Archive for December, 2010

The B-52s got writer’s block

December 29, 2010

I am playing a gig on New Year’s eve with my friend Donny. Donny once walked into his brother’s living room to find the B-52s quietly watching daytime television.

I find it ironic that such an iconic party band would be doing something so mundane. Shouldn’t Fred Schneider be off somewhere shouting at people to bring their juke-box money? Shouldn’t Kate Pierson be screaming like an underwater-sea-creature? I imagine when Donny walked into the room someone said  ‘Shhh! Oprah’s got stripper love triangles…Keep it down!!!’

They were in Donny’s brother’s living room because they had rented his entire house for six months for a tidy sum. His house included a recording studio with everything a multiplatinum selling band would need to make a record.

Except creativity. Apparently the B-52s had writer’s block. Which is why they were watching daytime TV and not recording an album.

They were in a tough situation. They were recording the follow-up to Cosmic Thing, a multi-platinum seller that climbed into the U.S. top five and landed them on the cover of Rolling Stone. The album had spawned a song that would be played at 97% of all wedding receptions for the next thousand years: Love Shack. Others, like Roam, Deadbeat Club and Channel Z got airplay.

Cosmic Thing brought the band into the mainstream. Without it, they may have been relegated to the one-hit-wonder dustbin of music history…known only for 1979’s Rock Lobster. They could have very well taken the T-Rex path to musical obscurity.

Donny was standing there with his brother for a simple reason. The B-52s’ six months were up. In fact, they were three days past six months. The band’s manager…also quietly watching daytime television…had a simple response. ‘Can we do six months more?’ And that was that.

With what the band had paid in rent they very easily could have bought a respectable house themselves. But gone are the days when bands would drop big cash for a setting that would foster creativity and collaboration. The B-52s latest album was probably recorded on a Mac in whatever location they happened to be in. I doubt even U2 would rent out Slane Castle these days.

To end the story, the album the B-52s recorded at Donny’s brother’s house would eventually be called Good Stuff. The title track achieved moderate radio airplay and a Grammy nomination. So I guess the TV-watching in the end did them some good.

As of 2010 the band shoulders on, touring on occasion and specializing in highly lucrative corporate gigs…getting flown into places like Boise to spend 45 minutes rocking out some Holiday Inn ballroom while a few hundred middle-aged managers get looped on the company dime. I’ve known people who have hired them. Apparently they are gracious, fun and every bit the up-beat, wacky party band they used to be.

Kate Pierson said in a 2009 interview that she still likes playing the song Private Idaho after all these years (which no doubt goes over well in Boise). She was thankful about getting the chance to do what she loves.

She’s living in her own private Idaho, but she knows how lucky she is to be there.