Everyone who knows me can answer these questions:
- Who is John’s all-time favorite rock band, since he first heard them on college radio in the early 80s?
- Who inspired John to learn to play guitar and become a singer-songwriter and musician?
- Why does John act, dress, and wear his hair that way?
For those of you who haven’t already rung in (or read the title of this story) the answer is: R.E.M.
Here I won’t go into why I fell under their spell, and to this day still love them so much that I perform an R.E.M. tribute show every so often. That’s another story, a shiny, happy one.
Now, would you like to hear a very, very sad story? I thought so.
In 1986-87 I worked at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. I set up for the live shows in “the little concert hall in the back”, and sometimes assisted the sound guy during the shows.
I usually got to meet the artists. It was such an intimate venue that we, the staff, would often hang out with them. People like Doc Watson, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, and John Hiatt were regulars. Newer punk and college rock artists like Robyn Hitchcock, Peter Case & Victoria Williams, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets and many more came through McCabe’s to play acoustic sets. For these bands, it was like the original MTV Unplugged.
As it happens, on May 24th, 1987, a Sunday, I decided to take the night off. On the schedule was Texas Records Benefit. I didn’t connect any dots. Figured it was another bluegrass round. I called in sick.
I didn’t show up at McCabe’s that night.
Guess who did?
Oh, just Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M.
And Natalie Merchant.
I have to stop and gather myself every time I think about this.
Michael and Peter played acoustic versions of “The One I Love” (this was before R.E.M’s “Document” album was released in September) and “Maps and Legends”, a song from their 1985 “Fables of the Reconstruction” album.
Kendra Smith and her band Opal (soon to become Mazzy Star) played a set. A bunch of Texas Records artists including Steve Wynn, Russ Tolman, Downey Mildew, and Love Tacos played too. The musicians jammed long into the night, and all who attended had a glorious time.
You can imagine how I felt when I found out the next day.
And, in case that wasn’t enough pain, sorrow, and regret to last a lifetime, later that year R.E.M. released their watershed single “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” from the “Document” album.
Guess what the B-side was?
Recordings of the two live acoustic songs from the McCabe’s show.
I have my 1987 12″ vinyl single of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” right here in my hands. On the sleeve it says:
- THIS ONE GOES OUT (Live)
Cassette recording 24.5.87
McCabe’s Guitar Shop
- MAPS AND LEGENDS (Live)
Cassette recording 24.5.87
Texas Records Lawsuit Benefit
It haunts me to this day. I could have been there. I could have met, and even hung out with my heroes. I had seen R.E.M. live in a tiny club in Fresno, California on the “Little America” tour in 1984, but there I was just a ticket-holding crowd-member. At McCabe’s, it would have been beyond epic.
And it was, so I hear.