Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Ghosts of New R.E.M. Records Past


I'm listening to the new R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now -- released today -- on my old CD player, and it occurs to me that it's the exact same CD player I played Monster on the day it was released nearly 17 years ago — still my favorite New R.E.M. Record Day ever.

Which got me thinking: Can I remember where I was living, what I was doing, and where exactly I bought every R.E.M. album on the day of its release? I admit it’s much easier for me than for some people; I only started buying brand spanking new R.E.M. albums on that same day back in 1994, when a 16-year-old high-school Matt hopped into his shit brown 1980s Monte Carlo hand-me-down and ... wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

MONSTER (Sept. 26, 1994): I’ve told this story many times, so many that I wouldn’t be surprised if you Googled “Matt Marrone” and “Monster” and found 40 different retellings of it. The basic gist is this: I couldn’t sit still all that day in school. I think “R.E.M.” was every other word I said (“Monster” was the other). I had heard What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? and, like many recently converted R.E.M. devotees, I was wondering why the fuck it didn’t sound like Automatic For The People. In fact, I hated it on first listen. After school, I drove to Media Play in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and couldn’t find the damn CD anywhere. I almost left the store dejected until I took one last peek at the New Releases section and, being that my desperation was bordering on panic, I figured I’d pick up the neon orange CD with the cartoonish bear head on it and see what the hell that was. My life as a music fan has never, ever been the same. I took Monster home, marveled at how brash it was, how gruff and distorted and loud, how it seemed like a great big fuck you to the Grammy voters and casual fans they’d picked up the previous few years. It was glorious. I listened to WTF,K? every single day after school for at least six months.

NEW ADVENTURES IN HI-FI (Sept. 9, 1996): Maybe my one-time blogging partner Geoff can remember specifics, but we were college roommates at NYU at the time, and I almost certainly bought it at the Tower Records that used to be (essentially) on campus. I recall just a few days before, we attended a record promo party a few blocks away at Astor Place (it was a parking lot then, now it’s a high-rise), and along with showing Road Movie and handing out album cover stickers, they tossed a few promo copies of the album into the crowd. I would have given my left nut for one. I got a million stickers, but no CD. Turns out a guy on our floor (at Brittany Residence Hall on 10th and Broadway) got a copy. We heard a bit of it emanating from his room, but were too shy to knock on his door. Oh the follies of youth.

UP (Oct. 26, 1998): I remember this one like it was yesterday. The record was released not long after serendipity struck; I had sent away for David Letterman tickets that summer and the very week I found out R.E.M. was going to be on, my parents called and told me I’d gotten some type of letter from The Late Show. Turns out it was two tickets to the same night R.E.M. was appearing. The night of the show, I sang along to Daysleeper to Geoff’s embarrassment/horror and the fascination of one CBS page. Good times (I also scored tickets and saw them on Conan not long after, which is when I met the band for the first time). Anyway, the night before the record was released, they had a Midnight Madness sale at the aforementioned Tower Records. We were living near South Street Seaport at the time, and Geoff, to my shock and dismay, decided it was too much work and went to sleep. He later came to regret it, but for me it turned out to be one of my most memorable first listens. Not that anything crazy happened at the sale; it was just the subway ride home, reading the lyrics (printed lyrics? gasp!) and then listening back in the apartment, on the 27th floor of Clair Huxtable’s law offices, all of Manhattan glittering around and below me. I remember calling Liz, then my girlfriend, in the wee hours of the morning to tell her about the record. I was so moved by it I literally felt sick. To this day, it’s my second favorite R.E.M. album, eclipsed only by Monster.

REVEAL (May 14, 2001): I decided, with the Internet changing music buying forever — in ways that seemed more bad than good, at least back then -- that I’d refrain from downloading any tracks or reading any advance features/spoilers/what have you prior to the album’s release. I was living in Prague, and my roommate Ryan would read articles and not tell me what they said so I could live vicariously through him. Just before Reveal came out, Ryan, my student Petr and I drove to Cologne, Germany, to see R.E.M. perform live in a square next to the city’s gorgeous gothic cathedral. We stayed overnight at the home of some wonderful fellow fans — who tormented me by trying to show me the album cover — then joined 70,000-plus others for one of the greatest (free) concerts of all time. Not only would it be the first time I had heard the new songs, but just hours before the band took the stage, I heard my name being called from across the square. “Matt! Matt!” It was my German friend, Charis, who had been there for my famed Burger King crown incident in ’99, and with whom I’d completely lost touch. Later, I had a baseball catch with a Brit on a suburban German street ... and the drive home, was, well, that’s an entirely different, and yet even more legendary, story. (For the record, I eventually bought Reveal at Bontonland in Wenceslas Square, where I got all my music during my two years in the Czech Republic.)

AROUND THE SUN (Oct. 4, 2004): I’d rather forget this album, entirely, but I’ve given myself the task, so here goes. I was back in the U.S. at this point, living with my uncle in the Bronx and commuting to my then part-time job at the Daily News, having just returned from my graduate school thesis work in Scotland. I hate hate hate this album, and I can’t remember where I got it (probably Virgin Megastore in Times Square or something like that). I actually enjoyed my first listen that night, lying in what had once been my grandparents’ bedroom, because I had already heard it — and hated it — prior to the release and was in that New R.E.M. Record Day haze that makes even a shiny turd seem shinier.

ACCELERATE (April 1, 2008): Another all-time classic release day. It started with waking up before dawn and making my way from my old apartment in Hoboken, N.J., to Rockefeller Plaza to see R.E.M. perform on the Today show. As it turned out, I got to see them do a soundcheck as well as perform live, and I ended up getting caught on camera (screen grab here). I also met fellow fans Jen and MaryLou on line and the three of us later went to a nearby Best Buy and bought the album. I had this blog back then, so here is the full account.

COLLAPSE INTO NOW (Today): Kind of anticlimactic since so much of the record was released by the band beforehand, and the entire thing was streamed on NPR over the weekend. Plus, I had to work (ESPN New York) and couldn’t buy it (at Tunes in Hoboken) until I got home (my second go-around in my fifth Hoboken apartment). I bought it on both vinyl and CD (I don’t buy CDs anymore except for R.E.M.) and then played it on my aforementioned CD player, which was also the first CD player I ever owned. And it sounded great -- once I was able to rip the long-stuck CD tray out so I could get the damn thing in there.

Okay, I could go into more detail but I have Mr. Geoff on the phone and we’re talking about how old we are.

Happy New R.E.M. Record Day!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...well, I started following the band relatively late; the first album I bought at release was Reveal. I picked that up at my local supermarket, because that was the only place in my town to buy records back then. Actually, it still is. I'd heard Imitation of Life, and was vaguely aware of the band because of songs like Losing My Religion and Shiny Happy People. :rolleyes:

I listened to it in our back room, and then on repeat ad nauseum. Beacause of this, it's now intertwined in my memory with the old video game Colin McRae Rally 2, which I was also playing a lot at the time.

Around The Sun came out when I was in my first year of university. I got it on the day of release from the closest record store to my halls of residence, then (practically) ran home with it to give it a listen. I played it on the record player I have in my room to this day, although it really is on its last legs. I lay back on my bed, closed my eyes and let it wash over me. I've always [i]sort of[/i] liked the album...it's not bad compared to a lot of music out there, but having subsequently listened to the rest of the back catalogue, it does pale.

Accelerate is an interesting one. When it leaked, I burned it straight on to a CD, only because I was about to leave the country for a month and wanted a copy with me. I was going to visit my then long-distance girlfriend, now wife, in Canada for a month. I'd been over once before, but this was my first lengthy visit, over the Easter holidays. I packed it in my hand luggage, then inflicted it upon everyone over the course of the month. I remember my wife's sister being surprised that R.E.M. had a new album out. I think she believed them to be broken-up. It was a nice bonding moment. :D My pre-ordered version would be waiting for me when I got back, so I left the copied CD in the car of my friend, Fabio. When I moved over there for a year, it was still my favourite album, and the soundtrack to walks down by the Detroit River.

And Collapse Into Now. Bought today (love the packaging, actually - the picture on the inside is awesome), played on my trusty old record player, and burned onto my iPod straight after so I can take it on the bus to work with me tomorrow.

All the back catalogue has been bought on weekends/days off, whenever I had digested the last one I had bought. I put off buying Murmur, which was the last album I needed to complete my collection, for quite a while, just because I didn't want to have no new R.E.M. to discover.

Wow. I wasn't expecting to write that much!

Anonymous said...

Nice reading!
My first bought R.E.M. record was Reveal, the day it came out. I was 13 years old. Bought it at Bontonland in the Czech Republic too! :) But in Brno where I live not in that Prague one. I asked shop assistant if he could sell me Reveal poster which they had lot of them at the store window. He sold me one for 10 Czech crowns. I remember it was sunny afternoon as I took the tram on my way home with an oldschool cassette of Reveal and a poster. Then I listened to it on my walkmen (yay, old times!) all the evening, over and over till I fell asleep. Although I am aware Reveal is not one of the greatest R.E.M. records, to this day I love that album, because it was my first new album after I became a fan.
I downloaded ATS and Accelerate so there is nothing interesting about that. This year I realized that CiN will be the last R.E.M. album under the contract and who knows what the future will bring us? So I decided do the same thing like 10 years ago. This Monday, almost exactly 10 years later, I went to the centre of Brno, bought CiN and asked a shop assistant if he could sell me CiN poster which they had lot of them at the store window. He gave me one for free. As I am 23 now, walking home I felt as happy as that 13 years old boy who bought Reveal 10 years ago. It felt a bit like a circle is full. I hope it is not!

P.S. sorry for my English and greetings to all fans from the Czech Republic. Libor

Sam said...

good read, Maddy. My NAIHF release day story is more appropriate for FreeOnes (aahh, college) so screw it. Yankees suck hard - go Twins.