I still remember the day when I discovered The B-52s. I was a wildly awkward, burgeoning pre-teen who was mesmerized by anything kitschy and colorful that came across MTV’s airwaves. When I spied the band’s new video for “Legal Tender” – I was instantly smitten. This was my siren song. I demanded my dad to take me to the mall that day to buy the cassette.
I didn’t know it at the time … but I had found my tribe. The B’s music 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. But sometimes the cosmos works in mysterious ways.
Yesterday was one for the record books. I have never had a day quite as perfectly sublime as I did running amuck with Cindy. I’m still not quite sure it happened. Thank God for photographic evidence … and an album pledge campaign that gave me the opportunity to spend time with her and her bandmates.
In the days leading up to our meeting, I was a stress bunny … on the fringe of lunacy. What would she be like? Would she be cool? Would I freak out? And when I did freak out, how bad would it be? Did I need tissues in case I bawled? How many tissues? I was in the middle of another adolescent existential crisis … except this time as a middle-aged fangirl. Happens.
When Cindy pulled up in her golden convertible TicTac of a car, I exhaled … for about 22 minutes. She was just as ethereal and down to earth as I hoped. And, for once in my life, I shut up and let her regale me with story after story of the B’s inception while we toured her hometown of Athens.
Nearly every B’s song has a lyric (or two … or ten) synonymous with their old stomping grounds. In one breath, Cindy would point out the diner where she’d guzzle bottomless cups of coffee. It was the genesis for “Deadbeat Club’s” opening salvos of “I was good. I could talk a mile a minute. On this caffeine buzz I was on … we were really humming.” Less than sixty seconds later, she would gesture to 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.”
Every building had a story. Every block had a backstory. The pic to the left is the former Diana Shop — where Kate and Cindy would procure their vintage apparel “and a purse to match”. And thus, I soaked it all in and listened to Cindy’s oral history. Some of the stories I’d heard before in passing – like the old-school mortuary that also doubled as the B’s rehearsal space back in the day. Then, suddenly, we were standing in front of said building. Cindy casually mentioned on particularly hot days the band would skitter down the street to the local juice store before heading back to jam. The music was organic … the juice not so much.
Even better? For every blast-from-the-past Athens story, Cindy would sprinkle in a current slice-of-life nugget. The famed Jittery Joe’s Coffeehouse, for instance, is poised to release a special blend of coffee created in Cindy’s honor this year. It’s aptly named “Turbo Chill” after the genre of electro-pop on her new solo album “Change”. (Better get your beans quick though – it’s only going to be released in small batch offerings.) Speaking of local coffeehouses, we made a mad dash in to Zombie Coffee and Donuts to refuel. Lord knows the walking dead can only walk so long until they need caffeine.
It took a few hours, but eventually my shyness wore off and I started peppering her with questions. The walking tour was coming to a close … but the driving tour of historic Athens was just about to start. My jaw was on the ground for the next 4+ hours. More on that in Part II.