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begin the begin

Disclaimer: this isn't stellar journalism. I'm not even sure it's good writing. But I needed to write about it so I didn't forget it.

Tuesday is a weird day. I sleep late, I write, I am going out to dinner with a bunch of friends who are in for the show. As I pull up to the Inn at Queen Anne to collect them, I am blasting Patti Smith's version of "People Have the Power" really loudly. I've kind of gotten over being pissed at R.E.M. over this.

During dinner, people are trying to decide what to do next.
"Caryn, I saw in the paper that ZEKE is playing..."
"That's nice."
"Do you think..."
"I think Zeke is playing. Have fun."
"But what? It's gonna be Zeke. They were in favor back in 1998. Old news. You have as much of a chance going to see C-Average these days."
"The MINUS 5 are playing the Croc.."
"That's nice"
"Do you think..."
"I think you can't swing a cat in Seattle without hitting some band Scott McCaughey is in."
"But R.E.M...."
"...will likely be there for sure, watching, and I'm sure Peter will get upu and play a song or two."
I get meaningful looks directed my way. I roll my eyes.
"Geez, guys, no, the Minus 5 is NOT a code word for 'Pearl Jam'. You cannot play 'interpret the Seattle club ads' better than I can. I've been doing it for years. I may suck at it, but at least I'm a pro."

Simon tells me to shut the fuck up, they think it's R.E.M. I tell them that there are worst places to hang out in Seattle than the Croc, but I am tired and I have to write and encode Bridge and I am going home. I get West Seattle Babe to drop off a gang of folks at the Croc, take other friends on the dime tour of Seattle and then drop them off, and go home, change into something comfortable, and start working on 5h. I also have to go to work tomorrow, so running around Seattle tonight, after five days of no sleep and high emotion, would not be the most prudent thing to do.

The cell phone rings at 11:30. It's the New York division of the PJ Rebel Alliance.
"There's a show at the Croc..." she begins.
"Yeah, the minus 5," I say, a little exasperatedly.
"Well, Ed's there, and all of R.E.M. are there..."
"WHAT?" Now I panic. This time I know. Every cell in my body KNOWS. I start changing clothes while I am on the phone with her. "I can't hear you," she says. "..Because I'm putting on a shirt right now." This is like ALL OVER AGAIN... I find a purse and the camera and miraculously, yet another roll of film and wish I had the fortitude to try to grab my minidisc and microphones but I am running out of here NOW. I put on my beloved Chuck Taylor 1917 sneakers for luck and HIT IT, breaking all speed records down second avenue and find a parking place a block and a half away. I was prepared to park in a bus stop or loading area if I have to. The ticket would have been worth it.

It is FREEZING. There is no line. Or rather, there is a line of four Pearl Jam fans, at least one of whom I know. They were here earlier and didn't realize it was going to be an R.E.M. show. The sign on the door says SOLD OUT, GUEST LIST ONLY. Well, I'm here. I'm dressed. I'm awake. I might as well stay until I'm too fucking cold. I didn't think about putting on a real coat.

People walk up to the door. "Is it really sold out?" they ask us. "No," I answer, "we're just standing out here freezing because we prefer it." People go inside and try to work their way in and don't make it. People ask, what about if someone leaves? No, we're over capacity, we can't let anyone else in, they are told (and they weren't, i've seen the Croc WAY more crowded than it was at that moment). But I stand there. Friends inside are calling my cell phone. West Seattle Babe comes out, telling me that it was only within the last 15 minutes that they saw Ed AND the rest of R.E.M. and even then, they felt dumb for calling me just to see Ed standing around a club. I understand this. But I continue to stand there. And stand there. R.E.M. starts playing "Imitation of Life" and I am cursing just about everything, especially and including my inability to goof off and go hang out with my friends, who are ALL inside and trying to pull every string they can, find anyone they can to get me in.

Third song, and the Croc security manager walks out, counts the people sitting there, and says, "IDs out please, $10." Again, flashback. I am throwing money and ID at the bouncer and stumble into the showroom and make my way to the far side of the stage where I suspect it will be less crowded... only to find the Australian/European contingent of PJ fans lined up along the half-broken bench against the wall. There is room next to Kate so I squeeze up there and everyone is waving and smiling and hugging me and happy to see me... but not half as glad as I am to see THEM.

I'm not there for more than one or two songs before Ed comes out, wearing that fedora he's been sporting all summer, carrying an acoustic guitar. We go nuts. So does the rest of the crowd. "Long Road" surprisingly isn't all that stellar of a version. It's a hot smoky crowded club and lots of the people who are there are there because they got lucky, not because this is one of the highlights of their life. So there's much chatter in the back. So LR is kinda rough but it's still great to see Ed here, and it's still "Long Road" and it's impossible to hate that song. I thank my lucky stars that I got in to see it. [Note: This is not the best quality mp3, it's encoded at 128, there's tons of crowd noise. We hope to get a better one available in the future. For now, it'll give you at least an idea.]

Now I settle in to enjoy R.E.M. This show, I like. It's rough and rocking and there's tons of energy and Michael is chatty and honest and not too pretentious. You have to understand how much I once loved R.E.M. The exact number of times I have seen them live is embarassing and I will not recount it here. But it is triple digits. I saw them for the first time the night I graduated high school. They reminded me of the early Who, all that energy and abandon and wild loud guitar. I followed them on tour, I did a fanzine for a while (I think it was even the first one, or one of the first ones.) I kind of lost interest when Bill quit. I got a little upset when that happened. I don't think they have been the same since, and I gave them more than a fair chance. I really did.

But tonight they are in this tiny club, and I'm actually lucky enough to have seen them in tiny clubs before, and it is hot and sweaty and almost raucous and I'm not 'on duty' and I can just let go and rock out and have fun. And it's because I *can* rock out that it is so fun. Because they are rocking out and having fun.


I've put my camera away ("Don't let me take any more pictures!") and then after "Let Me In," when Michael's complaining that someone took his drink (someone in the audience fucking took his BELT off during one song. All I could think was, christ, Ed would have given a black eye to anyone who would try that. All Michael did was stand there with one hand out, looking at the person who took it. They gave it back.) and on comes someone with a tray of drinks held high in one hand - it's ED! Oh my god. "Waiter!" we all start screaming. "Oh, WAITER! Service please!" He serves everyone, and goes offstage, and gets introduced by Michael as "Humbert Humbert, Jr." (causing one of our party to later insist that this has some kind of deep, hidden meaning that she doesn't like).

This is repeated two songs later after "She Just Wants To Be," Ed comes on with another full tray of drinks, so many that he ends up serving people in the audience (we're all still screaming, "WAITER!" and laughing and almost falling off the bench, we are laughing so hard.). For some reason, Peter Buck kisses Ed right on the mouth. I did take a photo of this, but it didn't come out. I'm *really* sorry about that.

Of note I will comment that "Country Feedback" was incredible and heartwrenching. I saw the most recent Unplugged and the version of that song was so flat and lifeless that I almost cried. But tonight I cried for another reason. "It's crazy what you could have had..." and the performance tonight does that song justice.

I don't remember where the encore break was, but all I do know is, here comes R.E.M. back onstage led by some guy in a cowboy hat - and then we realize that it's ED and I am almost falling off the bench again trying to get photos, not really caring that the woman next to me (who had been trying to keep me from blocking her view all night, and fair's fair, I did get there late) couldn't see. There is some more homoerotic action up there, kissing, hugging, I am laughing so hard I am not taking notes about who kissed who when. Ed's shirt tucked into his collar? We're seeing a conga line? Why didn't he just come out with a basket of fruit on his head like Carmen Miranda...

"Do you guys have any idea how fucking cool Eddie Vedder is?" asks Michael. Uh, actually, yes, we do. And then Stipe launches into another version of "Betterman" and we are doing our best to outsing him, but that "she dreams in circles" line throws us all off. We all look at each other. "'She dreams in circles'???" He finishes, and then announces proudly: "Welcome to my shower... there it is."

Two more songs, and then Ed's back out there, dressed normally again. We figure we're good for "It's the End of the World..." and PHTP, but instead there's a bunch of discussion up there. "Are you sure about this?" we hear Michael say. "I don't know that I know the words." I'd been yelling for songs all night, "Life And How To Live It," "Harborcoat," "Second Guessing," (and of course the obligatory tourists yelling for "Driver 8". That's like yelling for "Jeremy" at a Pearl Jam show.). But never in my wildest dreams did I expect to hear the intro to "Begin the Begin" peel out off of Peter Buck's Rickenbacker. I lost all semblance of sanity. The only control I had was to hang on to the edge of the bench so I didn't fall off. And I remember EVERY FUCKING WORD. I even know that Ed is fucking up the choruses because I had Stipe explain them to me way back in the day... "follow the leader, run and turn into butter". That's the chorus.

"Answer me a question/I can't itemize/I can't think clear, you look to me for reason/It's not there, I can't even rhyme here in the begin..." I am screaming until I am hoarse. I can't believe Ed knows the words - the man is a walking rock and roll encyclopedia. Every year there is someone else with whom Ed manages to be acquainted with their entire catalog, inside and out. I never thought I'd see R.E.M. do this again, ever, much less have Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder trading lead vocals. Jesus on a fucking skateboard, as we like to say.

And then it's time for "It's the end of the world..." and I grab the cell phone (someone has been calling me all night every time Ed has been onstage... it's West Seattle Babe, not realizing that I got in) and I dial the Rebel Alliance NYC and wake them up at 4:30 in the morning. Ed is really into it this time, he's singing and singing and singing, and Stipe kisses him, and then Ed grabs Michael and the two of them take center stage for this elaborate dance, swinging back and forth and twirling and THIS CANNOT BE REAL.... this cannot be happening. There must have been a great deal of alcohol involved... and that's great. It's great that everyone was having such a great fucking time, musicians and audience. That's why it was so great to watch, because it was just such an incredibly fun time.

And I almost missed it. Moral of the story: music and friends are more important than pretty much anything. Definitely more than a web site.

© 2001 Caryn Rose
Groetjes Mirella for the mp3!