New Again: The B-52s
Photography George DuBose
Published July 6, 2016
ABOVE: THE B-52S. FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: FRED SCHNEIDER, KEITH STRICKLAND, CINDY WILSON, RICKY WILSON, AND KATE PIERSON.
The B-52s released their debut single “Rock Lobster” in 1978. The delightfully bizarre tune quickly cemented them as underground favorites and even landed them a coveted gig at CBGB in New York. Their blend of rock ‘n’ roll and dance-pop became a signature, and they steadily climbed the charts before reaching their pop apex with the classic hit “Love Shack” in 1989. While they dropped the apostrophe from their name in 2008, and they may no longer be “headin’ down the Atlanta highway, lookin’ for the love getaway,” they’re still going strong. This Saturday, July 9th, the band will kick off their U.S. tour in Park City, Utah. To honor their upcoming run of shows, we’ve reprinted their feature from the February 1979 issue of Interview. It’s not a typical interview, there’s more discussion about aliens and animals than music, but that seems all the more fitting considering the band’s growing cult status at the time. —Ethan Sapienza
The B-52’s: Beehives Not Bombersby Glenn O’Brien
The B-52’s is a rock and roll band from Athens, Georgia that often plays in New York City. They recently wowed large audiences at the Nova Convention here, but the band likes to play in small unknown clubs, downtown, where there is a dance floor and it’s like a party with friends. The B-52’s are: Fred Schneider, emcee, vocals, and percussion; Kate Pierson, vocals, keyboards, and guitar; Keith Strickland, drums; Cindy Wilson, vocals, keyboards, and guitar; Ricky Wilson, guitar. Maureen McLaughlin is their lovely manager.
This interviewer thinks they are the greatest white dance band in the world and among the nicest people anywhere.
GLENN O’BRIEN: Well, what’s the B-52’s story… how did you meet?
RICKY WILSON: Cindy and I are brother and sister. I met Keith in high school.
KEITH STRICKLAND: We’ve all known each for about five years.
O’BRIEN: How long have you been the B-52’s?
STRICKLAND: About a year.
O’BRIEN: Were you in bands before?
RICKY WILSON: We had bands in high school. I was in one called Black Narcissus.
O’BRIEN: Have the B-52’s always been the B-52’s?
STRICKLAND: That was the first and only name.
KATE PIERSON: We thought of many others afterwards, because of the association with the bombers. We though about it for days and days.
O’BRIEN: A B-52 is a hairdo?
PIERSON: Yeah, it’s sort of like a bouffant, only smoother and higher. More sprayed-up.
O’BRIEN: What’s the first place you ever played?
FRED SCHNEIDER: At our friend Julie’s Valentine party. Then we played at two birthday parties. And then we played at Max’s [Kansas City in New York].
O’BRIEN: Max’s was your first professional engagement?
CINDY WILSON: Yeah, that was the first time we’d played live. We had been playing with a tape recorder.
O’BRIEN: What was on the tape recorder?
STRICKLAND: It was rhythm guitar, congas and tambourines. We didn’t have drums.
O’BRIEN: What’s it like playing with a machine?
CINDY WILSON: Oh, it’s awful! The last party we played at, we were singing “Devil’s In My Car” and blerrrrrr, somebody pulled the plug.
SCHNEIDER: Nobody could tell, really.
O’BRIEN: How did you land your engagement at Max’s?
STRICKLAND: A friends of ours, Curtis Knapp, did the mural at Max’s. He had just moved to Athens to do some painting, to get away, and he heard us play at a party and he thought we should go there and audition.
PIERSON: He said, “You’ve gotta go to Max’s. You’ve got to go there and play. They’ll love you.”
O’BRIEN: So how did you get here?
PIERSON: Five people in a Volkswagen station wagon, without equipment. Now we tour with six people in a van.
STRICKLAND: We drove up, played at Max’s for 45 minutes and then drove back the next day.
PIERSON: And we got 17 dollars.
O’BRIEN: So where else have you played besides New York and parties in Athens?
RICKY WILSON: We just got back from playing Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, Minneapolis.
O’BRIEN: Do you remember the first records you ever bought.
PIERSON: Petula Clark.
SCHNEIDER: I bought “Rag Doll” [by The Four Seasons] and “My Boy Lollipop” [by Millie Smalls] the same day.
CINDY WILSON: I remember the first 45 I bought was “Oo-ee-oo-ah-ah-ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang.” “Witch Doctor” [by David Seville]. I heard it first on Dick Clark.
STRICKLAND: The first 45 I ever bought was “Telstar” [by The Tornados].
RICKY WILSON: “Rag Doll” was the first song I ever bought.
PIERSON: The first rock record I ever bought was “Great Balls of Fire” [by Jerry Lee Lewis]. I was real little and I went to Atlanta to get it.
O’BRIEN: Do you ever do any oldies?
STRICKLAND: Just “Downtown,” by Petula Clark.
O’BRIEN: Did Black Narcissus do any covers?
STRICKLAND: We did a version of “Eleanor Rigby.”
RICKY WILSON: A very psychedelic version.
O’BRIEN: Do you have other jobs?
SCHNEIDER: I’m on call at the El Dorado Restaurant.
CINDY WILSON: I’m on unemployment, sort of.
PIERSON: I was a paste-up artist.
RICKY WILSON: I used to sell tickets at the bus station.
CINDY WILSON: And I worked at the luncheonette.
RICKY WILSON: We worked with [actor-author] Jerry Ayres.
O’BRIEN: Does he sell tickets?
RICKY WILSON: No. He’s in freight. He wrote the words to “52 Girls.”
O’BRIEN: Who does your hair?
CINDY WILSON: I just went today, here in New York, to a beauty parlor called Norma’s. It’s a bouffant factory in the Village. I’d been to this Patti Smith concert and she gave out buttons that said, “Rock and Roll Nigger,” and I’d forgotten to take it off and the lady that did my hair, just pulled my hair. And she burned me with a hot iron. They didn’t understand.
O’BRIEN: How about in Athens.
PIERSON: LaVerne of Athens.
CINDY WILSON: She styled our wigs, too.
O’BRIEN: How many wigs do you have?
PIERSON: Twelve. I have two that are styled, that I’ve worn this whole trip. But we have about two bags of old wigs that’ll never amount to anything.
O’BRIEN: Do you wear perfume?
SCHNEIDER: I wear Bay Rum.
CINDY WILSON: I like Chloé.
STRICKLAND: I like to wear Coppertone sometimes. Just the way it smells.
PIERSON: I like olive oil.
CINDY WILSON: And coconut.
O’BRIEN: What are you favorite dance steps?
SCHNEIDER: I like the jerk. The jerk and the pony.
PIERSON: I like the jerk.
RICKY WILSON: I like the pony.
CINDY WILSON: I like the dirty dog.
O’BRIEN: Have you ever been to any discos in New York?
CINDY WILSON: I went to Xenon. I thought it was like a horror movie.
PIERSON: It’s amazing. It is amazing. It seems like the whole roof is gonna come down.
CINDY WILSON: All these people hanging from this giant thing. All these laser beams floatin’ around. I kept thinkin’ one was gonna hit me in the eye.
PIERSON: We got up on the go-go stand. It was wild.
O’BRIEN: Do you have nicknames?
STRICKLAND: Fred gives us nicknames every night we play.
O’BRIEN: New ones or the same old ones?
STRICKLAND: Ricky is either Snapper or Croaker. Fred’s Tammy’s Doctor, or Tammy’s Best Friend. And I’m Bam Bam or Paddle. Kate is Patty Duke.
SCHNEIDER: That’s because she looks like Patty Duke.
STRICKLAND: And Cindy is Tiffany Caprice.
SCHNEIDER: Or Caprice Chantal or Chanel.
MAUREEN MCLAUGHLIN: That’s such a great name.
O’BRIEN: Do you have any pets?
RICKY WILSON: I’ve got a German Shepherd.
PIERSON: I’ve got four goats.
O’BRIEN: Really? What do you do with them?
PIERSON: I milk one. The others are too young to be bred. I have the mama goat, Angie, and her offspring. I have two chickens and one rooster, a real obnoxious rooster, whom I hope is gone when I get back.
O’BRIEN: Wow, how big is your yard?
PIERSON: Well, I rent space on a farm for 15 dollars a months and I have the use of about a quarter of an acre.
O’BRIEN: Are you into country music?
SCHNEIDER: I like Loretta Lynn.
PIERSON: I like [sic.] Earl Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.
O’BRIEN: Do you ever do any country songs?
PIERSON: We were working on one. What was it?
STRICKLAND: “Dry Country.”
PIERSON: It was a dance song. A slow jerk.
O’BRIEN: Are you involved in any other arts or crafts besides music
SCHNEIDER: I started doing pastels. In crayons.
CINDY WILSON: I do yogurt paintings.
PIERSON: I draw crayon and jot down little poems.
O’BRIEN: Do you ever dream about celebrities?
SCHNEIDER: I had a dream about Yvonne De Carlo the other night. It was like being in a movie. She would come back every 200 years and be a vampire or something. And in one, she had just returned from the American Revolution.
PIERSON: I’ve had dreams where there were lots of organs and I was going up this spiral staircase and at the top is this room that is celestial, it’s so beautiful.
O’BRIEN: What kinds of music do you listen to on your home record players
STRICKLAND: You mean the cassette player in the van.
B-52’S: David Bowie… Captain Beefheart… Dinah Washington… Temple music… Edwin Starr.
O’BRIEN: What do you think about flying saucers?
SCHNEIDER: They’re up there.
O’BRIEN: Have you ever seen any?
SCHNEIDER: No. I wish I had.
MCLAUGHLIN: But we look for ’em.
B-52’s: We look for ’em.
PIERSON: I was depressed we didn’t see any on this trip.
SCHNEIDER: Ontario’s a terrific state to see ’em.
PIERSON: In Michigan they sit on the road.
CINDY WILSON: Listen, we were driving down this road and it was real dark and I saw this real eerie light, it looked like something from another world. And we got closer and it was a lit motel.
SCHNEIDER: There are a lot of funny motels. There was one motel in the middle of nowhere, it was real plain, but it had a gigantic green monster, something like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, standing next to this lake.
CINDY WILSON: We went to the Mystery Spot.
O’BRIEN: Is that where things roll uphill?
CINDY WILSON: Yes, they defy gravity. But it’s just an illusion. But did you know that Minneapolis is really sideways? The gravity is off.
MCLAUGHLIN: We read it in their newspaper. When you’re standing up straight you’re not really standing up straight, you’re leaning towards Texas.
O’BRIEN: I’d think you’d be leaning the other way, towards Alaska.
STRICKLAND: Is it the curve of the earth or is there a dip?
O’BRIEN: It must be the Minnesota Dip. Do you have any saucer theories? Who do you think is in them?
O’BRIEN: What color, do you think?
PIERSON: Oh, green for sure. I think they’re benevolent.
STRICKLAND: They could be from another dimension, not necessarily from outer space. They could be from under the ocean.
MCLAUGHLIN: We had a conversation one night in the van about what to do if a flying saucer landed: would we get in it? Everybody said no.
SCHNEIDER: I said I’d go.
O’BRIEN: Psychologists think that’s supposed to be some kind of indicator, of whether you’re bold or something. I think it depends on what they look like. If they were pretty, I’d go.
SCHNEIDER: Well, they could have been horrible things, but have gotten better looking. If they’re that smart.
PIERSON: If they have stingers, I’d go.
SCHNEIDER: They could be thieves from outer space. I think they’re from another planet.
STRICKLAND: There’s one 300 miles away.
PIERSON: Maybe in another dimension. I want to be the first rock band on Mars.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE FEBRUARY 1979 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.