This profile of Michael Stipe goes on to explain why the author likes this story that Stipe shares. It touches a nerve because there was a time in my life where it might have been me in that Jeep. I don’t think I was ever that actively hostile to anyone but in the depths of a drunken night out, who knows? My time in Athens contains some of the brightest days and some of the darkest nights of my life. I was a person town in two and self-medicating to hide it all from the people around me and from myself.
Late one night, in the early 1990s, Stipe was in Athens, hanging out with Todd McBride, who was then the lead singer of a great bar band called the Dashboard Saviors, and the wonderfully eccentric singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. The three were at The Grit, a cheap, vegetarian restaurant that has become one of the college town’s more iconic downtown eateries but which at the time was in a different building, closer to the edge of town. As McBride explained when he told me this story more than a decade ago, “The Grit was in this depot kind of building then — it was down at one end and this frat bar was down at the other. The place was closing up, we were getting ready to leave, and we were kind of hanging around outside The Grit, when this jeep full of frat boys comes by, throws a beer can at us, and screams, ‘Fuck you, faggots!’ Then they crank up the stereo” — at this point in his telling of the story, McBride began to sing the indelible song that was pumping from the jeep’s stereo — “It’s the end of the world as we know it / It’s the end of the …”
From “Michael Stipe is Present” in The Bitter Southerner.
There’s a reason that R.E.M. is my favorite band. Their music was a life raft I tried desperately to hang on to. Living in the town where they came to prominence made it all the more important to get lost in Swan Swan Hummingbird on repeat and spill my darkness into the chorus of Cuyahoga.
I’m pleased to have left a large part of myself behind in that place and time. But, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded occasionally of how close I might be to slipping back into the mindset, the actions, and the consequences of a life lived with little regard for others or myself. There’s nothing wrong with being humbled and being humble.