Wednesday, June 23, 2010

R.E.M. "So, Central Rain"

My friend Ross posts about music, on this cool Facebook page called "Mythic Radio." On Tuesday, he wrote about R.E.M.'s "So. Central Rain" and asked "Who else remembers EXACTLY where they were when they first heard" the song. And as part of the post, he put up an early R.E.M. appearance on David Letterman, when the song was so new it didn't even have a name yet.

I can't say that I exactly remember where I was when I first heard the song, but I know where I was, the first time I saw that Letterman performance. I was living a few floors below Ross.

UMass, 1988. The beginning of sophomore year in McNamara Hall.

I'd already established a small group of friends on the first floor of the dorm, but we were all intrigued by our new neighbor. Brett was a transfer student from Georgia, and he had a way about him. A bit odd, quietly brilliant, perceptively sensitive, and whole lot of hilarious, when he wanted to be.

He, like several of the others in the group, played guitar. And introduced us to indie bands that hadn't crossed our path yet.

Being from Georgia, he was an R.E.M. fan.

I already owned a copy of "Document," but Brett filled in the backstory of the previous R.E.M. albums. It was he who told me about the famous Letterman appearance. And it was in our common/TV area, that I first saw it, on a warbly videotape. Probably a tape of a tape.

The musicians in the group set about learning several R.E.M. tunes, that were performed and perfected, incessantly.

If the noise got to be a little much, or a little late, a Resident Assistant would stick his or her head in, and tell us to keep it down.

Ross was an R.A. and was known to be tough, but for some reason (simpatico musical tastes?), he never busted us.

On the flip side was Holly the R.A., who was as sweet as could be, and had a soft, maternal spot for our group. But perhaps because she was our friend, she felt, at least on that one particular night, like she couldn't let us slide.

The gang was running through "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" for probably the Four Hundredth time in two hours. Holly had already asked us a couple of times to keep it down, which we probably honored for about 2 seconds, before cranking things back up.

This final time she came in, all her reserve of resolve pooled, and she did what she had to do. She shut us down for the night.

It's no fun being the bad guy, but Holly played the heavy, and then left us to think about the position we'd put her in.

And here's what I think of, when I hear "So. Central Rain."

About 20 minutes later, at Brett's urging, I was sent to the front door of the R.A. office where Holly had retreated. I instructed her to look out her back door.

Positioned there were the rest of the guys, Brett strumming his acoustic guitar, all of them singing, quietly, just the chorus to the song:

"We're sorry. Sorry. Sorry . . . "

It was quietly brilliant, hilarious, sensitive and odd. And very very memorable.

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