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Acceleration (a review of recent history & R.E.M.)

15 Aug

Ed. Note – This is an introductory post, originally written right after R.E.M’s newest album was released. I’m not really this far behind.

Yesterday morning my coffee maker broke. A dull click indicated that it would not, despite the fresh grounds and ten cups of water inside, make any productive use of them.
It sat, unnoticed in its disobedience for a time. I returned for a cup of coffee to find it silent & sullen. My eyes narrowed. I unplugged it and plugged it back in again.

I ruminated on how interesting it would be if I could exercise a similar treatment upon myself.

The coffee machine still did not work.

Also, last night I lost Boggle. Not “loss” within the game itself—I physically lost the entire game. Last I can remember it had settled underneath our dining room table, having been opened and played once, and then left to gather dust and as a constant reminder that I really ought to straighten up the damn apartment. Sickness & business descended, the long process of opening and closing a show, and on one rather sunny day at home, I spent a hurried morning cleaning the apartment. I picked up Boggle and placed it in some other place. Some unknown place. Some hidden corner.

Suffice to say, it’s beyond me. I turned the whole apartment sideways, but the bright yellow and red box eluded me. We played Uno instead.

And so to the point—My favorite band of all, R.E.M., has released their new album recently, called Accelerate. I was too busy to rush out and buy it right away, and Katie Rose managed to get to it before me, leaving it fresh and new and still plastic-wrapped on the table when I arrived home from work one day. I put it in for a spin the next morning, and the whole thing rushed by before I was even ready to listen to it. I’ve returned to it again and again, but haven’t really PLACED it yet. It’s somewhere between the coffee machine and the Boggle game, and I don’t know where that is exactly, if only because the coffee machine doesn’t work and the Boggle game is missing.

More after the jump…

Perhaps it’s unfair, this expectation of automatic placement. Do you know what I mean by that? Automatic placement?

I’m nineteen years old, alone in Minneapolis a little less than a week after school has ended. All my sort-of friends have gone home for the summer and I have only just started my new (first in the cities) job at a painter for Twin Cities Student Painters. I applied for the job, met the boss, and he hired me, after which I said, “I don’t have a car, you know.” And he said “oh.” And looked at me long and hard and then said “I like you. Let me find you a team that you can car-pool with.”

The car-pooling was still in process though, and I was painting with a temporary team during my “training” period, and the locations spanned the wide unknown city in which I had only lived for 6 months. The first day of my new job our location was in Minnetonka. Living as I was in a garden-level studio apartment right behind Hard Times Café while the actual owner traversed Amsterdam, I had no access to the internet or computers unless I trekked onto campus and logged on at the Wilson Library. Instead, I utilized the call-service feature of Metro Transit in order to plan my bussing routes to the various different painting locations. The phone system neglected to point out that the route it recommended was an express—The bus would only leave once, at 7:35 am. Thinking I could catch a slightly later version of the route, I waited downtown for an hour before realizing my error. My eyes burned as they tried to fill with tears. I rejected the “crying on the street corner” approach, and resorted to kicking the curb instead.

Full of humiliated frustration, I found a pay phone and called Leigh, one of the only people I knew in the entire city. Remarkably, she picked up. Even more remarkably, she agreed to get out of bed, put some pajamas on, and give me a ride from the corner of Hennepin and 4th Street to the far reaches of some boulevard in Minnetonka. I did not lose the job, despite being nearly two hours late. The crew chief gave me a ride home that night, through sweltering rush hour traffic, covered in paint and grime and exhaustion.

I was broke—I had spent the last of my money celebrating the end of the semester by going out to eat a few times, and giving the owner of the apartment in which I was living her share of the rent, some $300. This seems remarkably inexpensive now, I suppose, but then, it left me quite literally with $8 in my checking account and nothing in savings what-so-ever. The painting job would not pay for two weeks. Until then, it was up to me to scrounge for every penny so that I could buy Totinos pizzas at the West Bank Grocery and a loaf of bread for toast in the morning.

My first day of work was on a Monday. The next day R.E.M would release Reveal, their first studio album since Up, which to this day still gets fairly regular playing time along with all my current flavors of the month. Cheapo was holding a MIDNIGHT SALE!, which meant that I could go at closing time and stand in a long line to buy the brand-new CD. I think that Dave Matthews Band had a new album coming out on the same day, as did some other band that was much cooler than R.E.M. at the time… Most of the midnight hipsters were there to buy some other record, but I was there for my favorite band. I had, two hours prior, collected up all the CD’s in my collection that seemed like they might have some retail value and that weren’t essential copies, and brought them in to sell. Cheapo had given my something like $22 for the lot, the only album receiving more than two dollars in exchange being some early Michael Jackson 2-disc set featuring his work mostly in Jackson 5. I had listened to it twice in vague befuddlement, having expected something inarticulately different. Relegated to the back end of my collection, it saved me that night. Without the $6 it fetched, I would not have had sufficient funds to purchase both the new R.E.M. and the loaf of bread that would feed me for the next two days.

I bought the record, and got some promotional stuff along with it free… a poster, which up until my last move hung on my closet door, and some post-cards that I still have in a box somewhere. And of course, the album, which I hungrily tore open and listened to twice that night alone.

Every song felt right—The rain poured around me, bubbled down the drain-pipes and rushed by at eye level, as I stared out at the street from underground darkness. Five of the songs had the word “rain” in them, and they resonated up to this day. I was utterly alone, utterly broke and almost starving, but for the first week every night in the rainy early summer/late spring of Minneapolis in 2001, I listened to that record every night before falling asleep.

I still feel there when I listen to it now. The songs, now so familiar and ingrained and anticipated, were once new and sustaining. The critics don’t agree. Reveal was mostly panned in the states (Although SPIN magazine gave it a perfect 10/10), and faded into obscurity. For me though, it was nothing less than a security blanket. It was absolutely specific, 100 % accurate, and indicated my exact global and emotional position to myself. There was no separation of self and music—We melded, and were the rain, the chord changes, the chipping paint, the missed busses, the incomprehensible loneliness and uncertainly of being alone in a new & unknown city. It all streamed together as one living organism, and when the CD ended I slept.

This is what I mean. It’s a round-about story to get back to my point, but here it is, just the same, in case someone is still reading: I want this new album, Accelerate, to feel like just that. The broken coffee machine and missing board game are a small substitute for the immediacy and desperation of my younger self. Each event that occurs now can be inspected.

“Is this it? Will this be what this record will feel like and mean to me?”

Maybe I’m too old—Maybe you can’t make those connections forever. But each R.E.M. album prior has been indicated, has meant something specific, transcended all the music around it to define a moment in my life.

I’m still waiting for this one to hit me.

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