19 September 2006

“We’re R.E.M., and this is what we do”

Saturday’s Georgia Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was everything I wanted it to be: a celebration of music, a special night with my beloveds (real and imagined), a good excuse to get dolled up. My date for the evening was my niece Lauren — a true Coffey, as big a music freak as I am. She grew up listening to R.E.M., thanks to her obsessed aunt, so she was nearly as excited about the event as I was. This year’s induction class included, in addition to R.E.M., Gregg Allman (Lauren’s favorite on the bill, actually), Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, Felice Bryant, and Kristen Hall. I’ll write about my boys today and the rest of the induction ceremony later this week (or else it will take you hours to read this post).

I was surprised that R.E.M. had yet to be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, that groups such as The B-52’s and Indigo Girls made it in before then. I found out through a source that the reason for this long-overdue honor was simply a scheduling problem: R.E.M. had been on tour or unavailable in previous years, and they wanted to be in attendance for The Big Event. As did I.

You’re saying to yourself, “Damn, she has a ‘source’; she’s cool.” I’m telling myself that, too, but it’s not all that exclusive; it’s all in the phrasing.

The organizers were strict about us staying in our general areas, telling us there were police and security throughout the hall so that we wouldn’t pester the inductees and their famous friends. Damn them. Actually, although I probably would have rushed the stage during the performance, I wouldn’t have bothered the luminaries in attendance. I’m finding that I prefer keeping R.E.M. at arm’s length, on their pedestals, and having my own connection with the songs. Who cares about their what and why when it means something else to me?

R.E.M. was the next-to-last induction, as Group of the Year, just before Gregg Allman. The two thousand of us seated in the World Congress Center ballroom had three hours of cocktails and bad food and lesser-knowns before The Beloved Four hit the stage. But it was worth the wait.

If you missed the many news stories, this was an especially poignant night, as the original four came together to perform — Bill Berry left the hay farm for this event. Since Bill retired from the band in 1997, he’s performed with R.E.M. maybe three or four times, and usually just on one or two songs. It was wonderful to see those four together again, a glorious step back in time.

R.E.M. performed three songs, the max allowed. I hate to be one of those fans — I don’t think I’ve ever complained about an R.E.M. performance, and I’ve seen them nearly thirty times — but I found the set a bit predictable. My fingers were crossed for “Radio Free Europe” or “Gardening at Night,” maybe “Perfect Circle” or “Nightswimming,” even “Sitting Still” or “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Now, I enjoyed what they played, but I was holding out for a fan special.

Michael Stipe introduced the first song with “This is going to be loud.” And “Begin the Begin” (a thrilling semi-surprise) filled the room. We were up and dancing and singing and feeling young.

The ceremony was broadcast live on the state’s public broadcasting stations, and there were JumboTrons throughout the room playing the simulcast. Lauren and I were among the first to yelp louder the first time the camera zoomed on Bill Berry (who looks good, by the way; farming seems to agree with him); soon everyone in the room threw in an extra roar when the camera caught him.

There was a college-age kid from Japan at our table. He came to Atlanta just for this R.E.M. performance, and is beside himself with excitement about the upcoming Robyn Hitchcock/Minus 5 show in Tokyo next month. When R.E.M. played, he sat a little taller in his chair, very still. Even when he stood, he remained stiff and respectful. I was hoping to see him break loose and dance. He was thrilled with the show, stiffness be damned.

As Michael Stipe said “We’re R.E.M., and this is what we do,” Peter Buck grabbed the mandolin, Scott McCaughey hit the stage for some guitar work, and the band played “Losing My Religion.” While I was hoping for something else, it was wonderful to hear it live for the first time in a couple of years.

Those who watched the show on PBS complained that R.E.M. and Gregg Allman sounded off-key, and the clips included here back up that claim. But it must have been a room/broadcast conflict, as everyone sounded great. Or maybe we were too in the moment to notice.

To introduce the final number, Michael explained it’s “a song about life and about passage and about what each of us make of our short time here on Earth,” dedicating “Man on the Moon” to former Texas governor Ann Richards. “Man on the Moon” is always fun to hear live — and I love the way Michael sings “cooo-wulll!”

Former Senator Max Cleland — one of our state’s great heroes — then inducted the band, and Michael spoke for the group. I giggled every time Peter Buck bent down to put his glass of red wine on the floor to applaud Sen. Cleland and Blind Willie McTell. You gotta love a man with priorities.

But that wasn’t the end of the night for us R.E.M. fans. Gregg Allman needed a backup band for his final numbers, so Peter, Mike, Bill, and Scott joined him for the evening closer: “Midnight Rider.”

Upload music at Bolt

That performance was perhaps the highlight of the show.

I’ll write about it later this week, but I will tell you that Gregg Allman performed an acoustic version of “Melissa,” which was beautiful.

So, it was a brilliant, wonderful, baubled evening. Lived up to my internal hype, although I was hoping for a stretch on the playlist. I felt proud to be a part of this momentous occasion with my boys (and, yes, I will go to Cleveland when they're inducted into The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame). And, just as important, my outfit was fabulous.

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At 9/19/2006 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Coaster Punchman said...

Cool! I'll have to listen to the clips tonight because I'm at work. I've only seen them once, which makes me feel like a loser now. Oh, well. Glad you had fun!

At 9/19/2006 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

Same here, I'll listen from home. So glad you rocked the joint as much as the guys did Beth, I knew it'd be fun. I've seen them 3 times and loved each time. I only say that to stick my tongue out at CP. 'Cause I'm a little mean.

At 9/19/2006 11:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, Thanks for this post. I felt like I was there. Cooooulllll! I would have loved it if they had played World Leader Pretend. Love Ali

At 9/19/2006 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Cup said...

COASTER PUNCHMAN: You must promise me that you'll get up, throw your arms out, and dance wildly around the room while you listen. That's what I did. And I don't consider you a loser ... as long as you promise to hit their next show.

DALE: Ditto on the dancing. Take photos for us. And I like a little mean on my page.

ALI: Another great one! Damn, I wish R.E.M. had two hours to play ...

At 9/19/2006 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Will said...

What a well-deserved honor, and thanks for posting the videos. How exciting for you!!! R.E.M. is absolutely one of the first bands I ever got into - and I'm so thrilled the original lineup played together again. How difficult it must be to choose just three songs to sum up your career - at least they kept it somewhat classic. How nice to dedicate a song to Ann Richards - I've been meaning to write a tribute to her myself.

At 9/19/2006 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Jenna said...

REM sitting in on Midnight Rider? It's good I wasn't there, my head may have exploded.

It sounds like a fabulous time, and you're right! Not a Tuesday! Also, not Atlanta. I think that's the key.

I'm glad you had fun and looked fabulous!

At 9/19/2006 01:28:00 PM, Blogger Moderator said...

No "Georegia On My Mind?" Isn't that a requirement at the Georgia Music Hall Of Fame?

At 9/19/2006 01:31:00 PM, Blogger Cup said...

WILL: Having been a mega-fan since 1980, it was a real thrill for me to see all four together again. It was a great night. And I was proud of my boys acknowledging Gov. Richards.

GIZMOROX: It was pretty cool, actually.

GRANT MILLER: Gregg Allman got that honor, actually -- a bluesy Gregg-and-piano rendition.

At 9/19/2006 01:47:00 PM, Blogger haahnster said...

Excellent post, Beth. Congrats on a wonderful evening.

At 9/19/2006 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Benny said...

Beth! Your post gave me chills. Hehe. I have to agree that the songs were predictable, though.

Give us the dirt on Robyn Hitchcock, Ms.-It's-All-In-The-Phrasing. :-)

At 9/19/2006 03:03:00 PM, Blogger barista brat said...

i always think of these events as stiff and forced, but your post really made it come alive for me. glad you had fun!

At 9/19/2006 03:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am glad you had such a great time. please include a photo so we all can see how fabulous you looked that night.

and by the way--the rock and roll hall of fame induction is in new york --not cleveland--(though the actually hall of fame is located there) and tickets are STEEP.

At 9/19/2006 03:13:00 PM, Blogger Cup said...

HAAHNSTER: It was wonderful. I didn't get close to the boys (I think security had my photo), but I was glad to be in the same (very large) room with them.

BENNY: Predictable, yet thrilling. I need to get you a CD of my favorite Hitchcockian songs (most have Peter Buck playing on them; go figure). I'll e-mail you later today.

BRAT: Between the niece and me, our section was far from stiff and forced. I like to think it was us who inspired the boys (although, I hate to admit, Mr. Stipe seemed a bit bored).

M: I know it's in New York (Paul Shaffer + Co. are the house band, after all); not sure what I was thinking. I'll start saving up now for the tickets. I don't think we took a photo of me m Saturday night ... but I have several of my niece. Trust me that the baubles and shoes and ensemble were fabulous

At 9/19/2006 04:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At last! The post! Was a bit worried when you didn't post immediately after.

I will SO meet up with you in NY for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony! :)

Hee! Pete's good with a glass of red wine, eh? He always seems to have one in hand, parked on top of the amp - or the floor. So much classier than a beer!

And how touching and sweet of them to dedicate Man On The Moon To Ann Richards.

Sounds like it was a nearly perfect night!

I'll watch the vids later as well. At work...

At 9/19/2006 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Old Lady said...

Who needs to go to concerts when we have you! Sounds like a great time.

At 9/19/2006 08:55:00 PM, Blogger Kel aka Daddyo said...

I am so delighted you got to be there for such a special moment, and I appreciate you making it so real I felt I was there too.
Thanks for you comments at my place. Bless you and yours, Kel aka Daddyo

At 9/19/2006 08:59:00 PM, Blogger Cup said...

GLASSMEOW: It was a great time, nearly perfect. I was bitchy about Mr. Stipe up above; the more I watch, the more I think he was nervous.

OLD LADY: But never give up the opportunity to hit a concert!

KEL aka DADDYO: I'm glad you were able to experience the night via my page.

At 9/20/2006 07:40:00 AM, Blogger Will said...

Beth, what a beautiful historic event to attend. You're very lucky and having watched the You Tube videos you posted, they don't sound off key to me at all.

As for the set list, I agree it probably is too short and I guess they chose a couple of songs that would hit home with everyone in the audience.

Great post, and lovely recollections of a great night.

At 9/20/2006 10:18:00 AM, Blogger Cup said...

Ben, it was a great, fun, exciting night. I knew we'd hear a short set, but I was hoping for something ... unexpected, I guess.

At 9/21/2006 12:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, so, jealous.

At 9/21/2006 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Cup said...

I should be ashamed over how happy I am to read of your jealousy ... and yet it makes the night more beautiful.

I was planning to hit the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony ... but I just found out that it costs $10,000 for a table of eight.


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