“The Wake-Up Bomb” at the 1995 MTV Music Awards

Here’s a link to R.E.M.’s performance of “The Wake-up Bomb” at the 1995 MTV Music Awards (oh those halcyon days when MTV mattered/was relevant to music)*:


I remember watching it on television at the time and being a) disappointed, because I had never heard the song before since it hadn’t been released yet–I was expecting them to play something from their latest album, Monster (remember that in the early days of the internet, and really before youtube, it was A HUGE DEAL to get to see your favorite band perform on television); and b) a little confused by the fact that Michael Stipe was wearing eyeliner, but assuming that he was doing it just because it was his job as a rock star to do weird things. In hindsight, I think it was the first time I had ever seen a man wearing make-up, and I remember my father commenting to me that it bothered him that the lead singer of my favorite band wore make-up and was thus hinting at cross-dressing, just like a few years earlier he had expressed his displeasure when I was listening to U2’s Achtung Baby because there was a picture of Bono wearing a dress in the liner notes. (Actually, now that I just typed that sentence, that picture of Bono is the first time I saw a man wearing make-up because he also has lipstick on. But the dress was more noticeable!). As such, watching this performance was a seminal experience for me because it was an early instance of me slowly learning that not everyone fits into the heterosexual mold (the earliest example of this was when I was nine and read Martina Navratilova’s autobiography, which is where I learned what lesbians are). These instances were very difficult to come by growing up in a conservative Christian household. Soon thereafter I learned that Stipe was bisexual, which at the time only signified to me why he wore make-up, but later on in my life when I realized that I was bisexual it was neat to know that there were public role models for me to look toward.

I like “The Wake-up Bomb” now, though it is a guilty pleasure because it is so pop-y, not as sophisticated as most of the rest of R.E.M.’s early stuff (“early R.E.M.”=when Bill Berry was still with the band, i.e., all of their albums through New Adventures in Hi-Fi. With the exception of their greatest hits album In Time, I pretend that later R.E.M. never existed.), and it is one of the weaker tracks on New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which is an underrated album. But every time I hear it I think about that first performance.

* This post is going to overuse parentheses.

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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