Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Song for a Future Generation" / The B-52s

I wish I could travel back in town and go to some of those college parties in Athens, Georgia, where the B-52s cooked up a gag act to perform for their friends. Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson got wigs from some old-school beauty shoppe in town, picking the weirdest hairdos on the rack -- a beehive called the B-52 for its uncanny resemblance to a missile warhead. The material they threw together was bubbly, catchy, hilarious dance tunes, with Kate and Cindy and their friend Fred frugging around at the mike.

By the time they brought the party to New York (I caught them at CBGBs and at Summerstage in Central Park, sharing the bill with the Talking Heads), they had the choreography down pat and had polished their songs, but that infectious party vibe was still there. It's astonishing to realize that the band was basically two musicians and three frontpeople -- Ricky Wilson's brisk guitar and Keith Strickland's peppy drumming made it sound like a full combo at work. Okay, Kate played keyboards and Fred and Cindy often wielded tambourines or maracas, but the meat of the band was one guitar and a drummer. There was just so much going on in front, you didn't notice.

The droll, absurdist songs that made their reputation -- "Rock Lobster" and "Planet Claire" and "Private Idaho" -- are indelibly etched in my mind, but I also love their later albums. Whammy! (1983) was the last record they made with Ricky Wilson, who would soon die of AIDS. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of this particular track, where each member cheerfully introduces him/herself, like a meet-the-band spread from Tiger Beat. "Hello, I'm Cindy, I'm a Pisces, and I like chihuahuas and Chinese noodles!" "My name is Keith and I'm a Scorpio from Athens G.A., and I like to find the essence from within." Inspired.

It all runs over an uptempo loop of Sputnik-style synths and layered vocals and that jangly drumbeat, locomoting along in the sort of beat you pretty much HAVE to dance the Pony to, or at least the Watusi. The lyrics are a goofball list of out-sized life ambitions, like the script from some hallucinatory speed-dating session: "Wanna be the empress of fashion / Wanna be the king of Moscow", "Wanna be the captain of the Enterprise / Wanna be the king of the Zulus," always ending in "Let's meet and have a baby now." If they didn't sound so damn chirpy about it you'd think they were serious.

"Now!" "Now!" "Now!" "Now!" "Now!" "Now!" "Now!" "La-la-la-la-la" their voices trade off staggered notes in one interval, Kate and Cindy's high, hard voices chiming against Fred Schneider's inadequate, slightly flat tenor. Never mind, Fred always made up for it with his lounge-lizard panache on stage.

I remember 1983. Everyone was terrified of AIDS and career women were discovering their biological clocks and singles bars were hitting new heights of sleaze -- the dating scene was frantic, to say the least. Who better to make us lighten up than the B-52s? When all else fails, they told us, put on a record and dance. You're with friends.

1 comment:

Wakeup said...

How cool to see this one featured. These guys/gals were great sci-fi writers, in their way. Satirical, maybe, but fun as hell anyway.