A sudden flash, that's how it hits you. One moment you are one person, and the next, all of your molecules have shifted a millimeter to the left, metaphorically of course, or maybe not. Maybe that's what actually happens. Has anyone tested for sudden lateral molecular movement in these situations? Somehow I think not. So don't you mock me.
So there you are, and all your molecules have metaphorically or even possibly literally shifted a millimeter to the left, and you FEEL it. It's like you forgot that you were wearing sunglasses and when you went to scratch your nose and found those Foster Grants slipping down the bridge of it, you were suddenly set free, the blind could see, etcetera. More clearly, anyways.
It happens most of all to me with music, less often with people.
What got me thinking in this direction was R.E.M. being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I loved this happening, because it was a band that not only meant a lot to me on a very intimate level, but they were also a band that I got into as a young adult. I hated it a little because the second of those two reasons made me feel a bit old, but honestly that feeling is one that I just play with most of the time. I think on some levels I have been preparing to be a peculiar old man all of my life. On other levels, I will most likely be an overgrown teenager my whole life.
I certainly was in 1986, when I was just starting at WFBE-FM, a community school owned public radio station in Flint, Michigan. A teenager on the brink of his 20s. The guy who trained me (at first) was Steve Vamossy, who I later found out was in a local band that I would be a big fan of, the Guilty Bystanders. I was working my shift, and Steve was hanging around after his to make himself a mixtape in Studio A. Among the CDs (still a new, novel item!) he had amassed to make his tape (on a really nice Nakamichi cassette deck, by the way) were a small stack of R.E.M. discs, sitting by the audition station in the record library. I had heard of them, and I had a vague idea that there was a good buzz on them from reading Rolling Stone and Creem.
"Hey Steve, can I check out these R.E.M. CDs?" Heck, I had 15 minutes until the next station break.
"Sure, no problem," said Steve.
"Which one's the best one?"
"All of 'em."
I rolled my eyes. He's no help. I would just have to pick one. I shuffled through the jewel cases. On top was the new one, Life's Rich Pageant. That looked interesting enough, but for some reason, the second one in the stack caught my eye.
It looked primal, like a cave painting. At first I thought it was a drawing of a tangled series of tunnels, but as my eyes focussed on it, I saw the coiled serpent, phallic symbol, satanic signifier, older than man, silent watcher...
All this stuff flashed through my head in a stacatto emotive shorthand as I put on the headphones and placed the compact disc carefully into the drawer.
The music I heard then was immediately recognizable to me as coming from the American South in which I'd spent much of my early life. At the same time it was completely unlike anything I'd ever heard before, as if it were comprised of secret messages from some distant alien world. Instantly familiar and thrillingly unfamiliar all at once.
I was in love.
I didn't know anything about this music yet, but I knew right then and there that it was going to be part of my life forever...like that strange little pond on my grandfather's land in Cullman, Alabama that must have been the result of a meteorite strike. I came across it after walking across rain damp pasture one warm spring day, following my ears through the woods toward the sound of splashing water.
The only thing missing was elves and fairies. Big trees with exposed, tangled roots and thick beards of spanish moss leaned into a circle of their brethren, all of them surrounding 360 degrees of waterfalls down a twenty foot or so drop down into a neat circle of dark water with filtered sunshine rippling merrily on its surface. Magical.
Reckoning makes me think of that kind of place. Old and strange and beautiful, hidden just beyond where all the people are, but still green and fresh and vital, like new spring leaves on ancient trees.
Needless to say, I have been a fan ever since. They have lost something since Bill Berry left the drum chair, though...much as I try, I can not be as moved by their more recent material. It isn't that the people involved are any less talented, or that Bill was that great of a drummer, although he is excellent.
It's magic. Synergy.
At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show for 2007, 21 years after I first heard them, they played with Bill on drums again, and they had that magic again. All cylinders firing, and I remembered how much I loved that band. I actually got a little choked up in front of my television, raw emotional memory flooding back into my mind like 360 degrees of waterfalls.
It was like seeing old beloved friends. Old friends who have no idea who I am, but still.
They were the music makers, the dreamers of dreams, and their dreams infected mine. And how do you like that? They still do.