In 1992 R.E.M. released their eighth studio album Automatic for the People. Back then I was a mere 18 years of age, living and growing up in North London. During this time my friends and I would meet outside the local offy (off licence/liquor store) every Friday evening prior to ‘going out on the piss’. Due to there being no mobile phones or social media back then we would always meet at the same time and at the same offy every Friday evening. The evening would start with us all excitedly bundling into the offy and each purchasing an alcoholic beverage or two; a somewhat undignified aperitif designed to moisten the palette for the night ahead. For most of us, the biggest worry back then would have been the post pubescent issue of being asked for ID in front of your friends when attempting to buy alcohol. Anyone asked for ID due to the misfortune of looking underage would subsequently be subjected to a barrage of abuse, ridicule and good old fashioned British piss-taking by their friends once everyone had safely purchased their goods and exited the offy. With cans and bottles being opened and cigarettes being lit, the conversation would then turn to the most important things in life for us at that time; what pub are we going to tonight, who’s going in who’s car, who’s getting the first round of drinks in, who’s drinking what, who’s going out with who. Sometimes the magnitude and complexity of such conversations required quite a lengthy debate from all involved. It was at this point during one of these evenings that I was sitting in a friends car, most probably drinking a can of Fosters while smoking an Embassy No.1 like some kind of Dickensian street urchin, in a futile attempt to look cool. My aforementioned friend had Automatic for the People blasting out of his car cassette player. Suffice to say I got a lift with him to the pub while we continued to listen to said album in his car. Back then that was how we ‘shared music’ and we would ‘like it’, simply by telling each other in person we liked it. We may have listened to it on the way home that night, but for obvious reasons I don’t remember that part of the evening.
I remember going to my local Our Price record store at the earliest opportunity after that night out and excitedly buying Automatic for the People on cassette. For some reason I didn’t have my Walkman on me, so I had to wait until I got home to listen to it on my Hi-Fi stereo cassette player that took pride of place in my bedroom at my parents house. Like any other album that captivated me at the time, I played it again and again. The obligatory pencil always nearby for any cassette emergencies that all too often appeared to happen to your favourite tapes. One of my favourite tracks on the album at the time was the up tempo and cheerful The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite. This was then followed by Everybody Hurts, a track that at the time, as much as I didn’t dislike it, it simply didn’t draw me in.
At the risk of sounding like my Dad (who is amazing by the way), back then was a different time. People interacted with one another differently, the world seemed a more innocent place. Maybe that is the nature of nostalgic reflection on one’s youth and the sub-culture that one belonged to. Who knows? In line with this 90’s undertone, answers on a postcard please!
Automatic for the People as an album stayed with me, as was the case with many albums it became somewhat of an internal soundtrack to my youthful shenanigans. And as my life progressed many songs and albums would take on a deeper meaning, a deeper connection. Several years later, one of those songs was Everybody Hurts, and over the coming years I listened to it more and more. I now view it as a beautiful song, in my opinion, its sheer simplicity is what makes it beautiful.
There have been very recent times in my life when I have been unable to listen to it at all. This was due to the intensity of the battle I am currently fighting. However I am listening to it now as I write this and remember more innocent times, such as those I have written about above. I loved my youth, I definitely didn’t appreciate it and it feels like it flew by in the blink of an eye.
Someone once said “youth is wasted on the young.”