I don’t want this column to be about celebrity spotting.
For a start, I don’t agree with the notion of celebrity. I’d much rather meet someone who’s not particularly famous but who had a direct impact on my life (see Blake Schwarzenbach, from my last column) than a world famous athlete, actress or popstar whose name I only know through ubiquity.
However, the other night I was genuinely starstruck. That’s never happened to me before. People always say New York is the best place to randomly spot the rich and the beautiful – if you’re into that kind of thing – but in three plus months of living here I’d not seen one famous person. Until the other night.
I was standing on the sidewalk outside a bar I’d just been in, somewhat drunk and ready to go home, when I happened – for no real reason – to turn around. There, behind me, just a metre or two away, was none other than Michael Stipe from R.E.M. My (internal) reaction was probably akin to a 12-year-old girl who’s just seen Justin Bieber walk down the street. I looked, gawped, turned around, motioned to the friends I was with, did a double take and then freaked out even more.
I got into R.E.M. when I was about 15 and it was through them that I got into many of the other bands I still count as my favourites today. I collected their discography fervently. Not content with their back catalogue of albums, I started buying singles, posters, back issues of magazines with them in.
I joined their fan club. I even started an R.E.M. fanzine. It lasted one issue and was, thinking about it now, my first foray into this ridiculous profession I’m lucky enough to call my own. They were my first proper live gig – after my A-Levels were done, in Paris, in 1999. With Patti Smith supporting. I remember, waiting around with other fans back then, getting my tour programme signed by bassist Mike Mills and seeing Stipe and Smith walk past and wave at us. I was so disappointed they didn’t stop and meet us.
And now, 13 years later, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t speak to him when he was right there in front of me. But I was flustered and it took time to gather my senses and the courage to do so. By which point he’d started to walk into this fancy gallery that someone else was leading him into and my chance was gone.
I guess the point is, even though R.E.M. became less relevant to me as I grew up and grew older (and they grew rather more bland in the twilight of their career), they played a huge part in me becoming who I am now – not just in terms of my musical taste, but in terms of my personality, my ideas and ideals, my politics, my outlook on life. I have no idea if I’ll ever get the chance to tell him that in person, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Having spent six and a half years living in London, but dreaming of New York, Mischa Pearlman has finally made the jump across the Atlantic. Now, you can find him drifting between the venues and late night bars of Manhattan and Brooklyn and grinning manically while gazing at the skyline. He writes about music for various magazines and, just to complete the cliché, is writing a novel. E-mail him, if you like: firstname.lastname@example.org