1985, 1984

I’ve never paid much attention to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, except, of course, for that performance Alex posted once with Prince shredding While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This year, though, a couple of my favorite 80s bands were inducted.

I discovered R.E.M. in 1983 watching them perform Boxcars on Nickelodeon’s Livewire and first saw them live two years later at Dallas’ Bronco Bowl. Before the show, David and I interrupted Bill Berry bowling to get his autograph. Halfway through the set Michael Stipe rubbed mustard in his hair. I remember them closing the show with a cute little song that went “If you close the door, you’ll never have to see me again”…or maybe that was how they closed the show in College Station in 1987. Either way, it was years before I remembered to track that song down (pre-google, by singing it to somebody at Waterloo). My favorite R.E.M. song, Wendell Gee, is from Fables of the Reconstruction, the album they were touring at Bronco Bowl that night—nostalgic without being sappy, subtly southern, tastefully arranged, beautifully rounded out by Mike Mills’ descending countermelody. And before discovering Dylan, Michael Stipe’s lyrics were the only ones for me that could rival David Byrne’s. Listen especially to the second verse’s dream vision about healing nature and metamorphosis/death.

But I spent much more time in those years listening to Van Halen (and if you’re being honest, so did you). They were the first arena rock show I saw, on their 1984 tour. After the opening band and a trip to the t-shirt stand with my paper route money, I climbed back to my seat, on the aisle of the second highest row of Reunion Arena’s upper balcony. The lights cut out and despite the crowd you had no problems hearing the opening riff to Fair Warning's Unchained. The lights came up with the drums and bass, and the first thing you saw was David Lee Roth flying eight feet high between the two bass drums—of course—and the front of the stage, doing his patented toe-touching splits, shirtless but wearing furry white chaps and one of those state-fair-prize twenty-gallon yellow foam cowboy hats. During Michael Anthony’s bass solo, the guy in the seat behind me bought me a beer (two years later David and I started a cover band with his brother, who also rocked two bass drums). Easily the best show I ever saw.

I’m still not cool enough to own any Patti Smith.

mp3: R.E.M. Wendell Gee

mp3: Van Halen Unchained