Saturday, August 6, 2011

I’ll give you fish, I’ll give you candy: The B-52’s and me.

So as anyone who follows me on Facebook knows, The B-52's played a concert in my home town last night -- three blocks from my house, in fact! I have a 30-year relationship with the band which I revel in. They have been an inspiration to me in ways I can't even express. I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that they changed my life -- I might even get as melodramatic as to say that they saved my life, because I can't imagine what unhappy path my life would have taken had they not come into it.
Back a few years ago I was on a thing historians call MySpace, and there I composed a proto-blog about this very subject, which I lazily copy and paste here. I don't know as I would phrase it any differently, anyway:

"I’ll give you fish. I’ll give you candy. I’ll give you everything I have in my hand". So said The B-52’s in Give Me Back My Man way back in 1980. What the hell does that mean? Nearly 30 years later I still don’t know, yet instinctively I GET IT.

There are those defining moments in your life when something inside you changes. Your first love. Your first sexual partner. The first death of a loved one. Your significant firsts. I count hearing The B-52’s for the first time way back in the fall of 1981 as one of my significant firsts. I was away from home and family for the first time, living in a dorm at college, meeting all of these new people and discovering this weird wide world for really the first time. 

I grew up very sheltered and alone. I didn’t go to parties or dances, I didn’t drink, never smoked, never tried drugs, never explored my sexuality. I had only a handful of people I could truly call friends, and they were outcasts like myself. I was the typical geek, outcast, loser loner. And growing up in middle class white bread America in the 70’s and early 80’s didn’t help. I’d never met a Jewish person or an openly gay person or even anyone from another country other than from neighboring Canada. There were less than ten non-white kids in my class. I’d never been away from home without the family.

That all changed the Tuesday after Labor Day in September 1981. I packed up my room and my life and went off to a State school to study English. I was terrified. There were all these people there. All these DIFFERENT people. And as I settled into my little antiseptic room that I had to share three ways I heard all this different music. And The B-52’s was among the first I heard -- one of my roommates put on the band’s first, self-titled album. It was a magical moment. This music was odd and different and weird and bizarre and wonderful. The lyrics made no sense, the music was layered with weird sounds, and the vocals were strange but harmonic. The band were like cartoon characters with their weird clothes and outlandish looks.Yet suddenly it all made sense to me. I understood. I just UNDERSTOOD it. It spoke to me -- to ME. To the outcast, loner, loser geek. I had an epiphany and my life would never be the same.

I knew of the whole punk/new wave movement and had heard of The B-52’s, of course, but that was all stuff from bizzaroworld. The few kids in high school who were into that stuff were the artsy weirdos, even more outcast than me. Punk and new wave may have been a way of LIFE in places like New York or L.A. or London, but in Lockport it was just so much nonsense.

Within a few weeks I was replacing my Barry Manilow records with The B-52’s, DEVO, The Ramones, The Clash, and all sorts of other weird, raw STUFF. I drank it in, heady and wonderful. An entirely different world opened up before my eyes. I started adorning myself proudly with safety pins and donning outrageous clothes: tuxedo coats with tails over some band t-shirt covered in safety pins and band pins. My hair would find streaks of black or fire engine red in it and bits of makeup were not unknown from time to time.

This -- THIS was the land of the outcasts and loners and geeks and the disenchanted. The punk and wave kids in the urban centers like New York and London had lots to be pissed off about. We weren’t pissed off, we were just bored and tired of cookie-cutter America. We wanted to express our uniqueness. We wanted to be noticed and puzzled over. We wanted to be loathed by the frat jocks and preppy princesses. We were sticking our collective middle finger up at safe, white, bland, mindless, middle class America. We would be lemmings no more.

Shortly thereafter I was drunk for the first time, tried pot for the first time and was friends with such a rich and diverse group of kids that people back home were shocked and seriously concerned about me. It was wonderfully liberating.

I flunked out of that first year of college, but it was worth every cent because I learned more about myself and life than I could ever have done at home. The following year newborn MTV showcased all sorts of oddball, artsy and wonderful British groups like The Thomspon Twins, Adam and the Ants, A Flock of Seagulls and a legion of other new wave bands influenced more by art and fashion than by anger and frustration. Punk wasn’t dead yet, but it was in very ill health. The army of new wave bands swept over America and changed the face of American tv, fashion and music. Being the greedy self-centric melting pot that we are, America eventually fully embraced the whole new wave movement and made it safe and sterile. It was pretty much over by then.

I stopped wearing the odd clothes and coloring strips of my hair. I got on coarse toward a career and a future. My musical and social preferences changed and adapted and expanded. But I always carried that first early punk and new wave spark in my soul. Today, as an ever-crumbling fossil, I live my life by the precepts of those heady, informative punk years. I embrace everyone, regardless of race or color or status or sexuality. I do not judge my peers. I do not accept blind faith or sheepishly following of the status quo. I try to look at every side of every situation. I look for the odd and unusual in life. I take art and music and literature into my life as much as I can. I speak honestly and with as much passion as I can for those things I believe in. I fight for the underdog and the outsider. I overlook mistakes and pasts. I accept everyone as he or she is, try to help but never to change. I love as openly and widely as I can. I deal with problems and people as soon and as directly as I can.

And now as I head toward the other end of my life I thank and am grateful to a weird and wacky group of outcasts and losers and weirdos who formed a little party band back in the late 70’s and who would touch my life and my soul like no one else. And I take comfort in the fact that they are growing old with me -- The B-52’s still record and perform, but they’ve grown older, fatter, slower. Yet their love and lust for life continues. They’ve avoided being sucked into the ever-so bland mainstream and continue to play by their own rules. And I still GET it, even if it makes no sense.

This is the first time in several years that I've read that and it still resonates with me, and I'm actually impressed at how-well written that is! The anticipation and build-up to last night's show reminded me a lot of my youth, and I smiled. A lot. I played a lot of The B-52's music over the past few weeks. And I smiled. A lot. I stood in a crowd of thousands last night enjoying the weird and whacky music and show of The B-52's. And I smiled. A lot. I don't normally smile a whole lot, so its been really nice. I feel reconnected with something very special in the core of myself. Its nice to GET IT again.

Until next time from the Hosue of Secrets,
Planet Claire has pink air,
All the trees are red,
No one ever dies there,
No one has a head....


  1. Moving. It reminds me of why I felt so alive way back then, and is also the reason I've started picking up mp3s of bands I likes from those heady days. Thanks for reminding me of this.

  2. Keith Strickland of The B-52s read my blog and sent me a very kind message! I'm giddy as a school girl! I LUVS me some B-52's!

  3. Beautiful post, Scott. Beautiful.

    Yes, you grinned the whole time & I was flat-out GIDDY!

    Ocean in the motion, ooo-ah. Lots of trouble, lots of bubble. Red snappers snappin'. Clam shells clappin'. Muscles flexin'. Flippers flippin'. Down down down down... LET'S ROCK!