I filed into Bull Moose music shop on Saturday to join 500 fellow Gen-Xers. It was a perfect spring day and Mike Mills was signing copies of R.E.M.’s limited Record Store Day release “Unplugged 1991 to 2001.” As a child of the ’80s, who rocked hard to the Georgian alt-rock-gods ever since hearing “Green” at a house party, I felt it was my duty.
What I discovered is A.; Mills is very smart, funny and quick. B:, R.E.M. will always have loyal, rabid fans. C.; tweens have no idea why their parents care about musicians not featured on Minecraft, and D.; in 2014 it’s possible to have a meaningful, impromptu experience with strangers in a public space without a whiff of tragedy.
I plunked down 85 smacks for the 4-LP live collection (worth every nickel) and joined my peers in line. R.E.M.’s deep cuts (“Cuyahoga,” “Country Feedback”) filled the air. My pulse quickened.
In a strip mill in suburbia, it was electrifying.
The man behind me in a Jane’s Addiction T-shirt triggered the 15 minute conversation that got us through the wait. “What a great band,” someone commented. “I saw them at the State Theatre 15 years ago …” and we were off in a cloud of nostalgia.
Every generation thinks they grow up with the best musicians, but we really did, I offered. “Husker du.” “The Pixies.” “Bob Mould.” My line mates rattled off their favorites. Nods and grins ensued and a feeling that we were part of something bigger than an in-store promotion permeated.
Impatient kids tugged on parents’ shirt cuffs. For a few stolen minutes at 3 p.m. on a Saturday no one cared. Workaday worries and responsibilities were forgotten in an alt-rock nanosecond.
As I approached Mills, butterflies soared. He isn’t Stipe, or even Buck, but he was there and he was far from square. “What’s your name?” the bass player asked. “Kathleen,” I said, feeling 14 again.
“That’s an important name for the band,” he said. “The first time we performed was at a birthday party for a girl named Kathleen.”
I lost more than my religion in that moment. Walking out into the sunshine, clutching my signed, newly-minted vinyl I was in a spell that no fast profit on Ebay or the Easter traffic I was about to face could break.
It wasn’t the end of the world as I knew it, but for the rest of the weekend, recalling the brief camaraderie, I felt fine.
Finally when I played the sucker Sunday, I was astounded by the memories this band evokes. Lyrics that were locked away in my mind tumbled out.
“You saved my life in high school,” a middled aged woman said to Mills.
Talk about the passion.