Linda’s Athens Diary
By Linda Somerville
Day 1 – Friday, 11 March 2011
WHEW!!!!! I was up at 7:30!!!! Do you believe that??? Of course, the fact that I didn’t sleep well last night may have had something to do with that. I started off at Dudley Park, home to the beautiful railroad trestle, featured on the Murmur cover; after that, I started walking the historic downtown. What a beautiful and vibrant city! I took pictures at the 40 Watt, Wuxtry Records, Weaver D’s, (famous R.E.M spots) and had a coffee in a lovely warm courtyard up the street from the 40 Watt. It was sunny and cool today (happy for my jacket) but I relaxed for about 45 minutes, read my book (I am rereading Patti Smith’s book), then met Jeff Montgomery for lunch! Jeff handles all of the music and clothing sales for remhq, and is a true music geek, R.E.M. fan, and knows EVERYTHING there is to know about the music scene, past and present in this exciting town. Jeff tells me that the boys do A LOT for the town… whenever there is a charity auction, they always contribute signed material for sale, they raise funds and give funding to many local charities, and of, course are actively involved in historic preservation. I went back with him to his athensmusic.net headquarters, where I met his business partner, Troy, who informed me I was their best Florida customer! LOL… BTW…If you are looking for vinyl, Jeff and Troy can usually beat other prices, but not for CDs… ( The vinyl vs. CD issue was another discussion at lunch… we need turntables!) Jeff gave me a CIN poster, deck of cards from “Olympia” and a CD of Athens bands covering R.E.M. tunes, and featuring our own Mikey Mills and Peter Buck on some of the tracks.
Btw, as I was walking up Washington Street to meet Jeff, I looked up and saw Scott McCaughey coming my way!!!! I was so stunned, I just said hello, smiled, and kept walking. He is much taller than I expected, but of course, I am a shrimpy 5’2”, so tall is relative. You will be pleased to note he smiled and said hi back to me. I felt like a TOTAL FAN GEEK… at 61 years old… go figure
After a 2 hour lunch with Jeff, where we dissected the music of today, discussed Collapse Into Now (he really likes it too… even better than Accelerate, and he loved that one) and the current state of the Athens music scene (over 700 bands and performers), I headed for the historic homes. Stunning!!!!! Saw the interiors of 3 beautifully restored homes dating from the oldest home in Athens to another historic masterpiece dated from about 1834. For you R.E.M fans, the latter, is the T.R.R Cobb house that was featured in the film on remhq, where the band received the Phinizy Spalding Award, for historic restoration and commitment to maintaining historic properties in Athens. This is the house that was literally sawed apart in pieces, and moved to its current site, then rebuilt and is now being furnished and restored further by a historic trust. New carpets from England are due to arrive soon, then they will start on the wallpaper and window treatment. BUT the best part of the Cobb House was the discussion with the fellow in charge, who informed me that several of the houses across the street from the Cobb home, as well as the building that houses “The Grit” Vegetarian Restaurant, are owned by Michael Stipe. Most of these homes have been converted to apartments, and he rents them out. The one across from Cobb House is a BRIGHT turquoise (apparently Stipey’s favourite colour). The story goes that when the Cobb Trust began to paint their house (an original rose colour), some of the neighbours began to complain, but as soon as Michael started to have his house painted turquoise, the Cobb House was left alone! I spoke with a fellow who lives in Stipey’s house, and he says it is one of the most photographed homes in Athens, and is the subject of much controversy because of the colour AND the fact there is no contrasting trim. Everything is turquoise except the roof, and rumour has it, Michael wanted to do the roof that colour as well. Sounds like him to a “T.”
Tomorrow, I am booked on a historic home/neighbourhood tour, along with a music tour with Paul Butchart. [He was the drummer with The Side Effects, one of the bands who were on the same bill when R.E.M. played their first gig - prim. Ivana] Off to figure out where to eat dinner, then early to bed for me.
Day 2 – Saturday 12 March 2011
OMG IVANA!!!! You met Michael!!!!!! Woo Hoo! I guess that means he won’t be showing up at the 40 Watt tonight, but rumour here in town is that a certain cutie named Mikey Mills will be joining Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey onstage tonight! Fingers and toes crossed, plus I found a “lucky penny”.
Started my day with a walk down Fraternity Row, and took a bunch of pics there, and along Dearing Street, home to many original homes, some restored, and some in need of repair. James Herbert lives there… he directed numerous music videos for R.E.M. Beautiful tree-lined street, and it was a glorious day for walking. I moved over to the musical tour, and met two young freelance journalists from Germany, who are in town to write about the music scene in Athens. I asked if the were going to see the Baseball Project tonight, and they didn’t know about the show. Paul Butchart told them where to buy tickets, and they may show up tonight. They asked me a couple of questions (as an R.E.M fan), especially how to spell Scott’s last name… good thing I spell well and remember those things. LOL
Visited Michael’s house (he owns two of them on the same street), Buck Mansion, where Peter’s ex-wife Barrie (owner of the 40 Watt) stills lives. Right beside Buck mansion, is Bertis Downs’s house. Saw Bill Berry’s former home as well, and will have to pop by tomorrow to get a pic of that one. BTW the tour took us by Peter’s and Bill’s former homes, but no mention was made of Mike’s home, and only when I casually asked Paul if Michael still had the house on Grady, did he smile and say yes, and chuckle. The info wasn’t volunteered as part of the tour. That’s good… protecting the privacy of the boys that still live in town. I also have pics of their rehearsal and storage space, as well as the exterior of remhq.
Well I am off to get a little rest, before heading out to dinner and the show. Hoping to get some pictures tonight.
Day 3 – Sunday 13 March 2011
Athens is amazing and beautiful, and vibrant!!! I had the most wonderful time.
There were two absolute HIGH points. As I was watching the Kevn Kinney’s performance (wonderful vocalist BTW), all of a sudden, Peter ran across the stage, hand outstretched, and when I looked over… he was shaking hands with Bill Berry!!!!!! Next thing, I knew, Linda Pitmon was quickly replaced by Bill on drums, with much smiling, laughing, hand-shaking and Peter, counting in the beats and the finales. It was sooooooooooooo freaking amazing! I had a stupid smile on my face, every time I looked at Bill. The crowd was WILD!!!!!!! The music was amazing. THEN the call was out for a certain Mr. Mills to appear to play keyboards. Well, there he was, complete with sheet music (and great denim embroidered jacket) and awesome vocals and keyboard skills, to add to the performance.
After the show, Scott, Steve and Peter all signed my newly purchased T-Shirt, and I hung about waiting to see if Mike would emerge. Thankfully, Scott’s GF (a delightful young lady) came and grabbed Mike’s attention (I was a bit embarrassed to interrupt), but I bravely asked if he would mind having me take his picture. Mike’s response… ”I will take a picture with YOU.” OKAY!!! GOBSMACKED, I said that would be delightful, and the darling Mark Rockwell took the pics. Sorry Mark… I was so flustered, I don’t know if I even thanked you enough for taking the camera. After the pic, I commented to Mr. Mills, my congratulations on Collapse Into Now. He said, “Thank you for saying that.” I responded that, indeed I thought the album was brilliant. Mike’s response… ”Thank you so much for saying that” , then with a wink and mischievous smile, “You are absolutely right!!!” What a fabulous end to amazing three days in Athens.
I am delighted to say that the guys were all as gracious, polite and charming (especially Mike) as we would all wish them to be. True gentlemen, all.