Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse Revisiting Planet Claire

A chat with The B-52s' Cindy Wilson.

By Coury Turczyn

JULY 13, 1998:  The year was 1982. The place was the Knoxville World's Fair Park. It was an environment teeming with jiggling deely boppers, oozing Petros, and many sunburnt tourists ogling that shiny new icon of the sort-of solar power age, the Sunsphere. Stepping into this international bazaar of strange behavior were four figures attired in futuristic, post-Star Trek gear and heavy eyeliner. What did these ambassadors of pop culture camp think of their unwittingly campy surroundings?

"I was a little disappointed," admits Cindy Wilson of The B-52s, who were in town for a show. "But it wasn't the city's fault."

No, and it wasn't the fault of the assembled nations of the world, either. Who could have known that out of all the bold visions of the future on display at the World's Fair, The B-52s themselves would be the most accurate depiction of life at the turn of the century? At a time when most rock bands were committed to reviling popular culture, The B-52s glorified it. With their thrift shop clothes, '50s sci-fi movie obsessions, and acid-surf sound, they weren't just from another planet, they were from another time—say, the mid- to late-'90s. Today, our nation's youth attires itself in thrift store clothes, listens to surf music, and generally swallows most any bits of retro pop culture being regurgitated at the moment. In other words, The B-52s unknowingly set the template for life today.

So it's no wonder that The B-52s have reappeared on the edge of a new millennium, hitting the road after a nearly 10-year respite to back a new "best of" album: Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation. They're celebrating two decades of making vibrant, singular rock 'n' roll—and playfully staking their claim on a pop culture legacy.

"It's been a long road," says singer and percussionist Wilson from a tour bus parked outside of Buffalo, New York. "We started 22 years ago. We didn't realize, after the first record, how far it was going to go. So it's really amazing that here we are going back out again—and we're getting a healthy audience."

That first self-titled album—loaded with such bizarre dance tunes as "Planet Claire" and "Rock Lobster"—seemed to come from an entirely different dimension where '60s style fused with B-movie dramatics to create its own weird party. But listeners were ready for it; the album sold around 500,000 copies and the odd little Athens, Ga., band—singer Fred Schneider, guitarist Ricky Wilson, drummer Keith Strickland, and keyboardist Kate Pierson—became famous for its on-stage antics and its singers' beehive hairdos. Although distinctly different from their peers, they helped spark a mini-boom of interest in Southern bands (R.E.M., for instance) and created timeless dance music. Now, after seven albums, a tragedy (Ricky Wilson's death from AIDS in 1985), a split (Cindy amicably left the band in 1990), and a hiatus (their last album was 1992's Good Stuff), the band felt the time was right to reunite.

"We'd been jamming for a few years, doing some music together—we started playing corporate parties," says Wilson. "So we just decided to put a collection of our favorites together and some of the new songs we've been jamming on, and do two months on the road—and that's what we're doing. I had to build up my vocals again, you forget it does take a lot of work. So we had to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse."

For the past year and a half, Wilson had been concentrating on a much different creative endeavor—raising her baby daughter, India ("She's a charmer, out to meet people and have fun"). Did she miss performing after eight years of non-B-52 life?

"Oh yeah—it's a creative thing, and also it just feels like a freeing thing, to be outrageous," she says. "There's no other feeling like that. It's a part of my personality and I missed doing it, so it's been great to have it back."

Unlike most "reunion" tours by dino-rock has-beens, that energy should be back in spades since The B-52s never really stopped being cool. The group performs because the members clearly enjoy it, not because they want to cash in on old hits.

"It's 1998, it's a different vibe and our sound is changing," says Wilson. "We're trying to put a new sound in, to extend the middle parts of songs and make a psychedelic edge to them. It's been a lot of fun to let it do its own thing, to make it a little bit different, to get a fresh kind of feeling to it."

So, although The B-52s probably raised a few eyebrows at the World's Fair Site in 1982, this Friday they'll be back in the same place to mostly raise a little fun—and dance their singular mess around.


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