R.E.M. was a band from 1980 until 2011. It was an incredible run of albums, tours, music videos, and social awareness to say the least. In Heritage Auctions’ upcoming August auction, we have three unique and incredibly rare documents from the band’s first handful of years. That includes one of the earliest pieces of documentation we have encountered from the band’s history.
Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry had formed a band in April 1980, playing their first show in April 1980 at an abandoned Episcopal church. They considered using the name Twisted Kites, but they ended up performing without a name. They decided to go by a word they found in a dictionary for Rapid Eye Movement for a gig a few weeks later. R.E.M. would play Tyrone’s regularly in these early days (this was already their third time playing it as R.E.M.).
Tyrone’s, the Mad Hatter, and the 40 Watt Club were all important venues for the band, who combined post-punk and jangle pop to make a fresh new sound (even if Michael Stipe was too embarrassed to raise his voice so people could understand his lyrics). Note the “Rekindle youth’s” and “pop kick” on the poster. Tyrone’s would end up burning down in January 1982 and R.E.M. was scheduled to play that night (they ended up playing the Coffee Club as a benefit for Tyrone’s that night instead).
Next is a 40 Watt Club handbill, also from 1980. R.E.M. regularly played locally and did regional touring. Their weekend tours would bleed into the week and they eventually dropped out of college to focus on the band full-time. By the fall of that year, a poster or handbill only had to say the band’s name, where, and when, and people would show up. This is a great example of that.
The 40 Watt Club was an important venue for national bands heading along the east coast. It gave national touring bands a place to play instead of long drives between the bigger cities. For a local band like R.E.M., they were able to open for national bands, exposing them to a larger audience. This show in early October was only one of four shows the band played that month. Only two months later, R.E.M. was a last-minute replacement for XTC, opening for the Police at a show in Atlanta for 4,000 people. Clearly, R.E.M. was about to be way more than an Athens favorite and a critical darling.
The two-night stand was right before the band went on an east coast tour. During the time of this show, the band was beloved by rock music critics and college radio listeners. Their debut album, Murmur, came out to a stellar response around the world in 1983. But the band was not against playing in the area they cut their teeth in. In handling their fame, frontman Michael Stipe would be in the limelight as little as possible, on stage and in promo photos. The photo used on this poster is a great example. If you didn’t know who was who, you’d think the guy closest to the camera was the lead singer. Nope, this was drummer Bill Berry.
Preview all the items included in the 2020 August 8 – 9 Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction – Dallas #7221.