The day I momentarily pissed off Michael Stipe and was booed by an entire arena to make a girl a little happier

That’s my ticket stub above. It was R.E.M.’s Green tour, and they were playing at UD Arena in Dayton. As the fine print shows, we had seats in the fourth row on the floor, right in front of the stage.

I had just turned 19 and was taking a girl who was 17. She brought her best friend, who was 15 or 16. The friend’s name was, I’m pretty sure, Laurie. She might’ve been Lori, but I’m pretty sure she was Laurie.

Laurie believed in beauty and poetry and souls and meaning in the way only a 15-year-old girl can. I remember she used to not be at all afraid to look right at me, right into me, looking to see what was there. She was unafraid of her own gaze even while unsure about her place in the world. She said curious things. She had long, brown hair she let run wild, and if being around her didn’t feel like such an experiment in the meaning of meaningfulness, you’d have glanced at Laurie and simply said, “My god, she’s beautiful.” She was that too, though it seemed like the least important thing about her.

And among the things she adored in life were Michael Stipe and R.E.M. The band was just starting to become the juggernaut we know it to be today. A growing contingent of college kids had been listening to them for years, and they were nobody’s secret by the Green tour, but they weren’t huge either. And, it feels old to type this, but the world was just different in 1989.

That’s why you just have to take it on faith when I say a dozen or so people, us included, decided to hang out outside the back of UD Arena before the show with the hope of catching a moment with the band members as they arrived. I’m certain it wasn’t my idea — that’s just not the kind of thing I’d do — but I went along because the others wanted to and because Laurie had cut her long, brown hair short. She wanted to give it to Stipe, who’d just shorn his golden locks as well. OK, maybe it sounds a little creepy, but it struck me at the time as a deeply sincere gesture by a beautiful girl. She held a long lock of it in her hand.

We stood there, and sure enough a vehicle pulled up, and out stepped Stipe himself. My memory of his walk past us is very surreal. I remember one young man (he struck me as a likely Morrissey devoté) asking, “Do you have the time?” (a reference to an R.E.M. song). “No,” Stipe replied. “I don’t.” And I remember Laurie reaching out to offer this god on earth a clump of her hair. He looked at it and walked past.

In Stipe’s defense, R.E.M. fans typically felt a very personal connection to the band. I’m sure Stipe was routinely the object of all kinds of unwelcome gestures. But I don’t see this story through his eyes. I see it through Laurie’s, and she was crushed. Tears.

That might’ve been when the hair ended up in my hands. I always thought Laurie looked up to me, thought of me as a kindred soul. Maybe it’s my melancholic streak. But for whatever reason, she might’ve thought I understood some little thing about her no one else got. At some point, I ended up with her lock of hair.

There was still a show to see. And it was a great fuckin’ show. One of my all-time concert moments to this day was seeing Stipe sing the chorus of “Turn You Inside Out” through a megaphone. Incredible. Here it is, from the film of the tour:

 

Chills still, but back to Laurie. The band opened with “Stand,” Stipe dancing around in his oversize Talking Heads-type suit like a marionette. After the song, on some giant video screens around the stage, the band started flashing “rules” for the show. They were pretty clever, and the crowd roared with each new one. I remember only two. One was, “Don’t shout out ‘Radio Free Europe'” (“Whooooo,” we all cheered). Another was, “Don’t throw things on stage.”

The moment that one went up, I made a split-second decision. We were just a few feet from the stage, and there were bouncers between it and us. I tossed Laurie’s hair the way you’d shoot a basketball granny-style, underhanded, starting around my waist and going up in one fluid movement until I held my hands in the air screaming “Whooooo” with everyone else as Laurie’s hair gently arced through the air.

I was a perfect throw. It hit the stage and slid even with Stipe, just to the side of his right foot. The bouncers saw it go over their heads but had no idea where it came from. Stipe saw it land, too. I know this because he looked down at it, shook his head and pointed at it to summon a roadie, who ran over and grabbed it off the stage. Boos filled the arena.

I looked over at Laurie, and she stared up at me, beaming. And for one beautiful, fleeting moment, I meant the world to somebody.

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