Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"When I Was Young and Full of Grace..."

This morning as I lay in bed thinking I had finally mustered the will to get up, I was oh-so kindly informed by "Morning Edition" that today is Mike Mills' birthday. His 50th birthday.

That's right fellow Gen-Xers - REM's bass player, backup vocalist, and all around good guy is 50.

Sorry. Can't. Face. Reality. Now. Must. Pull. Covers. Over. Head. Okay. Buhbye.

Then those wavy, flashback-indicating lines that appear on TV sitcoms started to form in my eyes...

It was my first year of high school and it was torturous. Well, as torturous as any teenage girl's - but it's not like I knew that then. All I knew is that I didn't fit in with any one group and was therefore left on a little island unto myself - not smart enough for the gifted crowd, not quite geeky enough for full-fledged band geekdom, not moody or pierced enough for the alternative outcasts of the school, not pretty or athletic or whatever enough for the popular crowd. The list was long.

I had friends in each clique, but never was a full card-carrying member of any. I was, however, stubborn and masochistic enough not to want to listen to the necessary music, wear the necessary clothes or hairstyle or partake in whichever activity was "in" with any crowd. There were certainly times when I dipped my toe in and briefly tried on a different persona, but I always felt like an imposter and it was always short-lived.

That same year, though, I got a part-time job. It was on the edge of my suburban bubble - just enough to interact with people from neighboring bubbles and at times even the thriving metropolis of Nashville itself. There I became friends with three different young women. Two girls who were already friends, both of them older, and the cousin of one who was about my age.

One night the four of us had plans after work to go to a movie. Throughout the evening though much whispering had been going on. I picked up enough by eavesdropping to figure out that there were potentially better plans on the horizon and that my level of "coolness" was being assessed. I assumed that meant I was soon to be excluded from whatever the new plans were and was destined to go home straight after work.

As we were closing up the store, the plot finally unfolded. There was a great band playing at a venue in town. It was a last-minute show and not many people knew about it yet. The boyfriends of the two oldest girls knew the guys who would be working the door and said they could get us all in. Even me. But they didn't know if I was up for it. Would I blow our cover? Would I try to get someone to buy me drinks and get us all arrested? They didn't know but finally decided to ask me and to my surprise said they didn't want to go unless I wanted to. I assured them that none of their worries were necessary and if they wanted to take me, I was game.

The night went off without a hitch. I stood in a corner toward the back of the group of people, assumed that I would probably not like whatever music I was about to hear and was fully prepared just to appreciate the whole experience for what it was. But I was wrong. The band was REM - as I'm sure you've figured out. They were just starting to get some commercial success when I got to see them that night, but in my world, I had never heard of them. And they were great. Too different to be the pop, country or head-banging music that saturated the hallways at my school - yet too fun and upbeat for much of what my combat boot and safety-pin wearing friends listened to. It was like nothing I'd ever seen or heard, and yet everything I had been looking for. My awkward little universe was somehow now more complete - or at least a little more OK with itself.

So thank you, Mike (and Bill and Michael and Peter too). I'm sure there are some hard-core music snobs out there ready to give me crap for loving you guys as much as I do, but that's fine. You provided the perfect inspiration and soundtrack for an angsty, misfit teenager. (And some great memories for this angsty, misfit adult too). Happy Birthday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love it! Paramedic Son is right up there with you, too.