B-52's celebrate 25 years with anthology of work

Friday, January 18, 2002

NEW YORK -- Kitschy, that's one that always rankles. Zany. Wacky. Disposable.

Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider are going through the list of words used to describe the B-52's over the years. Many seem equally applicable to cartoon characters.

"It's like how comedy movies don't get the Academy Award," Pierson said. "If you have a sense of humor and a sense of fun, it means that you can't be serious."

The band's 25th anniversary is an occasion for a two-disc anthology, "Nude on the Moon," and, perhaps, a re-evaluation. The B-52's don't deny the lampshades on their heads but suggest if that was all there was, they wouldn't still be here.

The B-52's are responsible for a camp classic ("Rock Lobster") and a song ("Love Shack") that's heard more often at weddings than "The Chicken Dance."

Five artsy friends from Athens, Ga., owed their initial inspiration to a Flaming Volcano, a drink they shared one night in 1976 at a Chinese restaurant. They crashed a friend's house, started playing his instruments, and started a band.

The B-52's were a bizarre assemblage: two women -- Pierson and Cindy Wilson -- who could screech like Yoko Ono, a man (Schneider) who was more a toastmaster than a singer, a propulsive drummer (Keith Strickland) and a guitarist (Cindy's older brother, Ricky), who learned to play by watching public access TV and favored odd tunings inspired by Joni Mitchell.

Oh, and the women wore gigantic beehive hairdos and Schneider penciled in a fake mustache.

"They thought we were freaks," Pierson said.

"Because we were," Schneider added.

Too freaky, in fact, to get any jobs at the fraternities or sororities around Athens' University of Georgia. Within a couple of years, their music was blasting out of speakers at colleges everywhere.

After a few years as the soundtrack to more parties than they could ever possibly hope to attend, it looked like the B-52's wouldn't make it out of the 1980s.

Today, many of their concerts are private. The B-52's are a mainstay on the corporate party circuit; a lot of the misfits they played for at the outset grew up to become wealthy business executives.

They've even managed to keep their friendship intact -- no mean feat in their line of work.

"When people see us out at gigs and we're having dinner, they'll say, 'You guys are still having dinner together? Are you kidding?"' Pierson said.

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