On my way to work yesterday, I caught part of Scott Simon's interview with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills on NPR talking about the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.'s album Automatic for the People. By the time I was scanning my badge at the staff entrance to the library where I work, I knew I'd be writing a blog post about it. Well, here I am on a Sunday morning at the 117K mark of the Novel that Will Not End, and this seems like a great way to procrastinate.
I have worked with teens for nearly my entire professional career, and now I write books for teens, too. And yet, it's incredible how easy it is to forget what being a teen was really like. But every time I hear an R.E.M. song? Ever single time? The raw emotional experience of my teenage years wallops me.
Like any self-respecting teenager of the late 1980s and early 1990s, I spent hours making mixed tapes for myself and my friends, and I listened to a wide variety of music. But R.E.M. was my favorite. Hands down. I had a huge R.E.M. poster on my bedroom wall. My first concert was R.E.M. at Kemper Arena in Kansas City when I was 14, their Green tour, and it bordered on a religious experience for me. I wanted tiny, John Lennon-esque circular glasses just like Michael Stipe wore on the front cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. (I ended up with giant Harry Potter glasses waaaaay before Harry Potter existed. Have I mentioned how awkward I was in high school?) I was sad and (badly) poetic and full of longing. I was worried about the environment (still am) and the meaning of life and my place in the world (yeah, that all still applies actually). And R.E.M.'s music sounded the way I felt (still does).
My favorite album was Life's Rich Pageant which I listened to ad infinitum via the power and the glory of a Sony Walkman. To this day, I love every song on that CD. I suspect most teens have that one band--and that one album by that one band--that is the soundtrack of their lives, the music that makes them feel understood when the world around them seems to suggest that they're not enough: not pretty enough, not smart enough, not cool enough, not normal enough. R.E.M. was that band for me.
And you know what? Knee-deep in the YA fantasy that is the hardest book I have written to date, I'm going to pop in my ear buds and listen to "Begin the Begin" and "Cuyahoga" and "Swan Swan H" and "Superman" and, my ultimate high school song, "Fall on Me." And I'm going to remember who I was in high school and be grateful for the painfully shy and socially awkward person I was (still am!). And I'm going to remember that kid as I plug away at this book. Because that kid is, in many ways, the reason I write.
Many thanks to you, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Bill Berry.