The B-52’s “Rock Lobster/52 Girls” single was selling. The band was loved. They were sometimes recognized on the streets of New York City and were certain starlets in their own hometown. That spring of 1978, while they waited to take their pick of contract offers, The B-52’s and their friends would drive around town. They would pass a bank clock and look and see as it turned its face to them, giving, after the temperature, spelled in light bulbs, the time. And it would be, like, 2:52!
“Ahhg!” they’d shout, and speed away, laughing.
Or they’d be cruising down the road in a big Cutlass Supreme heading out Jefferson River Road to Kate’s farm in the country and they’d swing it over to a Majik Market for a six-pack. They’d send in, say, Keith Strickland, and when he came out they’d count their change, and it’d be, like, fifty-two cents.
“Yaah!” they’d scream, and peel out in a growl of red dirt and gravel dust. They’d rush to the river and all strip to the waist.
It was too much. It was cosmic. It was magical. Everything was falling into place for their band, and everywhere there were signs that what they were doing was touched and somehow blessed, full of grace. In Atlanta, The Fans weren’t feeling quite so optimistic. They were touched too, but with a curse. What little momentum they’d ever had was slipping away. They’d had a couple of singles and some good reviews, but no audience. It was Kevin Dunn’s dream come true: They were making no money and they had no audience. They had become a critics’ band.
Georgia-boy Jimmy Carter had been elected president two years earlier with his feelgood populism. The B-52’s were being embraced because of their sense of fun, danceability, and anti-intellectual nonsense lyrics. The Fans’ noise solos and assault art rock, no matter how aesthetic, no matter how solidly backed by theory, wasn’t what people wanted.
Mike Green didn’t want it anymore either. He couldn’t work with Alfredo. He felt cut out of policy-making. When Mike made a suggestion, Alfredo told him to just follow the arrangements. Felipe, their manager, was on his nerves again, too. Mike felt a bad decision had been made the summer before when the band allegedly was offered a record deal but Felipe and Alfredo refused it. They’d wanted to hold out for bigger money. Wait for other offers. Let the companies bid each other up.
But no more offers came.
With no other companies showing interest in The Fans, Alfredo and Felipe went back to A&M, and they got the band a three-night date at the Whisky Á-Go-Go in Los Angeles, the foremost showcase club where new bands play for record company geeks. Felipe told them it was a big show. Anticipating the trip, Kevin Dunn, with incurable optimism, told the Red & Black, “In five years I hope we’ll be sipping daiquiris and reading stock reports, talking about how well aesthetics paid off.”
Mike Green was skeptical. Felipe wasn’t saying much about the deal. He didn’t let on too many details, and that only increased the tension among the band members. Then, when The Fans were getting ready to go to Los Angeles, Felipe said he was going to put a horsehair couch in a van and the band was going to drive to Miami to catch a flight to Los Angeles. Even though the record company was paying for everything, Felipe said that way was cheaper.
No one could figure it out. The record company was paying and Felipe wanted them to ride on a horsehair couch in an un-air-conditioned van to Miami, in one of the hottest months of the year? Mike didn’t like that at all. Not only did he not like to fly in the first place, he saw no reason why they had to drive to Miami, sitting on a horsehair couch, to catch a plane.
Mike wanted out. He planned his exit for days.
At night he snuck his things out of The Fans’ house where he lived, stashing them at his mom’s. Finally, one week before The Fans were to leave for their big three-night showcase debut in Los Angeles, when The Fans were just a week away from sure fame, Mike disappeared from the scene and went into hiding.
Alfredo was furious. He angrily called all Mike’s friends looking for him. Even when Mike finally returned a few days later, Alfredo refused to take him back. Dunn and the drummer Russ King watched helplessly as the horrible scene played out. They were powerless to convince Alfredo to change his mind and let Mike play the L.A. shows. Alfredo was adamant. He said they would get someone else. Although the posters for the show had already been released in L.A., Alfredo told Felipe to stall the record company.
“One month! Get us a month!”
He would find a replacement for Mike in a month.
Alfredo quickly recruited Tom Grey, an old friend who would later write the song “Money Changes Everything,” which would be a hit for Cindy Lauper. Felipe got the band a delay, and they practiced until they felt Grey would work out. They felt they just might pull it off. When the time came they climbed willingly into the van, drove to Miami, and flew to Los Angeles.
But the record company was tired of the erratic Fans. Their original date had been scheduled at the prestigious Whisky Á-Go-Go. After the delay the record company moved their show to a remote and unknown discotheque, where nobody was interested in what they were doing and where, when they set up for sound check, the sound man couldn’t be found. Time came for them to go on and no record company people had shown up yet.
Which was for the better, they thought. The monitors were horrible. They couldn’t hear each other. It was a cacophony. This was their showcase night, and it was the worst they had ever played.
As they played with bad monitors and a ruined sound, a rep from A&M walked in and stood briefly against the wall, assaying the band. After a few minutes, according to Dunn, he found Felipe, told him, “Felipe, I’ve got to tell you honestly. I despise the band. Good-bye.”
Their chance was blown. They were crushed. They flew back to Miami. There, they crawled back into the borrowed van and drove home to Atlanta, silent, sweating, itching on the horsehair couch.
The contrast between the fate of The Fans and the success of The B-52’s did not bode well for relations between the nascent music scenes of Athens and Atlanta.
“The B’s just came out of the sky and got all this attention and the guys in Atlanta had been at it for years and they thought that they deserved more than them,” Nicky Giannaris recalls of those heady days when Athens established itself as the center for hip culture in Georgia. “The Atlanta music community had no grip on reality whatsoever. Someone needed to explain to them that pop music does not work on a seniority basis, like, ‘It’s my turn to get promoted now and be a star.’ No way. It just doesn’t work like that. I should know.”
Feeling resentment, supporters of The Fans boycotted early shows and harbored a vicious resentment against Athens bands for years to come. They thought it was unjust that these naifs who weren’t really musicians should be celebrated while hardworking avant-gardists should go neglected. They said, “They don’t know how to play their instruments! They don’t deserve it!” Atlanta’s long-suffering musicians started referring to The B-52’s as “those precious little bundles of talent.”
Thus was born the first line of argument always leveled again and again, and always ineffectually, against Athens bands: “They don’t even know how to play their instruments!” But that criticism never mattered much. As if in reaction to that, it became almost a curse in Athens to have studied an instrument. Naiveté became a point of pride.
A split grew up between the town and the city:
Athens was quiet and pastoral; Atlanta cultivated parks instead of flowers. Athens had ramshackle neighborhoods where it was safe and peaceful to run through the overgrown streets at night. The ramshackle neighborhoods in Atlanta were places of fear and crime. Athens was artful and chic, Atlanta wasn’t. Athens had it all. Atlanta had nothing.
“Suddenly there was a strong attitude in Athens that they were all better than the folks in Atlanta,” Kevin Dunn recalls. “There was a contrast. I think the Atlanta attitude just boiled down to ‘Fuck ’em.’ But of course that was spoken from a defensive and subordinate position.”
Through 1978, Atlanta maintained a proud defiance. Bands still hacked it out, made tapes, and sought record company interest. But they just weren’t cool. By the next year the evidence was overwhelming that Athens was the home of the best new bands. Atlanta soon began to pay court to that little hick town only sixty miles east.
“Until the total hegemony of the B’s, it wasn’t impossible to say we were a dance band,” Kevin Dunn offered as a eulogy for The Fans, “although we had long undanceable stretches. We always had enough core Athenians who would come out and dance to us. But with the ascendency of the B’s, we were consigned to the same category as the other Atlanta bands, that is, anathema for hipness.