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Interview:
B-52's at Meadow Brook, 5 Things to Know
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Forty years ago, the Athens, Ga. band B-52's dropped a musical bomb on an unsuspecting audience that had never heard anything quite like it before.



With their frenetic energy, off-kilter structures and unusual vocal arrangements, songs such as "Rock Lobster," Planet Claire" and "Private Idaho" were weird but welcome and gave the B-52's star standing from punk mosh pits to discos. And then there was the group itself, with Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson's bouffant hairdos and Fred Schneider's game-show host hijinks.



During the intervening years the group has experienced both tragedy (the 1985 death of guitarist Ricky Wilson, Cindy's brother) and the triumph of "Love Shack" in 1989. This year's 40th anniversary trek is billed as a farewell to extensive touring, but the B-52's don't plan to be grounded, either.



• Reflecting on the group's career, Schneider, 68, says by phone that "it's just the five of us doing what we did — and we didn't really know what we were doing! We all liked punk and the Ramones, and we just created our own sound. At the beginning our songs went on and on and on because we'd be like, 'Oh, this is a good part...' So we just did our own thing. We weren’t' trying to copy anybody. We learned as we went."



• "Rock Lobster" was inspired when Schneider went to "the cheesiest disco in Atlanta, and instead of a light show they had a slide show and they showed slides of puppies and babies and then there were lobsters on a grill. So I thought, 'Rock this, rock that — rock lobster!' That made sense — to me, at least."



• Schneider says success came as a surprise to the B-52's. "It just snowballed, really. I guess Ricky hit it on the head one time when we played in New York and there was a line around the block and he looks out and goes, 'Where are all these people going? Oh, they're coming to see us!' I was the mail delivery coordinator for the Clark County Council on Aging, which was the best job I ever had, and then the band started really taking off and I had to quit. One minute I'm washing pots and pans at the Eldorado vegetarian restaurant and the next thing you know I'm flying to the Bahamas to record."



• This year also marks the 30th anniversary of "Cosmic Thing," the four-times platinum smash that featured "Love Shack" and "Roam" and was also the group's first release after Wilson's death. "We didn't discuss breaking up or anything," Schneider remembers. "After two years Keith (Strickland) called me and Kate and said Cindy was ready to work again and we were ready to work again, so we just pulled it together. Keith took over, 'cause he's an amazing musician, and the music he had was real inspiring, so we gave it a shot and it was great." Strickland has since retired from touring but is still part of the band.



• Schneider says that after this year's tour the B-52's "won't be doing any major tours anymore, but we'll be doing gigs and festivals and things like that." Meanwhile the group is working on two songs, it's first new material since 2008's "Funplex," that will accompany "a deluxe package of all our records" that's expected out during 2020.



The B-52's, OMD and Berlin perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre. Tickets $29.50 and up at 313-471-7000, or visit 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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