This was being talked about on Facebook so I figured since the story was lost from a long time ago I should repost....
Athens Historical Society to Screen Rare R.E.M. Videos and Examine R.E.M.’s Athens History and Impact
On Sunday, October 21, 2007, the Athens Historical Society will present “R.E.M. in Perspective: An Athens History.” The event will be held at 2:00 p.m. in the historic Seney-Stovall Chapel at 201 N. Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia.
The program will feature two previously unscreened vintage videos of R.E.M. and two panel discussions.
REMring Note: I am already looking up flights. Anyone in the states that is interested maybe we can have a mini REM Fan Pow Wow at one of the local clubs Saturday Night? This looks to be an amazing program and of course contains the earliest video footage of R.E.M. available. It should be an amazing treat!
I stepped outside my Athens Hotel Room door around 2:00 am on Monday morning. The drought stricken Georgia was seeing a reprieve in the form of a light rainshower that was falling overhead. For Georgians everywhere it would have been a sigh of relief; and for a second I felt like an Athenian, smiling as I saw this parched small college town get the reprieve that it richly deserved.
My two short days in Athens were coming to a fruition. I felt sad for leaving its hallowed southern lore behind me and heading back to the city of Chicago. I regretted the fact that I had not been back in 6 years to visit the place and have already thought that this is not going to happen ever again.
My initial purpose in going to Athens was to see the program ‘R.E.M. in Perspective: An Athens History’, that was being sponsored by the Athens Historical Society.
(Click Here to view a copy of the program and I would also encourage you to do so as the names and faces that I refer to later in this article would probably be better served for your comprehension. First off, they did a great job on the bios and, secondly, if I wrote them out, this would take forever.)
Blair Dorminey had emailed me about this program with the intent of publicizing it to R.E.M. fans everywhere. What was different about this program in my eyes was the very rare videos of R.E.M. taken by Dan Wall of Wuxtury Records. These videos had never seen the light of day to the public so this viewing was the incentive that made me think that truly a vacation in Athens was calling me.
I did ask myself that question. “What am I doing? I am going all the way to Athens, Georgia to watch some silly videos of a band?” (Of course I say “Silly” in terms of any non-obsessed R.E.M. fan would look at my trek as being.)
Well, I should probably be honest that it wasn’t just about the videos. It was about Athens. I missed this town. Coming from the north, coming from Chicago and going to Athens you realize that there is a spirit that exists on the streets, in the bars and the restaurants and clubs. A commune, a group of people looking out for themselves, in the same way that they looked out for R.E.M. In a way the program turned out to be a way for R.E.M. to look out for the same place that nurtured them.
With all the influence, political, economic or otherwise, R.E.M. did not create that spirit. When I spend time here I realize that it is the people.
Saturday night I decided to check out a local act, a shoegaze band by the Psychic Hearts and found the event gravitating. I watched as everyone there seemed to know each other and I would not be surprised if everyone in the audience was in a band. I observed that it was like someones house party. It might be true that everyone was there was just “friends of the band” but it speaks how much the community is out for each other. Compare this to the events surrounding R.E.M. Without that community to nurture them they would never be where they are now. It was the friendships and the commaraderie and the commune-like attitude that music is a community-based event.
I really did not know anything about this band other than reading a write-up about them in Flagpole, it became my entertainment for the evening and they were tight, melodic and yet powerful. I stood close to the stage and felt the music rush over my body. I think I spent part of Monday evening wondering about any releases that were available online of this band.
The next day I woke with a handful of nervous energy. Of course any morning in Athens for me is not right without a nice cup of Coffee and some breakfast from the Athens Diner.
In getting to the highlights of the event:
Keynote Speaker: Tony Fletcher
Tony opened the afternoon with a stirring speech that set the tone for the afternoon. While Tony might have felt that he was not the proper person for the job, in fact, I think it was the complete opposite. I have always felt that there is a bubble around Athens, and the perception of what Athens is to the person that is not covered in Kudzu is much different than the mood and atmosphere within. From Tony’s perspective, R.E.M. was a band that was different than the rest.
I had spent the morning reviewing the article that I had put on the site that Tony initially wrote almost 25 Years ago about the band. Tony reviewed his initial impressions of meeting the band, and seeing them live for the first times in the UK.
Tony was very frank about the pompous nature of the UK Music Scene during the day, making cracks about bands like Flock of Seagulls and Culture Club and from his impressions, what R.E.M. had done was make critics realize that there was an music scene in America worth investigating. Athens, along with other scenes in Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota could not be ignored anymore by the UK Press or the audience. R.E.M. was not just sitting there playing their songs but preaching the gospel to the critics.
Tony was always impressed however with the way that R.E.M. had treated him. As he put it, when he was working on writing his book about R.E.M. it was they who sent him a thank you note after he visited, totally opposite of what should have happened, i.e. the author sending the thank you note to the band.
Wuxtry Demos, Wuxtry Records, Atlanta, GA, June 6, 1980:
First, it must be understood just how much gratification that this writer is imparting to Mr. Dan Wall of Wuxtry Records for allowing these videos to be shared with an audience.
My first impressions of the band during this era was just how young and green they looked, with the exception of Michael. The others looked like clean cut college kids, Peter and Mike especially, who had the look that he just ditched their High School Calculus class. The power of the recording of course is that this video was shot almost two months to the day after their first show. At first I had my doubts as to the quality of this shows performance versus the already distributed Wuxtry Practice Session Demos that are popular among bootleg collectors. After further review, my belief is that those Wuxtry Audio Tapes have possibly gone through the ringer too many times for their comparison to be valid.
The video however, offers the showmanship of Michael Stipe at an early part of his career. It was interesting to note that an audience member of the previous generation, not having the same understanding of R.E.M. and their influences during the panel sessions immediately pointed to Elvis when she saw Michael. What a very clever catch! Tony Fletcher had remarked during the keynote address of the Tube performance that Michael Stipe was still during this entire performance, giving fans a different point of view of the original Michael.
Mike still offers Opera-like backing vocals, similar to the early 1980 show (May 30, 1980?) which had surfaced a couple years back. In fact, that show and this videotape would have been a week or so apart which would make some sense.
As mentioned by Paul Butchart, a panelist during the first session, he noted there was a difference in the way that Bill Berry held his drumsticks; (since I am not a drummer and did not take down perfect notes you will just have to work through this.) The second video shows Bill holding the sticks more as he holds them now.
It was funny after the audience watched the first video ‘Narrator’, I could not help but notice the oohs and ahhs from the crowd. As the first song finished there was an extremely appreciative applause after ‘Narrator’. The best way to describe it for me was like the applause I heard when I saw Star Wars Episode 1. The same could be said for Dangerous Times.
As far as the video quality of this performance, from a bootleg standpoint I would have to rate this up at around 4.5 out of a 5 point scale. We are not watching a “Pro-Shot” performance, but it can be said that the quality of the video has held up over all these years and it does not look as if the camera was being hand-held but on a Tripod. Very solid indeed.
The sound is solid. As stated earlier, you can pull much more out of this audio recording than widely circulated “Wuxtry Recordings” that have surfaced.
688 Club, Atlanta, GA: (Date Unknown)
(Approximately 2 Months After Wuxtury Demos as determined by Dan Wall and Mark Methe however I think that they are quite a bit off and would put this somewhere circa 1981.)
I Don’t Want You Anymore
Gardening At Night
Radio Free Europe
In my opinion this was the real catch of the day. While nothing can understand the importance of the first video, the second shows the band in its infancy in front of a live audience. What we see from this is a mesmerizing account of just how powerful R.E.M. was on the stage in those early years.
This is something that has been grossly understated. While written accounts have tried to describe this in detail as far as memory and history will take us, the fact of the matter remains is that this demonstrates more often than not that Michael Stipe was at a very early point a powerful frontman. While watching this video, the first words that came to mind were ‘Whirling Dervish”. Never to take the words out of someone elses mouth, in discussing this with Tony Fletcher later on in the evening at the Globe, he has to be credited for actually using that phrase, and it was funny however as I was writing my notes while watching these videos that was exactly what I had written.
There is an edited version of what is referred to as “The Pier Video”, taken on October 10, 1982, at The Pier in Raleigh, NC which was the closest we have come in the past of recapturing that image of R.E.M. Those that have viewed all or parts of that video could comment on Michael Stipe’s stage antics then would be blown away from the events here. The amount of energy that he exhibited onstage at the 688 club blew this writer away. In conversations with those that were around during this era of R.E.M.’s history this brought them back to that time.
What also was apparent was the tightness of the rhythm section already. Bill and Mike had it going. Include Peter Buck, while still learning his instrument had already begun his stage antics, in one case getting back-to-back with Michael and arching his head backwards and putting it on Michael’s shoulder only to see Michael push Peter away and smile and laugh in the process.
The real reason of course this tape is so special is Stipe. He is showing early on the energy, the power and the ability to be a lead singer as if by the grace of god he was designed to be exactly that. This is not a shy kid that hung out with his sisters for a year and didn’t talk to anyone. He commanded the stage. One look at him and you knew why R.E.M. is where they are now.
Dan Wall and Mark Methe had announced during the showing of this video that it was approximately two months after The problem that I have with the timeframe that was given as being “Two Months Later” however I think that this recording is actually several months later if not a year after the Wuxtury Tapes. The reason being is that ‘Radio Free Europe’ was a song that had not been performed live at this time. It would make more sense that this video took place sometime after January 1981.
The video and the sound are solid, the audio moreso than the Wuxtury Sessions. Again, it looks as if the footage has not suffered much degradation over these years which is a good thing. The lighting and sightlines are also solid and while there are times the camera might sway off the audience it is not jumpy and also looks like they are using a tripod.
This is history. From this writers standpoint it was the closest that I have ever come to witnessing what it must have been like in the early R.E.M. years. This was a treat beyond treats and at this point in the program I could have gotten up from my seat and left satisfied that the trip was a success. However, the day was just beginning. There would be additional tricks and treats along the way. . . .
To be continued
Panel: R.E.M.’s Musical and Artistic Roots in Athens
Panelists: Paul Butchart, Curtis Crowe, Tony Fletcher, John Keane, Kathleen O’Brien Layson, Maureen McLaughlin, Dan Wall, Frank White and Mark Mobley, moderator
This was a very interesting and diverse panel. Mark Mobley, the moderator of the program allowed each of the panelists to point to their impressions of R.E.M. and Athens. Outside of going into a complete dialogue of the panel, it felt like a Town Hall Meeting on R.E.M., that related a sense of history.
What I found intriguing was that the participants on the panel, most of which have spent a good time in Athens not only offered their own conclusions but raised their own questions in the process. It was a panel that looked not only at their southern roots, but their unique beginnings in the town. I have never been in the same room with so many individuals that were at the first show and in some cases before the first show.
John Keane discussing his relationship with R.E.M. over the years, how they record, play, etc., and the vast amount of influence that they had on other bands as well. He described how the band members would normally bring in other bands, acts to record there as well, claiming that it seemed that Peter was bringing in other artists on a weekly basis. He also, humerously, brought up the aspect of having a band wanting to record in his studio and making the distinct point of “Not sounding like R.E.M.” and only to realize that the first instruments they brought in were a Rickenbacker 12-String to the studio.
Maureen McLaughlin discussing a situation where while walking down the street with Vanessa Briscoe Hay, the lead singer of Pylon that they ran into a shy and humble Michael Stipe stumbled his way in asking if it was alright if he started a band. This received a hearty laughter from the crowd and as Maureen aptly put it, Vanessa was thrilled and offered her support in any way possible.
Don Wall’s account of Peter’s desire to move to Athens based on the music scene that was flourishing there at the time. Don also was renting out apartments at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at the time and set Peter up with both an apartment.
Kathleen O’Brien Layson’s account of the early days of R.E.M., living in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Athens and her account of how she got the band together. Kathleen O’Brien had wanted to live in the Church and had contacted Dan Wall who had told her that Peter Buck was going to move into one of the apartments in that building. Kathleen, already knowing Peter previously then asked Peter if it was alright to move in with her. By this time, Peter had already met Michael and they were dabbling in writing songs. Kathleen had known Bill via her connection with WOUGGERZ, as Bill was a temporary replacement drummer. She put 2 and 2 together and basically told Peter and Michael that they had to meet Bill and Mike. She also described the early rehearsals of the band. The Chapel at St. Mary’s where the band practiced as well as held their first show was blocked off from the apartments and thus to reach it you had to crawl through a hole. In a way, I picture it was almost magical, like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, crawling through this hole to reach this magical realm. While the band never felt they were ready, Kathleen felt otherwise when she asked them to play at her birthday party. Her last minute inclusion on this panel was a welcome surprise.
Paul Butchart’s: His overall musical knowledge of not only R.E.M. but Athens in general. I was not aware that not only was April 5th the first show of R.E.M. but the Side Effects as well. As Paul was a drummer as well he was the one that noticed the fine detail of Bill’s unique drumming style mentioning that he was holding his drumsticks differently.
Curtis Crowe: Another Drummer! The legendary Pylon drummer was also at the first show and also put his unique perspective in what Pylon as well as other bands in the area would do. For Pylon, it’s intent was just an “Art Project” and was not supposed to be anything more than that. But this offered also a glimpse into Athens which encouraged expression rather than discouraging it.
Frank White’s impressions of R.E.M. offering an element of southern music that was unlike what was being played at the radio at the time. It felt southern without falling into the clichés of what Southern Rock was supposed to sound like. For him, it was a band that immediately spoke to him and he could immediately relate to. I think his story brought a lengthy discussion as to the “R.E.M. Sound”.
Taken From Rolling Stone Article
"We're not a party band from Athens, we don't play New Wave music, and musically, we don't have shit to do with the B-52s or any other band from this town. We just happen to live here."- Michael Stipe
"Basically, we're just four pretty vague people. We’re definitely not writing in one specific tradition, and I can't think of any one group or attitude that we subscribe to. Rather than join a particular club, we'd like to be free to join them all" - Peter Buck
While the first comment might draw laughter from this crowd the second comment seems to be more diplomatic in its approach. Sure, Michael Stipe was getting tired of being compared to every other Athens Dance Band that was around. At the same time it was the band that focused their attention on stating that Athens, GA was more than just a dance band city. Like the label “Grunge” got attached to Seattle, Athens was in danger of having the same thing happen to them years before Kurt Cobain made is way of sniffing out High School Locker rooms.
While it is true that R.E.M.’s own success could in part be attributed to Athens they were quick to point out that Athens was much more diverse than what the media was making them out to be. As I had pointed out earlier, there does exist a bubble around Athens and R.E.M. had a lot to do with popping that bubble. Today more than ever, Athens exists as a musical oasis that attracts a very diverse musical crowd. Spending a day in Athens will make anyone realize that the musical talents at some times sound psychaedelic, other times country, blues, jazz, or punk.
I think there were a lot of ideas as to how to pinpoint the sound of R.E.M. Live their music sounded like the Who, however, their albums often had folksy, country roots.
As the panelists went on there was a feeling that R.E.M. played to the crowds. R.E.M. was in some ways looked down upon or frowned for their less than artsy movement, but at the same time there were elements of the dance movement in Athens at the time. Judging from the video’s Stipe was all into the dance craze, but it was the bands ability to take various elements of the southern culture mixed with their own brand of folksy post punk rock and roll to launch them where they are now. Other impressions that I was left with was how the songs represented quite a bit of Athens. As they mentioned, Rockville was a song about Ingrid and thus friends of the band saw these songs as having a time and place.
It was also stated that while R.E.M. was an Athens band, after their initial success in Athens, they began touring more which meant for long periods of time, R.E.M. would not be around Athens but they never forgot their roots.
Panel: R.E.M.’s Social, Civic, Political, Preservation and Economic Impact on Athens
Panelists: Jared Bailey, Tim Johnson, Gwen O’Looney, Dexter Weaver, Smith Wilson, and Milton Leathers, Moderator.
R.E.M. had more of an impact not just in music but also established an element of social consciousness that began with the city of Athens. The participants discussed the various ways that the band has fostered this consciousness in Athens. Milton Leathers did an amazing job of moderating this group setting a tone of Athens not being just another southern town.
Gwen O’Looney mentioning her run for office and how Michael and the band was so instrumental in not only offering ideas as to how to improve it but always came up with a plan in order to accomplish those ideas. O’Looney discussed how R.E.M. wanted to bring upon an equal platform for all Athenians and not just for those that had power. O’Looney described how the band would not just provide an idea to the residents but show them how it would work including studies which was helpful for all Athens residents to understand alternatives.
Jared Bailey discussing the economic impact that the band has made on Athens claiming that R.E.M. is most likely the cities second biggest export outside of the University of Georgia. This includes the amount of record sales, tourism, and an element that the band has encouraged people not only to enroll at the University of Georgia but move to Athens. He also discussed that it would be interesting to find out if there could be a way to do a true study on the economic impact that a band like R.E.M. has had on the city of Athens as there are no true numbers.
Smith Wilson’s account of the amount of preservation that the city has gone through. It was remarked upon how Athens had a lot of empty decrepit old buildings and R.E.M. always tried to encourage preservation over demolition. Wilson remarked that R.E.M.’s input has brought a huge economic impact in terms of his own business as well as raising the standard of living for
Tim Johnson discussed in detail all the nonprofit groups that have been given aid by R.E.M., a list that was not complete by any stretch of the imagination.
Dexter Weaver went into detail his relationship with R.E.M. back during the Automatic for the People era commenting on how R.E.M. has directly aided his restaurant Weaver D’s. Dexter Weaver has a way of offering an account of a story with plenty of laughter along the way, including the day that after much of his success a publisher called him about wanting to do a book deal with him. Dexter not being in a good mood on this particular day told him to call him back in a couple days only to hang up the phone and second guessing himself for saying that. Of course the publisher called back and they were able to secure a book deal.
I used to say that R.E.M. was a political band but I think a better word for it is socially conscious. I have never felt that R.E.M. was the next Midnight Oil nor did they put themselves on a pedastal like Bono, however, they have been understated and humble when it comes to social issues. The panel was a reminder for me that R.E.M. shouldn’t just go onstage to “Play the Hits” but attract an audience that is aware of the world around them. R.E.M. at their best is not shoving words down your throat. R.E.M. at their best is challenging the listener to not only go out and listen to their records but look into preservation, the environment, and causes that are important to them.
Rock music is about change, its about revolution its about in the words of R.E.M. “We are concerned, we are hope despite the times”. We should be concerned, we can make a difference and that difference that R.E.M. has always exhibits is that education is the best way to do that. I.E., lets not rush to tear down a 100 year old structure to turn it into a parking lot but better yet, see if we can come up with an alternate solution to keep the building standing and allow for the space to be enjoyed for society in the future.
As much as I have read about R.E.M. doing this and that for Athens, I got a better grasp of that listening to the participants of the panel discuss their particular stories about R.E.M. with the audience. It brought a personal connection for me seeing these individuals describe all the improvements the band has given to Athens over the past 25+ years.
Afterparty at the Globe:
The Globe would most definitely be my favorite bar in Athens, from the eclectic music, the relaxing atmosphere, and bread and cheese setup, the Globe was the perfect place to have an Afterparty for this wonderful event.
From my perspective the Afterparty at the Globe served for me an opportunity to thank those people that not only made a difference but to continue the discussion of the panelists that had already begun. Honestly, I am an R.E.M. history whore that could probably sit and listen to these people talk all night bringing up their stories, accounts, thoughts and details of the small chestnut details that went on in this small town.
In speaking of the economic impact that R.E.M. has had on Athens, as much gratitude must be given to Jared Bailey, the founder of both the Flagpole Magazine and Athfest. When Murmurs.com had first created their messageboard and fans began to flock to the site, it was decided at the time it would have been cool to meet up in Athens and stay there when R.E.M. was playing on the Up Tour. Our time in Athens was so wonderful we decided we needed to do it again. So I had done some research and thought it would be a great idea to meet in Athens for Athfest. What a better way for R.E.M. fans not only to get a sampling of this great city but allow the festival to be the background for their tastes. Of course Jared was too quick to mention Jeff from www.athensmusic.net for his accomplishments in improving the Athens scene. I cannot forget going to their booth at Athfest and scouring through all those Athens bands and snatching every band or album that I could not find at the time. They are a great source for any and all Athens music and offer affordable prices for the albums as well.
For me, it was an honor to meet and thank Tony Fletcher, a man that began my R.E.M. quest so to speak. I had found out about his book way back in the early 90’s as it was advertised in the “Best of R.E.M.” an import UK CD that was being sold. At the time, this was the only book that was available on R.E.M. and there was no internet at the time where I could just point and click and find out about this band that I had already grown to love. I still remember writing to his publisher in the UK about a way to get the book shipped to me, getting that book in the mail and reading it from cover to cover. Sitting there and discussing music, his feelings and thoughts about R.E.M. as well as the music scene in the UK back in the early 80s when R.E.M. came to London for the first time was a treat indeed.
He also relayed a funny story about how the band had confused him with John Platt. When John Platt had initially met Peter around the same time as Tony did. John had written a piece about R.E.M. that had remained unpublished. However, in a follow-up meeting with Peter the next year, Peter had enjoyed the article that John wrote about him, especially the point about Peter talking like he was a “Chipmunk on Speed!”.
For Tony, I could tell his relationship with R.E.M. was finding the similarities of how R.E.M. reminded him of what the Who must have been like, as his article referenced as well as informing him that was one of his life-long passions.
Blair Dorminey was as gracious a host as there could have been. A bright smile and southern gentleman through and through, Blair was not only a fan of Athens through his work with the Athens Historical Society but also a fan of R.E.M. pretty much since the beginning. I think what Blair was able to showcase during this event was providing the right people to discuss R.E.M. and their influence on Athens as well as Athens influence on them. In many cases, R.E.M. and Athens have a symbiotic relationship now, something that has not been discussed enough. Musically, what R.E.M did was open the door in maintaining that Athens was more than just “Dance Music”, but a town of folk, jazz, country and blues.
If anyone is the true Athens Guide to Music, that title would have to be held by Paul Butchart. I am promising myself that the next time I make it down to Athens I am getting the full Athens tour from the man who should write a book about it. He knows the ins and outs of this city and could only imagine sitting down with him and just listing to him discussing the stories that are not included in the books, the magazine clippings, etc.
One of the best shows that I ever saw in my lifetime was a triple bill at the now defunct Lounge Axe in Chicago with Elf Power, Super Furry Animals and Olivia Tremor Control so it was in my opinion a great honor to meet Laura Carter, the multi-intrumentalist of Elf Power/Elephant 6, as well as Orange Twin Records and Orange Twin Conservation Community .
Last but not least, quite possibly my most pleasurable moment was meeting Kathleen O’Brien Layson, for which I can only imagine how my life might have been different. If it was not for her getting Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe together in the same room, how would our lives be different, how would Athens be a different city, how could anyone that is reading this website and this article claim that their lives would be exactly the same as it is now?
Would I still feel as strongly about music if it wasn’t for R.E.M., the band that made me search out other artists like the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Stooges, etc.? R.E.M. had shaped my mind and they were the band that I followed. They were the band that mattered and she was that point where it all started.
Her name is name-dropped by every music writer who wrote about R.E.M. in the early days; her infamous birthday party.
The articles, the books, the stories do not match what it is like to actually meet and spend time with her. Just from the first couple minutes talking to her, there are people that you can just tell have the ability to bring people together. Just hearing the stories such as the one where she claimed that R.E.M. saved her life. She had been in a car accident and feels to this day that if it were not for R.E.M. amps being in the back of her car that she would be dead.
I found solace in the fact that I believe that Kathleen’s party was not about “Her” but about “Us”. It was about bringing people together. To this day, Kathleen finds pleasure in pleasing others such as the daily tasks of cooking dinner for others. I found an inner strength in her as well, something that was necessary before that first show. It was her encouragement that R.E.M. should to play at her birthday party. There are times in all of our lives that we look to others for strength and she is one of these people.
The stories tell the facts, well sometimes they do, but there are those emotions and feelings between the lines that are lost. Her last minute inclusion on the panel and this event was a great surprise and something that I will never forget.
Through all this name-dropping, I guess I also should thank Athens as well. These were just some of the moments on this weekend journey and cannot begin to state just the amount of warmth and friendly atmosphere that I witnessed.
Vacation in Athens will be calling again.