Friday, January 11, 2008

Athens Rewind

This article, by Julie Phillips, originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald the night before the weekend-long event began, on July 28, 2005. It can be found at Rock Athens. Photos and links added by me. Idea stolen from Leslie's blog, with much love.

Much has been written about that legendary time in Athens, somewhere between the late 1970s and early 1980s. Books and articles relay the stories in varied ways, but more than anything, it lives in the memories of those who were here. It was that way for Julie House who, last October, felt another in a long line of waves of nostalgia for the town where she lived in 1980-85. During a casual search on the Internet, she came across a photograph that truly captured a moment in Athens for her.

Interior, 40 Watt Club, 256 W. Clayton St., ca. 1981

"I saw all these faces of people I knew," she says of the snapshot that looks out over a crowded incarnation of the 40 Watt Club, when it was located on West Clayton Street.

Today she describes that photo as "the one that started it all."

"It all" doesn't refer to the scene at the time, but rather to the reunion that's set to take place this weekend, bringing together some of the faces from that photo and the many others who inhabited Athens at the time. Athens Rewind is, as one of House's fellow Rewind organizers, Kathleen O'Brien Layson describes it, "a class-less reunion" - not limited to a particular year so much as a time and scene when Athens was a quieter but somehow happier town.

And the photo brought it about.

After contacting Steve Allen, who'd posted the photo on a website, House began to connect with other people - Paul Scales, for one. And as Scales says, "just strolling down memory lane" was the rub. House had considered having some kind of reunion party a number of times over the years, but this time, when she mentioned it to Scales, other friends started to join in on the idea, and it all started to come together.

Athens Rewind Committee: Leslie Michel, Kenneth Rogers, Paul Scales, Kathleen O'Brien Layson, Paul Butchart, Julie House, Maureen McLaughlin

Scales, who in the early '80s was a co-owner of the 40 Watt Club in the photo, suggested a party at the current 40 Watt Club. And then the newly reformed Pylon agreed to play.

"When Paul signed on, and I realized we could throw a party at the 40 Watt with Pylon playing," House says, "I knew we were good."


"We were completely unfettered," says Leslie Michel, who lived in Athens from 1975-81 and created the website for the event, Michel now lives in San Rafael, Calif. and hasn't been to Athens in 15 years. "And we were all good people. I mean, of course, there was gossip, but there wasn't any meanness. ... Those were just benevolent, innocent, joyous times."

Pink Party thrown by Leslie Michel (at left) in 1980

In 1980 or '81, Michel hosted an infamous Easter party at her Barber Street house (with roommates Mark Phredd Rizzo and Linda Hopper, who's now in Atlanta bands Oh, OK, which plays Friday at the 40 Watt, and Magnapop). Fueled by a bathtub full of grain alcohol punch (with lots of fresh grapes and other fruit), the party, she recalls, lasted from about 2 o'clock in the afternoon until dawn the next day.

"It was ... being part of a group, and always doing things together," says Maureen McLaughlin (who helped Michel put that punch together by toting her around to convenience stores in search of juice on Easter Sunday, when most grocery stores were closed).

O'Brien Layson says she's still close friends with the dormmates she met during her first year in the sub-basement of Reed Hall at the University of Georgia. "It was magical," she says. "We joked back then that the computer that put us all together must have made some kind of mistake," she says. "We formed a bond back then that was really special."

Rock 'n' roll history

O'Brien Layson today is famous ("or notorious," she laughs) for having the birthday party at the church on Oconee Street where R.E.M. played their first show.

"I knew even back then, before R.E.M. had played their first club gig even, that they had something special. There was no doubt in my mind," she says. "And I think we did have a sense that we were in the midst of something historical. It wasn't that we felt self-important - it just felt good to be a part of it all."

"It was more like, 'Boy, didn't we have a good time,' during this pivotal time in American music history," notes Scales of his impression of those years.

"I had the feeling that it was probably a lot like (Paris) during the turn of the century," says Michel, "one of those creative clusters in time, with the music, the painting, the poetry, the spaces we lived in, how we worked around our problems. I'm in absolute awe of the synergy we had," she says.

The reunion

It's that same synergy that seems to have made Athens Rewind happen.

When planning started, House says she expected maybe a couple of hundred people would be on the "guest list" - those names added up to more than 600 by the time everyone had chimed in.

450 guest laminates, Prewind, Georgia Gameday Planning Headquarters

Despite it being an invitational event, though, all the organizers stress it's not meant to be exclusive - instead it's simply meant to really bring together the people who shared this special time.

"It's about the past," says House. "I just love all these people, and I want them all together again in the same room."

If you go ...

Athens Rewind has opened the Friday night event featuring Pylon and Oh, OK to the public with a limited number of tickets. For more information about this and an itinerary of other events, visit www.


tod said...

I had a girlfriend in the 80's who was from Heard County and her sister lived in Athens. We used to come down from NY to visit, and I loved Athens. It was a really great town.

Anonymous said...

Hey! There's me! I look so sweaty and wrinkled. --IS

Chicken & Waffles said...

I think a roadtrip to Athens might just be in my future. Show me around, girl?

Julie said... was a great town. It still is, though the bar scene downtown is totally out of control. Most nights it's like Spring Break or something. When we lived there there was one club downtown, and it was hard to find!

IKS, you are not sweaty OR wrinkled. You are beautiful.

And CW, GET YER BUTT DOWN HERE!! We'll go hang with the cool people, cause I know where they're all hiding. But I can't promise you any scrapple...;-)

tod said...

Next time I'm in Atlanta, I'll have to go visit Athens again. Is there still a Varsity Drive In in Athens? :-) I know it's horrible, but I'm addicted to such places.

Julie said...

Hell yeah, there's a Varsity in Athens! And two of them in Atlanta. But don't apologize! Best hotdogs ever, and onion rings, and Frosted Oranges. And there's always a baseball game on the t.v. I love the Varsity almost as much as I love Waffle House.

Caroline Aiken said...

how cool to read this!
Lived here in late 70's, and loved being here then, and love being here now.

Paul mixed and mastered (beautifully) "ARE WE THERE YET, MAMA?" of 2005!!!

thanks for the stories! I was here playing Tyrone's, The Eldorado for breakfast, opened for John Hammond Jr @ The Last Resort, and Doc Watson at the Speakeasy '79, '80
I shared a stage with Wide Spread Panic at the Little 5 Points Pub (Atlanta) in 1979 and played the second Athens Human Rights Fest with Turtle Bay

I have a deep love for athens and so glad to be living here!

Julie said...

Paul who?