Editor's note: On the new comedy podcast "R U Talkin' R.E.M. RE: ME?", hosts Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott dive deep into the legendary Athens band's discography. Local superfan Tim Kelly is reviewing the podcast for Flagpole.
“I just march up to people and say, ‘I think we should be friends,’ and then it usually works out.” — April Richardson
“Dude, you are NOT ready.” — April’s friend informing April that Michael Stipe (whom April had never met) was at the 40 Watt that night
My years in college were spent doing many things, not all of which were wise or productive. One of my favorite pastimes was to convince friends to go downtown and frequent the reputed haunts of R.E.M. members. Grab a bootleg at Low Yo Yo (loved the shoutout from April!), beer at Manhattan, etc. Part of this was simply to soak in the Athens-ness of it all, but a much bigger part was to perhaps bump into Stipe, Mills, Buck or Berry. And then? I didn’t actually know what would happen should I ever come face to face. Would I say something? Would they call security? As the Joker once wisely said, I was the dog chasing cars—what was I going to do once I caught one?
I’ve never been fearless enough to walk up to friendly strangers—let alone internationally famous rock stars—and just… start talking. With the latter, I usually rely on the time-honored “pretend to be looking for the bathroom, walk by and get a brief glimpse” strategy. Much like Scott, I’m envious of April’s confidence in these situations.
Now, the following story has grown in the telling, but the way I remember it goes like this. It’s spring of 1999, and The Globe is at capacity, with a scant few seats scattered around the bar. I go up to order a drink, R.E.M. bootleg CD purchased earlier that night at Low Yo Yo in my pocket (truth), and a man settles in nearby. I glance over quickly, and it’s Stipe. It’s only the second time I’ve encountered him in Athens. I panic—silently, briefly—then collect myself. I grab my two beers, turn to catch one more glimpse of one of the most famous artists on the planet—and he’s gone. I turn around, promptly crashing into someone directly behind me, sloshing beer on them. It’s Stipe. I apologize; he’s unfazed.
During this disastrous turn of events, my friends had managed to secure table space. There are two empty seats next to them—the only two empty seats in the entire bar. Stipe and his friend eye the open spots and ask if they can sit down. And now, we are sharing a table with Michael Stipe. My friend Barbara has a touch of the April Richardson superpower and uses a lull in their conversation to make contact, and now we are all talking to the lead singer of R.E.M.
We stay for a few hours, speaking intermittently throughout the night. Stipe throws a knowing wave the bartender’s way as last call approaches, signaling it is OK for us to stick around with them a bit later than normal just to finish our drinks. We say our goodbyes, stumble out into the night and then I proceed to tell this story to every friend, family member, store clerk, flight attendant and domesticated animal that will sit still and make eye contact with me.
I asked my friends this week for their recollection of the night. I recall us playing the whole thing cool; we gave Stipe and his friend their space and only chatted when it seemed appropriate. My friend Barbara responded, “Yeah, not sure 'we played it cool.'” You may think I’m crazy, and like April walking up to Mike Mills’ house or leaving messages on Stipe’s voicemail, maybe these stories are best left to our youth. But that night was mine, dammit, and I loved every second of it. I caught the car, and guess what? The car and I had a beer and a nice conversation!
April’s R.E.M. story is very much my story. We’re the same age, an older sibling introduced the band to us, we loved “Get a Life,” something clicked, and after hearing the band a few times, as April said, “I just knew—I’m into music now!” Hearing her stories and especially her birthday pilgrimage tale brought back those nights wandering downtown hoping for a sighting, taking the long way home to drive past the steeple, stopping for an impromptu stroll by the trestle, just basking in the fact that we were R.E.M. fans living in Athens. And for one girl celebrating a birthday on Mike Mills’ porch and a group of star struck 21-year-olds on a spring night at The Globe, the old adage did not ring true: You should absolutely meet your heroes.
Stone Cold Classics, Monster edition: