The Other Two Were With Me

Out of nowhere, I suddenly remember the excitement I felt about the tour program for RE.M.’s Monster tour in 1996; even more than how excited I was at the gig itself — which was pretty fucking excited, because they were still one of my favorite bands by that point and there I was, seeing them live — was the weird, inexplicable electricity that flowed through my brain as I flipped through the program again and again in the days and weeks afterwards.

It wasn’t a misplaced early nostalgia for the concert that left me so thrilled. It was, instead, the excitement of the way that program looked, the way in which it approached the design and the very thinking behind that design. Remember, I was in art school studying graphic design at the time, and with teachers who were very very rigid and fixed in their approach to the subject; at some point in their lives, they’d heard the maxim “form follows function,” and it became their entire way of life — it informed all of their thinking on the idea of graphic design and they couldn’t see any further.

With this tour booklet, though, the exact opposite seemed true. Flush with the financial freedom that came with commercial success in the 1990s music scene and still informed by a left field visual approach that they brought with them from their indie days, the R.E.M. program was gloriously pointless and indulgent: oversized, full color, with different paper stock for particular pages and images that had no purpose beyond “feel,” or looking cool. There were pages where the dominant element was a photo of TV static or tin foil put through a scanner so it was curiously, colorfully, reflective. Things were upside down or entirely absent from where they “should” have been. Form followed whim, and whimsy, in that very 1990s manner.

I returned to that tour program repeatedly over the next year or so when it came to my schoolwork. Not stealing anything directly (I was not so sensible, nor so bold), but trying to absorb the attitude and approach to it by osmosis. Remembering how freeing it felt today, I wonder if I’m still trying to replicate what it meant even now.

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