Anyone who knows me knows I have an unholy obsession with The B-52s. I remember being insta-smitten with the band the first time I spied them on MTV—you know, back when I was an awkward pre-teen. I didn’t know it at the time—but I had found my tribe. The B’s quirky riffs and gorgeous harmonies quickly became the metronome to my entire adolescence.
If you would have told me 35+ years later, I would be traipsing around Athens, Georgia with Cindy Wilson—one of the B’s founding members—I would be the first to call shenanigans. Sometimes, however, the cosmos works in mysterious ways.
Yes, it was one year ago today I had the opportunity to spend a perfectly sublime day running amuck with Wilson in her hometown. Here are some of the highlights I remember—in no particular order:
I anticipated having a teen-angst, existential crisis at some point during the day—so I had stuffed all—and I mean, all—of my pockets with tissues in case I started bawling. It never happened, but I notice I look extra padded in all the photos.
Cindy drove a car that resembled a golden TicTac. She drove around the block four times looking for parking. The first time I saw her drive by, I started hyperventilating. My friend Jared had to smack me before I finally pulled it together.
Cindy’s accent was even thicker and more drawled-out than I could have ever hoped. I’ve heard her in interviews, but to hear her talk in person was dreamy. She sounded like melted molasses.
For the first couple hours, we walked around Cindy’s haunts in Downtown Athens. Every building had a story. Every block had a backstory. Since many B’s songs have a lyric (or two, or ten) synonymous with their old stomping grounds, I got to hear Cindy’s oral history firsthand. For example, I remember Cindy pointing out a defunct café she worked at back in the day. (It’s now a humdrum Urban Outfitters). “Kate used to come in for hot chocolate all the time,” said Cindy. Turns out that’s also where Cindy’s husband-to-be Keith came to woo her. “He liked my waitress uniform.”
At one point, she suggested zipping in to a place called Zombie Coffee and Donuts. I distinctly remember ordering a coffee and then only having two sips of it. My hands were already shaking from nervous energy. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure I was also experiencing facial tics. I figured caffeine was the last thing I needed. I did, however, carry that coffee cup around for the next two hours—clutching on to it like it was a winning lottery ticket.
At one point we rolled up to a non-descript house tucked away from the street. The property was so overgrown with landscaping, you could’ve blinked and missed it. That’s where Cindy and her brother Ricky Wilson lived around the time of the B’s inception. Cindy painted quite a picture of her coming home from work one night and tossing her keys on the counter. Ricky was in his bedroom riffing on the guitar and wanted her to come in to listen to a “ridiculous chord he came up with”. That chord was the opening to the song that put the band on the new wave map—the distinctive plunk, plunk, plunk of “Rock Lobster.”
I remember asking about the success of “Love Shack.” Did the B’s know it was going to be such a prolific hit? According to the Cindy, the answer was an emphatic no. Turns out it was considered a throw-away song on the “Cosmic Thing” album. No one in the band had any idea it would blow up like it did. However, it turned out to be the perfect B’s comeback song—nostalgia and novelty rolled in to a toe-tapping, infectious, sing-along anthem.
At one point, Cindy had to scamper to put some money in the parking meter. I offered to walk the three block jaunt with her to her car. Halfway there, I just blurted out, “I just have to say this. Thanks for making it okay for me to be me. When I listened to your music growing up, I never felt like the odd man out. You were my kindred spirit. And thanks for being so kind to me today.” She gushed, laughed a bit and thanked me back. It was my favorite moment of the day. (PS. I had a tissue ready and waiting but didn’t need it.)
We ended up back at Cindy’s house to “sit on the porch and swing.” At one point Cindy ran inside to get one of her new wigs she was getting ready to to unveil at an upcoming corporate event. There it was in all of its glory and splendor (and still in its protective netting.) You know what they say—the higher the hair, the closer to God.
I’d also like to point out the date. Yes, it was 4/20. Take that for what it’s worth.
At the very end of the day, on the way out the door, Cindy gave me her pink, frilly, fringe-tastic scarf and tied it around my neck. She said, “… from me to you.” To this day, I have never taken it out of my suitcase. It’s still neatly folded up. It will forever be my good luck charm.
When we pulled out of her driveway, my friend Jared said, “You will never top this day. This was your perfect day.” He was right. I sobbed all the way back to the hotel—uh, and used up every tissue I had squirreled away. Jared’s final words of wisdom? “Oh, thank God. I was wondering when that was going to happen.”