In what I’m guessing was about 2004, my band was on tour with our friends in Hot Water Music. Our roadie for this tour was one of my best friends, wealthy international playboy Sean Nader. The entire tour was a massive whirlwind of great times, and a lot of the shows were absolutely spectacular. One show that shit the bed, however, was in Athens, Ga. at the legendary 40 Watt club.
For those of you who don’t know, essentially the entire reason you know of Athens as an arty little liberal enclave in the middle of a hugely conservative state were because of a few pioneering bands that came out right around 1980 and received a lot of international attention after getting their start playing at the 40 Watt club. It’s a cool place. It’s big for a club and it’s HUGE when the promoter has dropped the ball and no one knows that Hot Water Music and the Lawrence Arms are showing up and as a result only about 30 people come to the show.
Okay, so you get the idea, right? We’re at the 40 Watt in Athens. We can tell we’re in for a rough night. We have seen the presales and we are witnessing the emptiness unfold before us. Jason Black of Hot Water Music is turning red and freaking out. He’s going into cardiac arrest. He’s talking really fast and nervously laughing about how the show’s gonna bomb. Everyone feels it. It just happens sometimes to smaller bands. Regardless of how dedicated of a fanbase you have, sometimes shows slip through the cracks and you end up sitting there backstage looking out at six weirdos just going “Really? This is what I’ve dedicated my life to? This is the worst. This is the actual manifestation of what my parents’ friends must imagine my life to be like when they ask me at cocktail parties if my band actually plays shows in clubs or if we just set up on the street. Time to go to electrician school. Sigh.”
So anyway, Nader and I bailed and went to a bar where we decided to do a bunch of whiskey shots and drink a lot of beers. We found ourselves wasted before we knew it and right around the time that shit started getting kind of sideways, Nader looked at the clock and said, “dude, we gotta get back. You go on in about ten minutes.”
We stagger out into the afternoon dusk of Athens and first thing we see is an old black guy in an amazing brown and yellow suit. He had that air of being impeccably dressed that somehow didn’t preclude the notion that he may ask for some spare change, and in fact, that’s exactly what he did. When we mentioned that we didn’t have any change, he asked Nader for a smoke, which Nader happily gave to him.
Then he said “hey, you all goin to the 40 Watt? Yeah? You working there? Man, lemme tell you guys a story…”
We were in a hurry, but we weren’t going anywhere. The guy pulled out a little flask and took a sip.
“One day I was out here just hangin out like I am right now, and this dude came running out of the 40 Watt club. He was panicking. He said ‘oh man, I need a guitar! I got a show, I’m in trouble!’ So I said, hold up, I got a guitar back at my house. I ran back, got him my guitar and brought it back to the guy and he ran inside and played. Afterwards he came out and hugged me and said it was the best guitar he ever played.”
The old guy paused and took a drag of his cigarette. His eyes got wide and when he next spoke it was in a near whisper.
“and that man’s name…was R.E.M.”
It was awesome. We high fived the guy and then went back and played a sloppy show to no one. Now REM is dead. I don’t believe it. I bet there are some teary eyes in Athens this morning.
I’m going to Colorado right now. See you fucks later.