Spring, 1979: The B-52’s are waiting to accept a record deal. The sub-basement of Reed Hall smells of burning rope, and up on the fourth floor Bill Berry, Mike Mills, and some of their wild-ass friends from Macon are spending weekends with a massive Peavy amp propped in the window of Bill’s dorm room, blaring The Ramones down onto the heads of unsuspecting and dazed frat boys playing softball.
Pylon, the new talk of the young scene, has played three parties. They are scheduled to play their fourth: Before the party, Pylon’s singer, Vanessa, asks her friend Craig Woodall to ask Fred Schneider of The B-52’s to come see her band at a party. Fred had roomed with Craig in an apartment near the laundry room at some apartments in Athens’ Five Points neighborhood. Craig asks Fred. Fred says sure, he loves parties.
The party was ten miles east of town in Oglethorpe County, at the old brick house rented by a friend of Michael Lachowski’s from the art school. It was Pylon’s fourth time playing: their fourth party. A house, a keg, a band, a party; the practice was fast becoming tradition. Pylon played, and that night the crowd decided they liked them. The kids voted with their thrash, and they danced so hard the floor bowed and bucked and sucked the wind in and out of the room. The wind lifted the hair and skirts of girls near the windows, cooled the sweat on the shorthaired boys standing by the walls, and splashed the beer from your cup even when you stood still. Nowhere was there ground that didn’t shake.
After the party Pylon gave Fred a copy of a demo tape, and he took it to New York City. There he played it for Jim Fouratt, who booked the club Hurrah. Fouratt had been intrigued with The B-52’s and had asked them if there were any other native bands in Athens. Fouratt heard Pylon’s tape, thought them neat and charmingly naive.
“They’re from Athens, too?” he exclaimed when he heard the tape. “What is it down there?”
On the strength of the tape and the word of The B-52’s, Fouratt booked Pylon in August as the opening act for The Gang of Four, that season’s hot new British sensation opening an American tour.
Vic Varney, twenty-six, worked with Michael Lachowski and Vanessa at DuPont, the textile mill on the edge of town that gave high-paying work to a handful of Athens artists. During idle times at work, Lachowski complained to Vic how doing a band wasn’t all just fun and glory. He hated the business end of it. He just wanted to play. Vic, who had been playing keyboards with The Tone Tones, handled the public relations for that band and he knew a little about “booking gigs.” He told Lachowski that he would manage Pylon, book them gigs, and all they had to do was cover the phone bill. Lachowski said hell yeah.
After Fouratt booked Pylon for the New York show at Hurrah, Vic got on the phone. He was good on the phone. He called The Hot Club in Philadelphia, where The Gang of Four was also scheduled to play. He went to work chatting up the club owner in his Chattanooga fìddler’s twang.
“Hey, they’re opening in New York for the Gang, why don’t you have them open in Philly too?” he said, and he got them on the bill at The Hot Club. To round out what he’d quickly, in the course of half a pack of Camels and a phoner to Philly, started to call Pylon’s first “Northeast Tour,” Vic called the Rathskeller—the Rat—in Boston. The Gang of Four wasn’t playing there, but Vic figured he would use the momentum he had. “You haven’t heard of Pylon? These guys are big news. They’re opening for The Gang of Four in New York and Philly, why don’t you . . .”
. . . and he got them a date at the Rat—as the headliner. It would be their third date out of town and they were headlining at the biggest club in Boston. “This is so easy!” They had played only five parties in Athens by the time they played New York City.
For their first mini-tour of the Northeast that August, Vic and Michael drove up in Vic’s Newport. Before the drive they bought and taped some singles to play on the way to New York City. That was the first time Lachowski heard The Gang of Four.
At Hurrah that night Vanessa saw for the first time green hair and everything, “just like I’d seen in the magazines.” Someone bumped into her and knocked her down. Aghast, she chirped, curious, “Why’d you do that?” “We’re dancing. It’s called the West Coast Shove.”
“The West Coast Shove?” said the on-stage dervish and off-stage belle. “I don’t like it!”
Vic thought Pylon was much better than The Gang of Four. But of course he hadn’t even watched The Gang of Four. He’d been too atwitter, talking up the band, telling tales of Athens. “Solidifying the achievement,” he called it.
The response Pylon got in New York was overwhelming. Everybody was amazed, yet again, by a new Athens band. The show led to some good press:
“The Gang of Four was great as was Pylon, the first Georgia band to hit town since The B-52’s, a tough act to follow, but Pylon is also a credit to their community,” Glenn O’Brien wrote in Interview. “There’s not much resemblance to The B’s, although the guitarist has real classy taste in licks that is reminiscent of Ricky Wilson’s. Pylon has a charming chanteuse up front, sort of a Georgia Georgie Girl, who manages to carry off several different postures including kooky, endearing, sincere, and wry. And not all the songs sound the same. . . Recommended.”
In his column O’Brien also declared “those kids must listen to dub for breakfast.” High praise, sure. Only thing was, nobody in Pylon knew what dub was. They went back to Athens to ask someone what it meant.
They got good press, but their stage presence was weak. The only person who moved was Curtis. Jim Fouratt took them aside after the show at Hurrah and told them, “Look, you’ve got to move around more on stage. I know what you’re trying to do, that ‘Just let the music stand on its own’ thing. But it doesn’t work. You need to move.”
They all thought about how The Gang of Four rampaged on stage like wild animals just let out of cages. They talked about it and figured Fouratt was right. Vanessa hadn’t yet memorized the songs, so she stood before a music stand on which she propped her lyric sheets. After they decided to change their stage presence and their attitude, Lachowski told Vanessa to go for it. From then on when she thrashed she knocked down the music stand and the papers flew all over the stage and onto the dance floor. But by that time, she didn’t need the lyric sheets. They just kept the stand because they liked the idea of a singer needing notes.
When they turned Vanessa loose, it happened. Overnight. It gelled. Suddenly the people who previously liked them, loved them. And those people who loved them were the people they wanted to reach, the sanctifiers of cool: In New York City, they were immediately appreciated.
Pylon confirmed the reputation of Athens that had been swelling, slowly spreading, since The B-52’s appeared the year before. Pylon sealed the deal between Athens and New York City.
From then on, for the rest of the new bands that would come up from Athens, Manhattan was their candy store.