Sometimes when you hit that shutter button, you know – you FEEL it’s the one. When I took the picture above, I knew I’d captured the moment. This is Michael Stipe looking out over 50,000 people at the Pinkpop festival in 1989. He’d grabbed a chair, set it as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was singing ‘Summertime’.
We’d been standing in the sun all day. Some of our group were slamdancing to The Pixies. Some of us were laughing at Tanita Tikaram who couldn’t hold a tune to save her life (even her fans turned away in disgust). Some of us felt sorry for Marc Almond, pelted with food by an intolerant audience> We had all dropped our jaws in surprise when Elvis Costello came up and defied all logic by being solid, stunning and simply… sexy.
Costello, belting out ‘I want you’, had broken a string mid-song. He’d stood there, solo, still crying the words, his arms stretched out wide. A roadie rushed in, literally sliding in on his knees. He freed the singer of his guitar, slipped him on a new one, and plugged it in just in time for Costello to seamlessly continue his song. We had never been more in awe of musicianship.
We had made our way to the front row. Pressed up against the barrier, a little left of center. R.E.M. were last on the bill. It had been 2 years since they played our country. Two years since I had reluctantly gone to see them and had come back a fan. We didn’t know it then, but R.E.M.’s Pinkpop appearance was to be their last in Holland. Ever. Believe it or not, the next two occasions the band booked Dutch venues both were cancelled for health reasons.
This one almost didn’t happen either. The accident prone band nearly had to cancel at the last moment because Bill Berry’d been bitten by a tick, back in his beloved Georgia garden. The man nearly died of Rocky Mountain Fever in a German hospital. But they patched him up.
I still think the band were at their best in ’89. Stipe in his white floppy suit, sporting what he now calls an ‘unfortunate’ haircut, seemed on the verge of insanity. Buck hadn’t put on the pounds yet, and it was before ueber-nerd Mills got into dye jobs and glittery suits. And… damn it, they still had their drummer.
They launched straight into mayhem: Exhuming McCarthy, Turn you Inside Out, Stand, Orange Crush… the set heavily dominated by Document and Green favourites. Stipe swirled around the microphone stand, brandishing his megaphone. Feeling Gravity’s Pull felt like the apocalypse.
Then they let us all come down gently. King of Birds, Summertime, Swan Swan H and finally, with Mills playing bass sitting down on the edge of the stage, ending with You are the Everything.
You’ve been there. You’ve stood in fields, still sweaty and warm inside from a day in the sun and possibly a drink or two, and you’ve watched the sun go down, and you’ve seen the people start their bonfires. You’ve wondered whether that’s a sunstroke you’re having. You’ve witnessed a band in their prime OWN an audience. You’ve heard the pin drop. Your skin has crawled, and you never knew whether it was the chill of the night or the intensity of the moment. With your friends around you, and your face turned up to the stage, mouthing words. You. are. the. every. thing.