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We aging post-punks look way too normal

July 02, 1998

Tim Rowland

You know how everyone frets that we're all going to the devil in a handbasket?

I fear the opposite may be happening.

A bit more than 15 years ago, on evenings when we weren't doing creative things with student-union bowling balls, my college friends and I would frequent a spot called Ziegfeld's where we'd dance to "Whip It" by Devo, "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash and "Rock Lobster" by The B-52's.

I use the word dance with a tad of license, because no dictionary offers an accurate representation for these self-inflicted death throes. They looked a little like what you'd get if they issued pogo sticks to uncoordinated kangaroos.

These bands are now referred to as post-punk era, which is a pleasant enough reference in the sense that it probably would be a bit more accurate to catalog them in the just-plain-weird era.

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Devo had those plastic red wedding-cake hats and Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52's had the wild bee-hive hairdos that in Southern slang were known, of course, as B-52's.

We young groupies idolized Kate and Cindy, who contorted their voices into those inhuman, outer-space warbles while sporting those white and red doos that sprouted stiffly out of their heads like furry Greek columns.

Unbeknownst to me, meanwhile, about a decade earlier, my friend and Herald-Mail colleague Kate Coleman had attended high school and performed in musicals with Fred Schneider, who was to become lead singer of The B-52's.

She was able to parlay this connection into backstage passes where we got to talk with the group after last weekend's concert at Merriweather Post.

I even got my picture taken with Kate. Kate Pierson, I mean. Not that I wouldn't like to have my picture taken with Kate Coleman, I will hastily add.

But this photo has immediately become my most prized possession. Actually the film hasn't been developed yet, but I'm sure it will become a prized possession, that's the point.

And when I've aged, I'm sure my memory will cloud to the degree that I'll tell people this meeting, far from being a impersonal grip-and-greet, was actually a brainstorming session in which I was being consulted about new lyrics on an upcoming CD. (Their own lyrics run along the lines of "Planet Claire has pink air/all the trees are red/no one ever dies there/no one has a head." - how hard can THAT be?)

But the one damper on the evening, and the reason I fear for society, is that The B-52's no longer have B-52's. Not that their hair was anything approaching normal, but still. You never saw The Drifters when they weren't drifting, the Pretenders when they weren't pretending or The Platters when they weren't platting.

And members of the crowd? They looked absolutely, positively normal. No costumes, no makeup, no nothing. Merriweather could have been hosting a national seminar of claim adjusters.

And they danced all wrong. Back and forth, not up and down. They were borderline presentable. Who wants to see that?

Nothing depresses me more than decency. Nothing kills my mood faster than normalcy. Nothing makes me feel older than conformity.

Quietly, with my lips pressed into a tight thin line, I wiped the eyeliner off my face, stripped out of my leopardskin jumpsuit and tossed my platinum beehive wig into the trunk.

Then, with one last flicker of hope, I looked up at Kate and said "I don't suppose you took karate lessons with Bob Dylan..."

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