Beware when Michael Stipe says, "I'm only going to speak for a minute and a half." The sentence has the same ring as F. Scott Fitzgerald having "just one martini" or Rick Solomon promising, "I only want to tape us making out." That Stipe was wearing a Kerry T-shirt just made his promise to keep it brief all the more transparently false. The man, God bless him, could have been one of the slaughtered celebrities in Team America if the movie had chosen to lampoon musicians instead of actors. If Matt Stone and Trey Parker are looking for a sequel to that hilarious film, Stipe and Pearl Jam in puppet form will no doubt be smashed into tiny, bloody chunks of wood. And I will laugh.
Granted, Stipe had earned a little time to get on his soapbox. Last Tuesday's R.E.M. show at the Fox had been an event, with Stipe's consummate showmanship driving the band through old favorites and (too many) new tunes. So if Stipe wanted to let go with some of his patented political mooing during the encore, well, the crowd could let it slide.
But defying all expectations, Stipe actually made it work (although he went way past the 90-second mark). He pointed out his seats at different shows he'd seen at the Fox in the late '70s. He told about seeing Lou Reed get so pissed that he kicked over his monitor. "Debbie Harry winked at me," he reminisced, pointing to his third-row Blondie seats. He talked about seeing Bruce Springsteen there in 1978, and how the show changed his life. (Some members of the crowd disputed the memory, saying the show was at the Kiel Opera House. According to an entry on the Brucebase, www.brucebase.shetland.co.uk, Springsteen played Kiel Auditorium and the Opera House that year. But let's not let facts get in the way of a good story.)
And I was touched. Sure, Stipe eventually turned the story into a "go out and vote" speech, and if I hear one more celebrity tell me to vote I'm going to open fire, and not wait for a puppet to do the job for me. But hearing about how a teenager from Collinsville could go from a nameless face at a Boss show to rocking the stage with Bruce just a few weeks ago was, dare I say it, inspiring.
Full of an unfamiliar feeling, something that may have resembled goodwill toward men, I asked Shanna Kiel from Sibylline if she'd ever had a moment like Stipe had. She named a few, like seeing Radiohead at the Galaxy and seeing the Strokes in New York back when they were unsigned. And also this one:
"I was staying with family in London and saw that Mudhoney was coming.
"The club was a closet. Teeny-tiny, probably comparable to our Creepy Crawl, if not smaller, and packed. There was no moving an arm or leg. The space you decided to jam yourself into in the crowd was where you were staying. Mudhoney came on and the whole place got crazy. Not only was the club very narrow and not very deep but the ceiling was super-low. People were crowd surfing and bodies were everywhere. It was nuts.
"Everyone knew every word and shouted along, sweating all over each other (and me), dancing, screaming. This was in 1997, long after the whole Seattle explosion took place, but being there that night made me feel like it was 1989 and I was watching it happen with my own eyes. Riding the train home, I dreamed about playing shows like that."
On that Brucebase site there's a scanned-in ticket stub from the '78 Springsteen show at Kiel Auditorium, which someone had held on to until humanity invented scanners. Have a show that meant that much to you? Let me know about it at email@example.com, with "Great Show" in the subject line.
Going from inspirational stories to charity makes me feel a little like Oprah. Don't be looking for me to give a car to each of you lovely readers, but there was more tragedy to the death of Christopher Reeve than just the loss of Superman. Reeve was the number-one fundraiser for spinal-cord research in the world. So, this rather noble field is in danger of losing a good deal of steam in the coming years (especially if stem-cell technology is...oh, never mind). But Gateway to a Cure, a St. Louis-based nonprofit, is doing its best to make up for the loss of Reeve.
Raffling is the charity's main source of income (they're getting ready to give away a house in Orlando), but the group's upcoming show at the Pageant isn't as much of a gamble. Local singer/songwriter Steve Bequette has been working with the foundation, and they've put together a show featuring the New Left (a side project of Matchbox 20's Kyle Cook), Bequette himself, local rockers Earl and a fashion show from Lou fashionistas 99 Dealers. The October 29 concert is just the first stop on a national tour for the charity, so it's not like we have to save the world all on our own. But considering that Washington University is the home of Reeve's doctor, the Lou ought to be able to cough up a big chunk of dough for these guys. If one guy from St. Louis can make a man with a severed spinal cord regain feeling, surely the rest of us can kick in a little green.
To learn more about Gateway to a Cure, visit www.gatewaytoacure.org or call 877-722-2873.