Tired of "Everything"
By Kristen Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
Every once in a while, it happens that you're present at the beginning of a phenomenon. You may or may not be aware of the enduring quality of the moment you're witnessing, as you live it. But years later, you'll be able to recollect that moment within an inch of its life. Younger generations will listen to your tales with their mouths and eyes agape.
Not to infringe upon Steve Almond's territory, but this is the tale of where my literary life intersects with rock & roll, and how part of me has never left that junction. The year is 1988. At my local record store, when I can cop a ride after school, I paw at the oh-so-black Joy Division t-shirts, which are out of the price range of my after-school salary. With the eight bucks I have left in my pocket after buying a woody pint of chocolate milk at high-school lunch, I want something that gets me, that guts me.
It's late in the heyday of the cassette age, and though I still buy vinyl when I can, this shop nearest my house stocks its bins with giant plastic armatures, each one holding a single tape. I've picked up some good stuff here: The Chameleons UK, Aztec Camera, and some ambient jazz by Lionel Mays. Today, it's a purple box with weird yellow font: Four Songs, an EP by a band called Live. It's produced by Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, so it can't be bad.
Maybe I'm hooked because, in the pre-iTunes era, an EP is a record label's designation of Extra-Promising. A band they'll back when it only has "extended play" material, not a full "long-play" LP. Secondly, the band has marked the i in Live with the diacritic mark macron, a grammar geek's dream. This ensures the would-be fan will call them lie'v, not livv.
After the purchase, when the cellophane is off, I'm even more impressed. These guys are angry. Politically angry. I wear out the tape by 1991, when they release Mental Jewelry, their first full record. On that album, despite their only-recent success, they've recorded a song, "Tired of Me."
Mental Jewelry is released about the same time as I'm on a road trip from Utah to Connecticut via Athens, Georgia. Though I don't know at the time what success the band will have, I also have no idea of how they will stick in my memory.
In Athens, I eat at an underground diner where the waitress offers a city tour of the houses of all of the members of oddfellows local 151 heroes, R.E.M. One of the members - Pete Buck, is it, or Mike Mills? - supposedly has giant metal daffodills on his lawn. The waitress (forgive me, servers, but this is the early 90's, and y'all are still waitresses), grows more enthused by the enthusiasm of my group. Michael Stipe, she alleges, was forever impressed with her interpretation of "You Are the Everything," from 1988's Green LP:
"The voices talking somewhere in the house
Late spring and you're drifting off to sleep
With your teeth in your mouth
You are here with me
You are here with me
You have been here and you are everything."
Waitress Self-Satisfied brags that she and she alone, amidst every listener in the world, knew that song was about Michael Stipe's grandmother. Everyone else thought it was about some girl. And I thought, I knew it was about his grandmother. It's so obvious. And i'm tired of you.
But what more am I now, than that waitress? Clutching on to some deep understanding of an 80's pop song, some individualism that I thought that proved. Attempting to write creative nonfiction of my own. But so, so tired of me.
Any of you memoirists, or slant-fiction writers - do you ever get tired of your subject? What do you do then? When you know you were present at the beginning of a phenomenon - you - and there may or may not be any enduring quality to that moment?
Published on July 14, 2014