Monday, April 16, 2007

549 words about REM's "Boxcars" live on Nickelodeon

First of all, the host of the show looks like some overgrown Aryan Hitler Youth in the midst of some "Traditional Rhineland Pageant." He's wearing suspenders, and a waist-down view would surely reveal his lederhosen.

The incongruous host just adds to the absurdity of R.E.M. appearing on Nickelodeon(!) And since they're playing a cut from the Chronic Town EP here, I wonder if this was even before the Murmur LP was released? What preteen Nickeleon-watching kid in 1983 would care about, or even know of R.E.M.? Was the programming director for this "Live Wire" show just really cool? Getting paid off to promote this new "jangle-pop" by IRS (the record label, not the government bureau you're supposed to send your taxes to BY TOMORROW)? Or was the show simply unable to afford a 1st tier 1983 act that preteens of that year would be into, such as....hmmm....what were preteens of 1983 listening to anyway? I'll turn that question over to any dear readers born in the 1st half of the 70s. Feel free to post in the comment section bands that your 11 year old self was into back then. I'm ignorant because I was 3 in '83, so I was listening to PRE-pre-teen stuff such as Disney musical compilations, Big Bird Meets the Orchestra, and my mom's Hooked on Classics discofied orchestra medleys.

Maybe there's a good reason or interesting story about R.E.M.'s appearance here, recounted in some biography of the band. But again, I'm ignorant. I've only read Niimi's 33 1/3 volume on thr making of Murmur. Again, if you know more than I, post a comment.

Anyway, even without a back story, this clip is just great. There seems to be a bit too much reverb/echo that enters the mix halfway through Stipe's first line, but you can now look at this as foreshadowing of the arena era R.E.M. of the following decade. Not only is the band looking youthful and sounding energetic, here but the young studio "audience" makes it easy to imagine that this clip was actually R.E.M. playing at some high school homecoming gym dance: The jocks move out of the way, feeling out-of-place with nary a Journey power-ballad to fondle their favorite cheerleaders by. And suddenly all the socially awkward "indoor kids" move to the front, finding comfort and grace within the Bill Berry beat.

Well, actually the kids in the studio look a little too cool to be dancing this passionately to R.E.M. I'm sure they're getting paid. And they probably all had aspirations of getting "discovered" and then getting signed up for a small role on Dallas and then moving onward, upward to Hollywood. But to get noticed they had to shake all they had to.....ewww.. an underfed band from the backwoods of Athens, Georgia!?....puh-lease! I could see these kids maybe dancing sincerely to New Order (you could splice their dance moves into the club scenes of the "Confusion" video) but R.E.M. just doesn't seem like their thing.

Fashion seems very important to these kids in the studio. Shoes are especially important. 0:41-0:47 is literally all shoes. And there's a nice close up of white low-cut boots at 0:57 to match a white headband up top.

The kids in the studio are doing "the 80s Dance." I don't know if this relatively free-stepping "to the left then to the right" style actually has a name. And I don't know if kids in high school in the 80s actually danced like this. All I know is that kids in 80s high school movies certainly danced like this (eg the Karate Kid, TeenWolf, Pretty in Pink, Better Off Dead.) And I aspired to dance like this one day, but by the time I actually made it to a gym dance, it was already the early 90s. And the only moves that us guys seemed to do were the hands-in-pocket-against-the-wall and the '"save room for the Holy Spirit/I'm not sure I actually like girls' 'November Rain' slow dance with arms straight ahead against the girl's waist" move. But maybe if R.E.M. was there in the gym, we could've lost our self-consciousness and danced like this.

Back to the studio dancers: the girl up front in black with a feathered hat looks like she just got out of a 1940s funeral, but she's determined to win that spot as the waitress serving JR on Dallas. Just look at how her knees bend back and forth around 1:30. Is that even physically possibly? Can you only move like that if you're double jointed? You get another glimpse of her flexing legs as the credits roll around 2:40-2:45.

The one thing that really doesn't work in this video is Stipe's costume glasses. They make him look like he had to be begrudgingly pulled away from his copy of Finnegan's Wake just to sing this song. Still, I'd take the bespectacled professorial Stipe over the skinhead post-Monster Stipe any day!

The clip cuts abruptly, but I think thats more just a fault of the taped-from-tv VHS source. Even slightly truncated, this is a gem. And watching this makes me very thankful to my old central Jersey friend, Doug K. He popped the cassette of Chronic Town into his car's tape deck as he took the turn a bit too fast onto Brown Rd. to drop me home after a 1995 high school day. Previously, I'd known only "Nightswimming" and "Everybody Hurts" and was lukewarm. But on that sunny afternoon, the speeding car and the Buck-ensian jangle seemed perfectly complementary.

And so began my love of REM.

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