I loved R.E.M. (and still do), and the first time I went to see them play, I didn’t even know I was going to an R.E.M. show. Cause I was going to a Gang of Four show. And since I was 18, and (at that time) the drinking age in Arizona was 19, and Gang of Four was playing at bar called The Devil’s House, I had arranged to get in from a friend who worked the door. His instructions were stern: “Get here at 7pm sharp! It’s an hour before anything starts, but my manager usually shows up around 9. Gang of Four goes on at 11. I can slip you in door, but remember…you gotta get here early. And you’ll have to sit through the opening act.”
I got there way early — even earlier than Door Man instructed. I wanted to see Gang of Four badly. But guess who showed up early that night, too? The only time he’d done so, ever (according to my pal The Door Man): The Manager.
When R.E.M. returned to Phoenix, this time for the Fables of the Reconstruction tour, I was of age…but that didn’t matter. Cause they were playing at an old movie house, and I was there — front and center — to see what had become by then my favorite band. R.E.M. defined “college radio” in 1985, and I was certain these guys were pure genius. And I’ll never forget this: they opened that show with “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”, and as I stood there taking in Pete Buck’s guitar and the fact that they dressed more like diesel truck mechanics than rock stars, an over-sized security guard grabbed me by the shoulder and wrestled me to the exit.
He didn’t answer me until we got there: “I told you, motherfucker, no smoking in the venue!” The one and only time I’ve ever smoked in my life — other an all the times I’ve been on fire — is at the bottom of an empty pool; I was skateboarding, and I was in the 8th grade, and the cigarette made me sick. But I was cool…just like everyone else.
Security Guard didn’t hear what I was saying, nor did the Sheriff, who was called in to remove me after I refused to leave. “Either go home or go to jail,” Sheriff said, without a trace of emotion. I opted home.
R.E.M returned for Life’s Rich Pageant, this time to an outdoor theater, and it was the first time I got to watch R.E.M. play from start to finish…even though it was in the middle of a rain storm.
Ten years later I was living in San Francisco, going to grad school and pretending to be a writer. In reality, I was a grad school student managing a resident hotel in the Tenderloin, which made for good fodder. One day I was walking down Post, looking down at my feet and just thinking about whatever it is I think about when I’m walking around, and I noticed a pair of feet next to mine walking in unison with me. I looked up to see it was Pete Buck’s feet, and I said hello, and I wanted to tell him everything I just told you, but I immediately nixed that cause I didn’t want to behave like a Geek Boy fan. So all I said was hi, and he said hi back, and for a few blocks we walked next to one another. And that’s that.
When I was in Paris last week, that’s pretty much all I did — walk. And take pictures. This time my walks were guided walks with a company called Paris Walks, and every morning — after my daily AM stop at Le Boulanger — I’d show up at their meeting spot and spend 2 hours looking at and listening to Parisian history. It didn’t matter to me what walk it was: Hemingway’s Paris, the Left Bank, The Catacombs, or The Resistance…I love that shit. I’d even take a walking tour in a place there’d never be one. Imagine if there were ones in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. I bet some cool history went down in cities like that, and as long as the tour guide is packing heat, why not?
Almost every walk in Paris was excellent, and for almost every one I had the same, excellent tour guide. His name was Chris, and dude knew his shit. No pre-memorized scripts for Chris. No regurgitating Grad School History lectures for Chris.
“Are you a published historian?” I finally asked. He wasn’t. Turns out Chris was a musician — a guitarist and lead vocalist.
“You’re in a band?!” I asked.
(God…reading this as I write the story makes me sound like such a homo. No Way Am I Gay).
“I used to be in a band.”
Chris looked at me and said, in one big long run-on sentence: I used to be in a band called The Honey Smuggglers we played gigs in the early 90′s in and around London and yes you can find some videos of us on YouTube but really I find them embarrassing now.
I italicized that line — as opposed to putting it in quotes — cause that’s kinda what he said. Not exactly…but kinda. And it wasn’t like he was ashamed about his days in The Honey Smugglers as much as he just really didn’t feel like talking about it.
That night I checked out his band and came to this conclusion: pull out some Echo and The Bunnymen, lightly sprinkle a dash of The Cure and New Order over it, think a whole lot about the Manchester scene circa 1980, and then bake for 25 minutes at 375.
Which is to say I liked what I heard. Not that what I think about a band matters…especially after they’ve been history for 20 years or so.
After the last tour I took with Chris, the day before I left Paris, I asked him, “How does it feel to know you got this close (holding my thumb and forefinger an inch apart). Does it ever freak you out? Or depress you?”
“Not at all,” he said. He gave me a long answer — one I won’t try to sum up here — but it’s obvious Chris is happy with his life, and what he does, and how the whole thing’s played out since his days as a Smuggler.
Now I’ve got to go start prepping paperwork. Heather Starlet’s scheduled to take a trip to the Gloryhole today, and I’m happy with my life, and what I do, and how the whole thing’s played out since I got in this whacky, fucked up biz.
Really, I am.