Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture

Univ. of North Carolina. Mar. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9781469654874. $26. MUSIC
Readers may be surprised to learn that the “first postmodern rock band,” according to Hale (American studies & history, Univ. of Virginia; A Nation of Outsiders), emerged not in the so-called musical mecca of New York City but in Athens, GA. Releasing their self-titled debut album in 1978, the B-52s caused a stir with their danceable art pop and campy, drag-inspired performances, drawing a national spotlight onto the bohemian art scene that flourished in their hometown. What united artists such as the B-52s, R.E.M., and Pylon was less a cohesive sound than a shared ethos. While punk rockers believed that anyone could start a band, these artists went a step further—anyone could start a band anywhere. With this egalitarian mentality, the author convincingly argues, they ushered in the alternative rock era of the Nineties. Both a historian and a participant in the music scene, Hale crafts a lively account of 1980s Athens: the artists, their stories, and the haunts they frequented, such as the Grit and the 40 Watt Club.
VERDICT This exhaustive history will please fans of obscure indie movements, though readers with a more general interest in the groups should try Robert Dean Lurie’s Begin the Begin.

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