South Shore Room is a ‘Love Shack’ on Saturday
September 6, 2012
STATELINE, Nev. – The B-52s’ 1980 appearance on “Saturday Night Live” wasn’t as historic as The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, but it clearly changed music.
The members of the self-described “tacky little dance band from Athens,” Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland and siblings Cindy Wilson and Ricky Wilson were not coveted by their hometown folk venue. But they were loved at punk rock clubs on New York’s Lower East Side, and they made regular treks there from Georgia. The self-titled debut album, “The B-52’s,” had a half-million sales. Keeping with a philosophy of having fun and a “stream-of-consciousness” songwriting style, the band played on “SNL” the Avant-garde “Dance This Mess Around.”
Cindy Wilson’s guttural “Why don’t you dance with me, I’m not no Limburger” resonated for many like The Beatles’ Everly Brothers-inspired harmony from 16 years earlier. It was disco in a punk-rock way, and a precursor to modern rock. Schneider’s playful talk-sing style blended with the beehived singers Wilson and Pierson, whose rhythmic organ riffs blended with Ricky Wilson’s bright, melodic lead guitar into an uninhibited dance party. Gay or straight, yuppie or hippie, it didn’t matter. The rockers and the mods found common ground with the B-52s.
The B-52s dropped the apostrophe when the Internet came around, and 35 years later the band continues to have mini-tours each month.
Pierson said the travel, not the performance, is the exhausting part. She hopes the future will include a “hologram tour.” She plans to perform and to swim this week at Lake Tahoe, which is home for tiny rock lobsters. Here’s more from her conversation with Lake Tahoe Action:
Q: How was the summer tour?
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Pierson: All of us really like being on stage interacting with the audience and there’s been such great response particularly from the younger people in the audience. We’re getting this great vibe and everyone’s dancing, so it’s better than ever in a way. It hasn’t died down, the freak-flag-flying, wig-wearing, partying crowd.
Q: I remember seeing the B-52s play “Dance This Mess Around” on “Saturday Night Live” in 1980 and being blown away. What was the response?
Pierson: The reaction from the very first appearance on “Saturday Night Live” a lot of people have told us over the years is that it just blew their minds. It was like seeing a band from Mars or something. It was very different. And we’re still very unique. There’s no one really like us. In some ways that’s worked against us in that we can’t be categorized. We didn’t really fit into the normal radio play although we did have hits but it didn’t fit into the norm. We’re still very viable and vital now because our sound is so unique. I think there are people influenced by us but there’s no one who really sounds like us. We have a very signature sound. If you know us, then you know that’s us.
Q: The B-52s seem like a punk rock answer to disco. How do you describe it?
Pierson: Even though punk was “We hate disco,” we really loved dance music and disco was amazing. So right from the beginning we called ourselves a tacky little dance band from Athens, Ga., and our aspirations were not that much beyond a dance band. Who knew that 35 years later that we’d be the world’s greatest party band, self-proclaimed?
Q: Is the whole band from Athens?
Pierson: Fred and I are from New Jersey. He went down to study forestry and he soon discovered that forestry wasn’t about saving trees but mainly cutting them down. I moved down there after traveling though Europe. I went down there to do a back-to-the-land thing and raise goats and moved down there with my future ex-husband.
Q: How did the band start?
Pierson: The band happened to get together one night. We hung out as a larger group of friends, just kind of punk bohemians who would crash parties and dance crazy and drive everybody else off the dance floor. Keith (Strickland, drums) and Ricky (Wilson, guitar) played stuff together and Cindy (Wilson) did stuff with her brother Ricky and Fred (Schneider, singer) did some stuff with Keith, so everyone had sort of jammed together a little bit but no one ever said, “Let’s start a band.” It just happened one night after we had a flaming volcano at Hunan’s Chinese Restaurant and we went to our friend’s house and he went upstairs to write a paper and we stayed in his basement. He had all these instruments because he was also in a band and we started jamming. We wrote a song and we decided we stay together and just keep doing this. Then the idea was bandied about maybe we could play a party and we played at this Valentine’s Day party and then that was it.
Q: Did you hope to have commercial success?
Pierson: We didn’t really care. We had no aspirations to be on the radio. We just did it for fun in the beginning. So whenever we did a record we just kept that same code: Lets’ do it for fun. … The jamming process brings out the nonsequiturs, like “Tin Roof, Rusted.” Things you would not expect to flip out of the not consciousness.
Q: “Tin Roof, Rusted.” Where did that come from?
Pierson: When we jam we just try to get in a state where we’re not self-conscious. We’re not thinking. We’re just letting it flow. We had several versions of “Love Shack.” This particular version we were jamming just completely all singing at the same time and all of a sudden the tape stopped and Cindy just kept going, and she was just singing “Tin Roof, Rusted.” So we saw that it was so great that we just kept it that way.
Q: I bet the audience all sings it.
Pierson: The “bang, bang,” too. The whole song actually.
Q: Don’t you have a Love Shack up in the Catskills?
Pierson: Yes. My partner and I have the Lazy Meadow motel up here in Mount Tremper, N.Y., near Woodstock where we live. It’s a rustic mid-century modern retreat. Now we just opened a new place called Lazy Desert, an Airstream hotel near Landers, which is near Joshua Tree. We have Airstreams, all highly decorated and themed. We just are opening that now.
Q: It must be tough to enter an Airstream trailer with a beehive hairdo.
Pierson: You have to duck down when your entering the door, but they’re pretty high.
Q: The wigs were classic.
Pierson: We switched off wigs all the time and had names for them like “Stairway to Heaven” and “the Birdcage.” We were famous for wearing wigs. Now we wear hairpieces and stuff. That was our signature thing. Sometimes we worried the wig thing would overpower the attention to the music but over time we realized the legacy of the band is that people are allowed to really be themselves and have fun. And in this day and age to really let go and have fun at a concert and really have fun and abandon your inhibitions is really an amazing thing. And a lot of people have told us how much we have helped them. This is something we never intended. It’s amazing that people have told us, “This music helped me get through high school or it helped me through a crisis or realize that I could come out and be different and be myself and help me affirm who I am and get me through difficult times.” That’s an amazing thing to hear people say that because we really didn’t have any idea in the beginning that this would help anybody.
Here’s an example of how the Internet helped punctuation.
The B-52’s had an apostrophe ever since the husband of singer Cindy Wilson came up with a logo.
When the band released an album, “Funplex,” in 2008, the excessive punctuation was gone.
“We decided it’s wrong and it’s a pain in the ass to do it on the Internet,” singer Kate Pierson said.
However, traditional fans don’t have to change, she said.
“The apostrophe is optional,” Pierson said. “The dash is not optional.”