Tag Archives: college

College Years

Like the wartime years of a civilian solider, they lay so much outside the real world that they had about them a certain unsubstantial, dreamlike quality.

I came across the above passage in Page Smith’s biography of John Adams, which I started to read again yesterday afternoon. The passage refers to Adams’s days at Harvard. I’d underlined the passage in the book the first time I attempted to read it and wrote in the margin: “Yes! This is exactly what my college years were like–never seen it described this well.”

My college years are mostly a blur with little remaining except some scattered memories here and there, and some ancient Word documents (version 5.5 for DOS) with papers and notes. One of my bigger regrets about college, silly as it seems, is that I didn’t begin keeping a journal then. (It wasn’t until nearly 2 years after graduation that I finally started one.) John Adams college career covers 8-pages of an 1,100 page biography. But it was Smith’s words, about those days having a certain dreamlike quality that resonated with me.

I have vague memories of my first day at college. I’d already met my roommate at an event earlier in the summer. But I met two other people on that first day who became among my best friends.

I remember little of my time in classes. I can conjure up generic images of taking notes in large lecture halls, or sitting in semi-circles in smaller rooms. I remember various lab classes in the evenings, but not the specifics, except for one time when an experiment of mine went awry, and I handed a test-tube full of bubbling iron filings to a friend and dashed out of the lab. I remember countless philosophical debates in various dorm room floors into the wee hours of the night. (How I managed to stay up so late eludes me, but I was young…)

Certain images stick with me: riding my bike to class early in the morning and crossing past the bell tower. To my left was one of the science buildings, ivy creeping up its walls. For some reason, it was the ivy that made feel like I was actually in college rather than high school. Friday night or Saturday night second-run movies in one of the lecture halls. The one that stands out most in my mind was Dead Again with Kenneth Branagh.

Looking back on it now, the way it seemed to me was one day, I was there on the campus for my very first day. No long after (but actually two years later) I’d moved out of the dorms and into an apartment with my two roommates. After that, it was all study and work all the time and then, on a hot June day, I was filing onto the stage to receive my diploma. It really does have a dreamlike quality when I look back on it.

Reading that passage in Adams biography comforts me somehow.

R.E.M. and College Years

Someone mentioned that we recently passed the 30 year anniversary of the release of R.E.M.’s Out of Time album. That was a watershed album for me. Indeed, R.E.M. turned out to be the soundtrack of my college years, and the years immediately after.

I knew of R.E.M. before college. In high school, during the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher’s strike of 1989, R.E.M.’s “Stand” was a kind of anthem of the silliness of that two week period when we didn’t have to go to school. But it was in college that I really come to know and appreciate R.E.M.

Prior to college my tastes in music were fairly vanilla. It was my friend Dan, who I met my very first day at U.C. Riverside, who beat a good sense of musical taste into me over a period of four years. Dan introduced me to Elvis Costello and Bad Religion and Black Flag and the Dead Kennedy’s and the Velvet Underground. For that alone I’ll forgive him his The Cure and Morrisey. But Dan also showed me that R.E.M. had albums, and quite a few of them even before Green. And they were great albums.

Out of Time came out on March 12, 1991, and I’m pretty sure the first time I heard it was when Dan played it for me during that spring of our freshman year. If I listen to that album today, I am back in the old Aberbeen-Inverness dorm. I can smell the carpets, and hear the music playing while I studied for a general chemistry test.

A year and a half later, just after the beginning of my junior year, R.E.M. came out with Automatic for the People (“Automatic for the people automatic for the people automatic,” I can hear Dan chanting) which is my favorite of all of R.E.M.’s albums. I had spend the summer working in the dorm cafeteria and wondering if it was possible to turn my mediocre grades (up to that point) into good grades. Automatic for the People was the anthem of that turnaround. I was listening to that album while studying for a political science test on European politics with my friend Shannon. That was the first test I can ever recall not sweating at all. I was prepared. I got a perfect score on it. While I sat in the lecture hall taking the test, I could hear “Try Not to Breathe”, and “Nightswimming,” and “Everybody Hurts” playing in my head.

Three months after I graduated (and started a job with a company that I remain with coming up on 27 years later), R.E.M. came out with their Monster album. We got tickets to see them in concert for that album. It was only the third concert I’d ever been to and it was fantastic. Four years later, in the midst of the crazy dot com boom, I got to see R.E.M. again, this time at the Greek Theater in L.A. as part of their Up tour. We had seats much closer to the stage and once again, it was a great show.

R.E.M. has such an eclectic variety of music. I love songs like “Perfect Circle” (Murmur) and “Camera” (Reckoning). My kids know and love songs like “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (Document) and “Superman” (Life’s Rich Pageant). I laugh and sing along with Michael Stipe’s drunken version of “King of the Road” (Dead Letter Office). And I try (usually unsuccessfully) to hit the high notes in “Tongue” (Monster).

As you might imagine, I listened to some R.E.M. while writing this post. I think I’ll listen to some more when I catch up on a week’s worth of work email this morning. And maybe I’ll throw in some Elvis Costello for yucks.