The Trestle Mess


It seems like every year there’s a story about how the R.E.M. steeple or Murmur Trestle is a)falling apart (they both are) b) in danger (they both are) or c)causing problems (again, both are). So it really came as no surprise to hear that there another story being written about a treasured icon facing extinction. What floored me was that I was asked to throw in my two cents.

Let me go ahead and say that yes, the steeple and the trestle should both be saved. Just to make you completely clear on my position in this debate. I feel strongly as an Athens music fan that we need to keep these things around. There’s not much left to save but what’s here needs looking after.

History is important for providing context and inspiration to generations who were not there when certain events happened. It’s why we have things like historical foundations, to preserve areas of historic value for others to enjoy. And that may have not come across as much in the ABH article. No faults there, limited print space. But I’ve got cyberspace so here:

My three “out of town” friends weren’t just from out of town. One came from Boston, another from Pennsylvania, and the last from Tallahassee. We met online via Murmurs.com, an R.E.M. fansite and had not met each other in the same place until Athfest. While I’d like to say that they came to visit me, they came because of Athens and our favorite bands that live here. Getting to see that trestle with them, knowing what it meant to all of us, was one of the greatest moments of my life.

It’s just on an album cover. Sure, I’d be willing to buy into that if it were Around the Sun. But of all albums, Murmur grabbed critics by the ears and spun them around so hard that the crew at Rolling Stone still has a hard time figuring out where it came from. But for just an album cover, it sure made a stamp on music history. It’s tied forever with R.E.M. and Athens and that’s why fans look on it with great respect.

Economically, that trestle is a source of much needed tourism dollars. I believe Jared Bailey, Athfest creator, once said that they tried to measure the economic impact of R.E.M. on Athens but it’s just so varied and large that it can’t be grasped. How many of us came here because of R.E.M.’s music? How many of us ended up staying? How many of us bring our fan friends here and delight when they glimpse a band member walking near them? You can’t measure that kind of effect.

People come to pay tribute to an album and band that mean something to them and to their lives. To use a comparison, Murmur is some people’s “Patti Smith and a bowl of cherries” moment. Like I said in the article, being at a place, seeing something that holds meaning, makes it real. Like the people who visit Normandy Beach. Sure, a rock album can’t compare at all to a war, but for some, it means just as much.

Now, R.E.M. would be the last to pay tribute to themselves or even acknowledge their legendary status as musicians. Meaning, the only people who could buy the trestle (R.E.M.) won’t because they’re not in the business of erecting statues to themselves. The fans on the other hand, could. They’ve saved the structure before. And after witnessing the uproar last year when Peter Buck’s guitar was stolen, you can bet that they’d be lining up to save the trestle with dollar and pitchforks in hand. But a taxpayer and his money are not so easily parted in Athens.

The proposed rail to trail project that’s currently threatening the trestle is a phenomenal project and definitely one I’d like to see completed. But the cost to repair the trestle may be too much for taxpayers, leaving fans to foot the bill of rehabilitating the structure. Maybe it’s possible that the rails to trail project can just go around the trestle instead of incorporating it. I don’t know. I haven’t been part of those talks.

I just don’t think we should take the easy way out on this one guys. I’m a broke writer currently sleeping on a friend’s couch. But I’ll pass a few bucks from my next paycheck if it means that I can see people’s faces light up like my friends’ did at the sight of that trestle. Cause the four of us are scruffy college-age kids too. And who knows what we might do?

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4 comments

  1. “While I'd like to say that they came to visit me, they came because of Athens and our favorite bands that live here.” oh whatever, jordan, we totally came to see you. and i object to being called scruffy.

  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    Okay, the comparison to Normandy is WAAAAYYYyyyyy…. off base. But aside from that, you are on spot. The problem is that every generation at the University has its own “save the trestle” campaign; and it has been saved every time. How many times can they cry wolf and still have the fans come to its aid? When is it for real?

  3. Of course the comparison to Normandy is ridiculous. But I've met people who are honestly almost that enthralled. As for coming to its aid every time, as long as there's enough passionate fans out there with money to give, it'll be saved again. But it shouldn't have to be. We need to find a permanent solution to the trestle (and that legal mess, the steeple).
    I'm thinking it IS time for a sort of Athens Music History group to help get this stuff organized legally and financially so we can stop crying wolf and start building a good tourism program to satisfy the taxpayers.

  4. As someone who has worked on some of these music history landmark issues over the years, I started to write a bunch of points about this. But I stepped back and only note two brief things:

    1) The trestle was saved once before and it was not 'cry wolf,' but was actually being dismantled. But unless these items are put into adaptive reuse, they will always just sit and decay, even if repaired initially.

    2) The steeple has issues that are not just legal, much like the trestle. These are all very complex issues and take lots of time, money, networking, energy, compromise, and figuring out the best way to proceed.

    Oh, and there is some inkling of a group to work on overall issues, Jordan, from some of us who have worked on these things for years… which you are actually aware of. Recall that Google map project I asked you to help work on?

    In my experience, the folks working on these projects have numerous irons in the fire and sometimes need a jolt to get back into thinking about things again. These articles can help.

    And sometimes, it's all just a matter of timing for projects to work out.

    But I'm glad it's all being discussed again. That never hurts.

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