Almost every great story I’ve heard about the best days of Athens music begin with the phrase “You see, there was this time when Peter Buck…” The storyteller would then recount some wild or profound experience that always involved a lot of beer and sometimes a person getting thrown off a porch or getting caught on top of a water tower. My favorites always included the part where Buck and his group of friends would end up playing a gig under a strange name, covering every band known to man. And I guess now I have my own Buck story to tell…
You see, there was this time when Peter Buck and his best friend Scott McCaughey brought Linda Pitmon and Steve Wynn to Athens as yet another version of the Minus 5. I had been keeping up with the M5/Baseball Project/Steve Wynn IV through a Murmurs thread, lamenting the fact that they haven’t been to Georgia, much less Athens in a long time. Then news came of a show in Athens. I was thrilled to no end. I found some M5 tracks that I was missing and began listening to them constantly.
My, uh, fondness of most things R.E.M. related did not escape my editor’s notice and she gave me the incredible assignment: Get in touch with them, get an interview, and write the article. I emailed the office and got in contact with the right people. None of us could’ve known what was going to happen in North Dakota but it all turned out for the best.
The article was a labor of love, originally coming in at something around 2000 words. It ended up being only 800 or so but I’d like to think they were quality words at least. Seeing it in print was the highlight of my day and I picked up a dozen copies for myself and family. Things returned to their normal patterns and I continued waiting for Monday night, desperately trying to fix my ailing Flip video camera.
The text message came in at about 8 p.m. that Friday. “Look at REMHQ! NOW!” I was on Skype with Ziona when I finally saw this. A link to my blog! On the site! And my name, spelled correctly! All posted by Bertis Downs?!?! After a trip to a thesaurus for the correct pronunciation of “estimable,” I pretty much fell into a state of shock. Wow. Just…wow.
The weekend seemed to drag on and on with a lot of extra stress that I did not need being thrown my way. But dammit, the Baseball Project’s coming to town and my name is on R.E.M.’s site so I’m happy! I managed to fix the camera by rigging the batteries inside. It’s going to be a pain to get them out again but it was all I could do.
I ran into a friend outside of the Caledonia where Hayride was playing. We walked up to the Watt, chatting about some Georgia Theatre gossip and old Peter Buck side projects. Inside, I took a quick look at my fellow fans and felt that familiar feeling. Once again, I was going to be asked whose kid I was. I’m used to it by now and I have a lot in common with the previous generation. It just sometimes gets a little awkward. Who am I to talk about Athens in the 80’s to people who lived it?
I got settled onto my perch on the left side of the stage and watched as Buck, McCaughey, Pitmon, and Wynn slowly took up their instruments.I managed to get a few shots of the band but I figure photos were best left to someone else. I had fixed my Flip and you bet I was going to use it.
Then the show was over. Chris and I hung around the stage, comparing notes and standing in a wave of “Holy cow! Did that really just happen?!”. He promised to send pictures, I promised to post video and he left. But there was still something I had to do. Ever since my Dreams So Real article, I’ve tried to get my best work signed by the artist it’s about. I stopped by the merch table and managed to get in a great conversation with Pitmon about the view from the kit.
Next came an apology and a few laughs with McCaughey. I still feel a little guilty for waking him up but evidently he doesn’t mind too much, signing my article with “Hey Jordan, thanks for putting up with all this shit. – Scott McCaughey”. I found Wynn in the corner and begged him to get back to Athens again and not wait another ten years. Hopefully, when the second Baseball Project album is out, they’ll come back. I managed to get a quick word in with Buck (and a signature) and I thought my night was done. Then I ran into our deejay buddy Mike Mills.
It was great finally being able to catch up with him, having been almost a year since we’d last been in touch. He was as charming as ever, talking about the U2 show and threatening a reprise of “Kinky Boots.” Here’s hoping for another sled ride to hell sometime. I finally had to leave since there was still work to be done before morning.I got back to the apartment around 3 a.m. but couldn’t sleep.
It’s funny how I’ve spent the past few years writing down the stories of Athens but I had never really felt like part of them until now. Sure, I didn’t know all of the people in the 40 Watt on Monday night but it felt as if we were all friends. We saw a group of friends playing in a band joined by old pals just like it was a Tuesday night at Buck Manor back in 1985. Anyone who knows how to play three chords and a cloud of dust could’ve played “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” But there was more to it than that. There’s a story there, one about life, music, and the friendships that make it all worthwhile. And the smiles on their faces tell it better than I could ever hope to.