Michael Stipe was freakin’ royalty in the Atlanta music scene. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get in to R.E.M. until just before Life’s Rich Pageant came out, so I don’t have any of those cool “I saw R.E.M. at a Buford Highway dive bar for $2” stories like some folks I know. I was also 12 when Murmur came out, so a tad too young to be hitting Buford Highway dive bars.
I did, however, have several close calls with Stipe. I drove by a record store in Athens one day as he was walking out. I was 30 feet away from him at a Pylon show. I once showed up at R. Thomas, a 24-hour diner in Atlanta, just a few minutes after he’d left and the waitstaff were still all aflutter. I was always so close to meeting the guy, but could never seem to close the deal.
I heard that Dramarama was coming to town in September 1990. My then-girlfriend and a close friend went with me to the show, which was at the original Cotton Club in Midtown.
The club was laid out like this: there was the main door. You entered and took an immediate right down a long, narrow hallway. At the end of the hall was the cashier’s desk\bouncer station. Once your cover was paid and your ID checked, you took a left and walked into the actual club, which, from your perspective, looked something like an uppercase “L”. To your right, there was a bar that nearly ran the length of, and was parallel to, the “base” of the L. The bar was in the middle of this section, not against the wall. In front of you were the “sides” of the L. The stage ran along the length of the “inside” side of the L. There was a large space for standing, and several booths lined the “outside” side of the L.
Remember all this, as the club’s configuration will be important later on. I hastily threw together this visual aid in Paint, if that helps.
There were three bands on the bill that night, and there couldn’t have been more than 200 people there all night long. As soon as one of the opening acts finished, 20-30 people would leave. So the place wasn’t very crowded.
When the second band was around 3/4 of the way through their set, my friend James tapped me on the shoulder and said, “look, there’s Michael Stipe at the bar!” And sure enough, it was.
The only problem was that he was sitting by himself on the side of the bar that faced the stage (he’s the red dot in the above diagram).
This really pissed me off.
You see, the bar was one of those that has everything in the center of the bar: liquor bottles, mixer guns, cash registers, etc. And some of the bottles were on risers, so the people on the side of the bar opposite Stipe had a bunch of crap in their line of vision. And since Stipe was taking up one whole side of the bar, the rest of the bar was jam packed. And so I’m thinking “Oh look… there’s Mr Prima Donna Rock Star who thinks he’s ‘too important’ to sit with us ‘little people’ anymore. Noooo, he’s gotta talk to the manager and reserve a whole freakin’ side of the bar to himself. What a fuckin’ jackass!”
So a few minutes pass, and I’m out of drink. I ask if anyone at the table needs anything, and then get up and start walking to the bar. There’s a cute bartender talking to Stipe, so my plan was to walk up in the space between Stipe and the end of the bar and ask her for another whiskey sour. Hopefully, Stipe will look over and then I can give him an “eat shit” look… because that’ll knock Mr Rock Star down a peg or two, right?
I got to within 10 feet of Stipe… then I smelled him. That man had the rankest, nastiest body odor I’ve ever smelt in my whole life. To quote Dennis Miller, he smelled like a “gorilla eating Gorgonzola cheese, while getting a perm in the septic tank of a slaughter house”. I’d personally like to add that the gorilla also had a nasty case of asparagus farts, too. Seriously… you know how Indian food has several “layers” of taste? Stipe smelled like that, and each “layer” was worse than the one before.
It was then that it hit me: Stipe wasn’t sitting by himself because he was a prima donna rock star… he was sitting by himself because no one else wanted to sit next to him!
Of course, that could have been his plan all along, but damn… that dude seriously stank.