Sally Forth, R.E.M., and Black Monday 1987
Some moments in your life you can date to a precise moment because of a certain song you heard when it happened, because it was a personal milestone such as a birthday, or because the economic bedrock of Western civilization had just transformed into a cavernous sinkhole.
Which sounds like as a good of an introduction as any to discuss just how much I loved R.E.M. in college.
Until I went off to university my musical tastes consisted more or less of Motown (specifically The Four Tops and mostly thanks to my Dad playing oldies radio station WCBS in New York), whatever popular songs I actually liked or thought I should like, and The Ramones because my friend James and I always covered one of their songs on our Coach albums. Coach, of course, being the band we formed in junior high, originally consisting of James on clarinet and me on a drum set made up of a Duraflame box, a teapot filled with screws, and a Gunsmoke lunch box. James would immediately switch to electric guitar while I would eventually switch away from lunch box snares for fear of ruining their resale value. In the end we recorded 12 full albums—including a “Live” album featuring the audience from Cheap Trick at Budokan—all on eight-track tape and all featuring cover art I shamelessly copied from Atari 2600 video cartridge boxes. Needlessly to say, all of this will be revealed to be Ted Forth’s own backstory in an upcoming Christmas plot line, including how a band name that originally sounded sports-related now sounds to me like it was inspired by a luxury handbag.
But all this changed my sophomore year at Duke when I heard Lifes Rich Pageant. Now, any self-respecting diehard R.E.M. fan including myself (who started to peel away after Up but still believes New Adventures in Hi-Fi to be severely underrated) would tell you Lifes Rich Pageant was remarkably late to jump on the R.E.M. bandwagon. And it’s not like I was completely unaware of R.E.M. beforehand, thank to the rather steady rotation of “Can’t Get There from Here” on MTV. But from the very moment I first heard “Begin the Begin” kick in I was an instant fan. This immediately led to some serious backtracking as I bought up all the R.E.M. albums up until that moment, including the EP Chronic Town, whose entire track listing I tried to “Easter Egg” into a Sally Forth strip only to realize I couldn’t make “Gardening at Night”—one of my very favorite songs—fit into already surreal dialogue:
Which leads us to the mention of R.E.M. in today’s strip. Back in October 1987—specifically the weekend of Junior Year Fall Break October 17—20—a group of college friends and I rented a cabin (read: really house) in the North Carolina woods. By all accounts it was great vacation aside from my then disturbing inability to climb what I would then call a significant summit and now a moderate hill. (Although by the time we finally all managed to reach the top we were greeted by a happy little dog, who we nicknamed “Hillary” after Sir Edmund Hillary for his obviously pronounced scrambling and climbing skills, only to realize there were steps on the other side of the mountain.)
One day, while driving around the towns near the woods, some friends and I stopped into a record shop (as if the title of this post didn’t date this story enough), and it was there I made a wonderful discovery. It was limited edition. The graphic design reminded me of 1972 Topps baseball cards (the very best Topps baseball card year of all time). And it was my absolute music obsession. Thus, I made what I thought was a remarkably prudent investment and immediately purchased R.E.M.’s “Mudd Island, Memphis Tennessee” concert poster, which both hangs on my very apartment wall to this day and on Ted’s childhood bedroom in the first panel of today’s Sally Forth Sunday comic:
As mentioned, it was a indeed very enjoyable fall break. And so on Tuesday, October 20th, we headed back to school, the group split between two cars. One car went straight back. Ours stopped by a nearby dump to deposit our trash from the weekend, only to then realize the car would no longer start. (And for some reason I just now recalled that I used to carry my books—and apparently vacation clothes—in a Benneton drawstring bag, which is not something I say with anything resembling pride unless pride is the thing that makes you crawl in a hole until everyone in the world has walked by.) And so two of our friends—Tony and Charlie (Charlene) went off to find a phone to call for a help (this being way before cellphones but way after civilization had spread far enough that apparently shouting did not work). When they eventually returned we learned two things: 1) Tony and Charlie had come across a diner, wherein they placed a call only after they leisurely enjoyed some homemade blueberry pie and 2) Something apparently had happened just the day before, thanks to a newspaper they brought with them back from the diner.
Fortunately, some of us had already thought ahead and started diversifying our investment portfolio with concert posters.