The collision of global markets and social mood

Saturday, April 7, 2012


I wound up just down the road in Athens after I left Gainesville.  Home to one of my favorite bands, The B-52s, I've always wanted to visit ever since I saw them in college.  I was first introduced to them in high school by my rad Californian friend Jay Cole who turned me on to all kinds of great music from the LA punk scene, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The English Beat, and the UK Subs.  Jay was a gifted skier, and was recruited to race on our ski team.  He also helped me pass physics when I had no business being in it in the first place, so I'm eternally grateful to him.  I had no problem explaining centrifugal force while in 3rd gear in a tight corner on a country backroad, but on a piece of paper?  Forget it.

I was 4 feet away from the B-52s when they played.  I was enthralled.  Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson looked like they were from another planet all decked out in the funkiest clothes and hair-dos I'd ever seen.  And Ricky Wilson with his guitar with only four strings absolutely blew me away.  Little did I know he would be dead from AIDS just 2 years later.  I didn't even know what AIDS was.

I pulled this from Wikipedia: "What was perhaps Wilson's most salient feature among guitar aconfidos was the creation of his own open tunings. Grouping the strings of his Mosrite guitar into a bass course (usually tuned to fifths for strumming) and a treble course (often tuned in unison), he removed the middle two strings from his playing entirely, although he sometimes played with five strings as well. As the band did not have a bassist originally, Wilson unified his tunings with a keyboard bass played by vocalist Fred Schneider, creating a solid rock and roll sound without a bass guitar. From 1982 onwards, Wilson as well as drummer Keith Strickland played bass on the band's albums."

 Still one of my all-time favorite album covers.

There are many many tunes that I love, but nothing says "The B-52s" for me like Planet Claire.  It was their first tune I ever heard, and it's remained outta sight ever since.

Planet Claire by B-52's on Grooveshark

Just like I couldn't believe my luck when I found a real-life moon tower around the corner from me when I was staying in Austin last year, imagine my surprise when I found this sign and thought it sounded vaguely familiar.

"I'm headed down the Atlanta Highway.  Looking for the love getaway . . ."

Turns out there really was a cabin just down the road from Athens complete with a tin roof, where the B-52s conceived "Rock Lobster," and Kate Pierson actually lived in it in the 1970s. It existed until 2004, when it burned down. Bummer. I'm sure it would be a great tourist attraction. Instead, their music video will have to suffice.

I loved strolling around downtown Athens.  It really is a music town.  You can feel it everywhere.  Flyers for bands are posted in nearly every doorway.

Random creativity was present too.

Loved this line at Ted's restaurant.  Most Best. 

Was just realizing that the male/female ratio was skewed heavily towards females when I looked up and laughed at this sign.

No, really.  There is something completely out of whack here.  There are beautiful girls everywhere.  They cruise around in packs.  All dressed up (lots of elevator shoes and bright colors too) and ready to party.  But I don't really see many guys hanging out with them.  Weird.

I first got a sense of this when I dropped into Pauley's Original Crepe Bar for a cocktail.  Drinks at a crepe bar?  Go ahead, laugh.  But the place was packed, and I could tell what it looked like from the outside, so I could be reasonably sure what I was getting into.  It looked like a hip, sort of swanky place that served good food and good drinks.  In a town that was new to me, that was all I needed.

As soon as I got to the bar, the cute bartender asked if I wanted to see a beer menu.  I sort of said the first thing that popped into my mind: "No, I'd like to see some of that Patron sitting in a glass in front of me."  She and the guy next to me and the two college chicas next to him all started laughing.  "Dude, that's the coolest way I've ever heard someone order a drink," the guy said.  "Who are you?  What do you do?"  And so I got talking with them.  Then the bartender was feeling chatty about Patron.  I had ordered it straight up in a glass with 3 limes.

"Oh my God, I've never tried it like that.  That's cool.  You just drink it?"


"Where are you from?"

After a while I looked around the place and noticed there were tables full of girls hanging out together, everywhere.  And what few guys there were sat watching sports on the TVs and checking their iPhones while charging drinks on debit cards.   These were good looking girls, and the guys didn't seemed to either care or notice.  Something was odd.

Later, I noticed it on the sidewalks and up and down all the streets I explored.  Maybe there were just not enough guys to go around, I thought.

Finally I ate.  Found a cool Vietnamese joint and had to have pho, like immediately.  It was really very good, prepared with care by a real craftsman.  At the table next to me were three Japanese girls eating, taking pictures, and chatting on IM, all at the same time.

After dinner I headed out to find the 40 Watt Club, which is the major music venue in Athens.  Back in Gainesville after my meetings, I had mentioned I was headed to Athens and one of the people I had met with started working the phone for good ideas about where to go and what to do.  He called another female colleague of his and said I was heading there and needed to know what was happening.

I could hear her say "Who?" when he mentioned my name.  So he simply said "Marz Bonfire" into the phone.  "Oh!" she said.  Pretty funny.

So I got word that I needed to check out the Flagpole and the 40 Watt Club.  The Flagpole is the listings guide for Athens.  Interesting name, I thought.  There would be many ideas in there, I was told.

I'm picky about bands and rarely go to see them when I don't know them.  Athens was an exception.  It was still relatively early, I was tired, and I figured I'd just check out the first band, Boomfox.  I caught a glimpse of them from the doorway -- saw a guy whaling on a gold Gibson Les Paul and they sounded pretty good.  I paid the cover and went in.

Again, it was about 70% girls with no guys hanging with them.  Zany.  You can see some of them in foreground of the video.  The video just doesn't do the band justice (time for an HD upgrade).  They were very good, very balanced and tight.  The guitarist was a skinny kid who played with amazing stage presence and authority, sounding a little like Hendrix and Jack White.

I'd see these guys again anywhere.  They were great.

I spent an extra day in Athens.  I definitely needed the rest, plus I liked the hotel, the coolest, kitschy-est looking Howard Johnson (complete with palm trees) I'd seen in ages.  Plus, I found they had a great wireless network to do these posts.  The one at the Hampton Inn in Gainesville really stinks for some reason, so I don't think I'll stay there again.

The next day I went out and explored a little.  Found this funky little health food store.

Then stopped by a spot that I'd noticed on the drive into town the day before.  Loved the name, The Grit.  It sounded like a good breakfast place.

I took a look at the menu and started seeing things like tofu and seitan and nothing about breakfast, and thought about leaving.  But I was hungry.  So I figured I'd order a big bowl of black bean chili.

Then a weird synchronicity thing happened again as I noticed that Van Halen was playing in the background and it felt weirdly out of place.  I laughed because I was just then thinking that my usual 4 o'clock Red Bull Power Hour was going to be the Power Nap Hour.  "I Can't Wait To Feel Your Love Tonight" was playing, and it's one of the tunes on my CD that I play each day at 4pm on road trips when I slam a Red Bull (will write a post about it someday).  The song makes me laugh every time I hear it because of a funny memory attached to it.  Then somebody turned it down.  Dude.

The same guy turned to take my order.  He had a vague Peter Fonda thing going on.  Very formal and reserved, though, as if he'd be perturbed at the thought of a motorcycle.  Suddenly I was feeling out of place.  I noticed the specials on the blackboard.  A woman came in and ordered a vegan birthday cake.  Duh.  It was a vegetarian place.  Then I noticed the waitstaff were all guys.  One was eating during his break and I heard another ask him "What do you have between that dough, there?  Oh, a strudel!"

I thought about Michael Stipe from REM and poor dead Ricky Wilson and all the girls I'd seen the night before without any guys talking to them and all these guys in The Grit and what a weird name that was for a vegetarian restaurant and that the name of the listings guide was the Flagpole . . . and finally got it.

So I asked if they had any homemade corned beef hash, just to have a good excuse to leave.

I had intended to call this post "Athens, A Music Town With A Girl Problem" but that was before I figured it out.  It's not the girls' fault.  No way.  Not ever.

But as Chaz Reinhold said in Wedding Crashers,  "Good!  More for me and you."

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