Thursday, May 10, 2007

Athens Georgia

Back in 2005 I was on the planning end of a huge mega-party/music/photography/art event called Athens Rewind. Having honed my pop culture teeth on the Athens scene of the late '70s and early '80s, I had become very nostalgic about that time and place, and was yearning to somehow experience it all again. Was it possible?

Athens was a place like no other, a time when anything was possible. An undercurrent of energy ran through the town like lava, and each person who felt it somehow became psychically connected to all the others. The creative outlets, mainly music but also art and writing, were barely enough to contain the passion and angst which spilled out into other areas of our lives. These were beautiful young people who realized that they were just a little (and yes, sometimes just a lot) outside the norm, and who embraced that realization with a fervor. Whereas most 18 to 25 year olds were content with football, frat parties, and towing the status quo line, these kids felt the need to shake things up. The New York and London underground scenes came to us vicariously, and we all felt part of something much bigger, much bigger.

Everyone who lived through it was touched with that special mojo that can't quite be defined, but that Ort called "the zen of Athens." Peter Cline comes damn close to capturing the Athens zen. Peter, if you read this, please forgive me for lifting it. It's too beautiful not to share:

I remember the Coffee Club, and all the incarnations of the 40 Watt Club, and Tyrones OC, and the Mad Hatter, and KT’s and the B&L Warehouse.. I remember small town drag queens who didn’t know (or care) if they were black or white. I remember dancing with Wes to Hotel California, drinking too much at the Speakeasy in the Georgian Hotel. I remember being young, elegant, and not having any idea that I was either. God bless memory.

Writing all this, I realize, I remember, that I remember both too much and too little; that memory is unreliable, fragile. I remember the dead, who I will not recite here but whom I remember with every living breath and regret, no not their dying, which is impossible to regret, but that, likely, I did not cherish them in life as they deserved, as I should have realized they deserved, to be cherished. I will remember, they will not know, I will forget, and we will all be forgiven.

Fast-forward to 2005. Assembling a few of the key players from back in the day - the famous KO, whose birthday party at the church was REM's first gig, Paul Scales, who founded the 40-Watt Club, Maureen, who knew everyone who ever passed through the gates of the town - we set out to find all the movers and shakers, artists and musicians, drunks and drag queens from those golden days of debauchery. Amazingly, we found most of them.

What grew out of our collective curiosity - "I wonder what happened to Mark Phredd???" - soon expanded into a guest list of over 400 people. We secured a location (the 40-Watt Club, natch) a band (Pylon, natch) another band (Oh OK) deejays (Kurt Wood, David Pierce, the inimitable Ort) photographers (Sandra-Lee Phipps, Molly Woo, Laura Levine) and more unexpected offers of relics than the Pope could have hoped for. It was a beautiful thing.

Though Athens Rewind was not able to reproduce that energy we felt back in the glorious day of our collective youth, it did serve to reunite people who still share a creative soul and who even now are connected by the Athens phenomenon. The weekend reminded us of how damn lucky we were to have been a part of the scene at all.

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