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REM in Athens (GREECE-Not Georga!)

REM played a free concert last night at the old marble Olympic Stadium. I am sure they didn't play for free. It was a part of MTV's week of music so they were probably footing the bill. The show had special meaning for me. You see back in the early eighties I was in a band called The Dads. We had a lot going for us. Good songs. We could all sing. We played loud and fast and were very danceable. We sounded like the Move, people said which was the way we wanted to sound because I was a big Move fan (and my musical partner in the band Parthenon Huxley, who I had been in bands with since I was 14 and he was 12, later went on to join ELO which were a spin-off of the Move). We got great reviews not just locally but in the New York press too. We knew we were destined to become big stars and it was just a matter of time. One of the other bands in our little North Carolina circuit was REM from Athens, Georgia. They were pals with some of our friends who owned Schoolkids records in Chapel Hill and we all knew each other. They were more of a cover band, though they had a few of their own songs. Their covers were kind of eclectic. They did stuff like 'There She Goes' by the Velvet Underground which back then only the hippest kids would have heard of. I would go see them play now and then. They actually came to see us one night at the Station. They were watching us through the big glass window and then went to the door and I saw them talking to the doorman and then they left. Later I asked the doorman why they didn't come in and he said they didn't have any money. I felt bad because I should have just said to let them in for free but it never occurred to me that they were poor musicians on the road and that paying to see the Dads might mean not eating for a day or so.

Anyway, as so many bands do, the Dads self-destructed as did my musical partnership with my best friend Parthenon Huxley. I won't even go into the details because even 25 years later when I think about it I get pissed off, so lets just say as bands so often do, we had to all go our own musical ways. But REM stuck together and joined forces with our friend Jefferson Holt as their manager and went on the road, touring endlessly and building up a huge following, basically becoming the band that we thought we would be. Back then if you were from the south and sounded English you had a shot at making it. It was cool to be from the south. Eventually REM became superstars. OK. Their songs are kind of mediocre and with the exception of the rhythm section there is nothing that stands out that makes them a great band. Michael Stipe is not a dynamic lead singer and not the poet he would like to be, and Peter Buck is an ok guitar player, not flashy but competent and he looks cool. But they worked their asses off and things broke the right way for them and they made it. Could they have been any band? No. Probably not. It was the right combination of look, songs, personalities combined with good management (Jefferson) and the couches of their friends and fans all over America where they could crash and save money and continue to afford to be on the road. The Dads, had we not split up, could not have taken the same route as REM because we were spoiled brats with day jobs and would not have gone on the road unless someone with a lot of money paid us to and we got to act like big rock stars before having earned our stripes. But even so whenever one of the ex-Dads says with a baffled look that they can't believe how famous REM got I look at him and say "You helped make this happen. It could have been us if we hadn't acted like idiots." And really, deep down I sort of feel that way. (I think Don Dixon did too because he produced our first record and REMs first record at Mitch Easter's studio.)

So when REM played a free concert in Athens, Greece, the hometown of both me and Parthenon Huxley it was the final blow of the REM-Dads saga. If our rock and roll dreams had come true it would have been us playing this show after having sold millions of records. But I can't complain really because even though I did not become the big rock star I wanted to be I have had a pretty blessed life and have done pretty much what I wanted to do. I don't know about the other guys.

rem t-shirts athens greeceDid I say the concert was the final blow? Actually there was another. On my way home from a day of photographing the derelict Olympic venues in Faliron and the yachts of Flisvos Marina and the new Flisvos Park on the sea, I wandered around Kalithea until I was able to find a tunnel that crossed under Syngrou Ave so I could take a bus back home and rest my weary feet. I found myself in a massive traffic jam caused by.... you guessed it: The free REM concert. It was so bad I just got off the bus and went into the stadium and took some pictures. There were three other bands so I knew I was not going to sit through three opening acts to see a band I did not particularly want to see, but I walked around and looked at the Greek youth of today and left before the music started. My daughter, Amarandi did go. She stood in the 3rd row through the first three bands and lasted four songs into the REM set. I told her she should stay until she heard 'Don't Go Back to Rockville' (the only REM song I really like) but she couldn't do it. "Why are they so famous" she asked me in an SMS message from the show. "They are so boring. And the singer is wearing sunglasses on his head!"

I guess there is a certain satisfaction in that. REM got everything that we believed should have been ours. But they didn't get my daughter.

A few days later I was talking to Parthenon Huxley about the REM concert and how it should have been us up there and I was a little envious. He made me feel better about it though.
"Yeah, but they have to play REM songs."

For more on North Carolina in the fun-filled eighties with REM, the Dads, the DBs and other cool bands see my article The Golden Age of North Carolina Music

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