mail from across the pond. I still have the envelope.
My mom and I went to England’s Lake District first, planning to spend the end of our trip in London. On July 7, we called a taxi and as the driver took us to our destination he asked us if we had heard about the bombing.
Four terrorists had bombed three London subway stations and one bus.
My mom and I turned on the TV news when we got back to our hotel and watched the horror unfold. We were sickened, worried, shocked, saddened. Once the shock started subsiding, I immediately thought about R.E.M. I hoofed it to the town of Keswick’s post office, where there was a computer with Internet that one could use for a fee. I think the R.E.M. concert was scheduled for a few days later, so it was, not surprisingly, postponed. It would be held a week or so later, long after we had returned to the States.
I immediately searched to see if they were playing anywhere in the U.K. I found that their show in Cardiff, Wales, was still on for July 10. I took this news back to my mom and said something along the lines of “You can stay in London but I’m going to Cardiff to see R.E.M.”
I don’t remember how agreeable she was about my news at first, but she didn’t want to stay in London alone (or maybe didn’t want me to be in Cardiff alone). So I went back to the post office computer and bought two concert tickets and reserved a hotel room in Cardiff.
We returned to London a day or two after the bombing. For some reason, I had to physically buy or pick up the train tickets at the London train station we would be departing from. I will never forget being on the Tube on a weekend afternoon with only a couple of other people in the train car…because the city had told people to avoid taking public transit. But those terrorist bastards were not going to take R.E.M. from me. So I picked up the tickets at the station and we were set for our impromptu journey.
My mom was none too thrilled about being in an arena with thousands of people a few days after a terrorist attack. But she was a trooper. The concert was very cathartic, especially when thousands of us sang along to “Everybody Hurts,” which the band dedicated to London. I felt the power of music that night. The power to uplift and comfort and unite.
Almost three years later, on June 13, 2008, I was back at the Tweeter Center. It was another amazing experience because our seats were in the 20th row.
Now we come to the last time I saw R.E.M., a day later at Jones Beach Theater on Long Island. The theater is an outdoor venue and it was raining. My friend and I huddled under our umbrellas, soaked but having a good time. Until the thunder and lightning started.
The concert stopped and we were told to take shelter under the seating area, where the restrooms and concessions were. I don’t remember how long we waited—maybe 30 minutes? 45?—and the concert started again.
Since R.E.M. broke up, I feel compelled to attend every concert of my favorite musicians…because you never know when the last concert will be.
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson