Monday, January 14, 2008

More Rewind Press

I'm posting this cause I'm in a nostalgic funk. It's a great article on our party written by Lee Valentine Smith. I had forgotten about it till today. For those of you who just can't get enough Rewind (ahem!), please read!

Athens Rewind Aims To Reunite Local Scenesters From The Good Old Days

originally published in Flagpole, July 27, 2005

"We're not trying to recreate something," says Athens Rewind Committee member Maureen McLaughlin. "We are trying to see where we are now."

Athens resident McLaughlin, along with Julie House, Paul Scales, Kathleen O'Brien Layson, Paul Butchart, Kenny Rogers and Leslie Michel are the Athens Rewind Committee. Since the first of the year, the group has been doing pretty much what they used to do when they lived in Athens: planning a party.

But this isn't just any old party. According to the Rewind invite sent to 600 or so lucky folks, it's a gathering of "all local scenesters. The musicians, artists, liberal arts gurus, journalists, bohemians and hipsters who rocked Athens from 1977 to 1985." That's a pretty major task, and events - all of which are private except for the Pylon/ Oh-OK show at the 40 Watt Club on Friday, July 29 - span the entire weekend and include cocktail parties, photography displays, film screenings, a family-oriented barbecue picnic and a dance party.

Flagpole caught up with most of the gang - in Decatur, GA of all places - for a round-table discussion. Athenian Butchart and California-based Michel answered questions via email.

Flagpole: How did Athens Rewind all begin?

Julie House: It started with me looking for pictures of Athens on the Internet. I found a picture of the inside of the 40 Watt on E. Clayton Street. It was on [former co-owner] Steve Allen's website. I emailed him and he put me in touch with Paul Scales. We started emailing back and forth and we planned a trip there.

Paul Scales: Just to go look around.

JH: I said, "Lets call [Pylon bassist] Michael Lachowski, and see whoever can come and have lunch with us." It started out to just get some old friends together to have lunch. Then Paul said we should do something in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the 40 Watt and have a party there. It just grew. We called Kathleen, Maureen and Pylon, too.

The New Year's Eve Pylon show [at the 40 Watt] was the impetus, really. It was just nostalgia. The more people we talked to, the more everybody had also had the idea, too.

PS: The desire to reconnect.

Kenny Rogers: Plus, this is the closest I'll ever come to a high school reunion.

PS: We had a meeting at Kathleen's house, she got us drunk and the ideas just started flowing.

JH: Originally, we brainstormed about the guest list; that was our main focus.

Kathleen O'Brien Layson: The list kept growing and growing, so we had to set a deadline. The guest list ended up being 600 strong.

KR: We had to impose the "no grudge" rule. If anyone suggested a name, no matter how you felt about them, you couldn't shoot them down.

PS: The real hassle was setting parameters: that it had to be the time period of '77 to '83. It kinda got stretched to '85.

JH: Leslie Michel offered to do the website for us and that was a saving grace, to get the information out there. And Paul Butchart got involved, too. He'd done that Athens memorabilia exhibit.

PS: He's a mover and a shaker, no doubt.

FP: So when is the 25th anniversary of the 40 Watt Club, anyway?

PS: If you mean the original one, the one that [Pylon drummer] Curtis Crowe and Bill Tabor were leasing, the third floor loft over Schlotzsky's, then that would have been '78 or so.

KR: So that anniversary would be 2003; but being Athens people, we can't plan anything on time.

PS: The 40 Watt Club "East," the one that I was involved with, with Curtis: that would have been this year. May 20, 1980. The Side Effects and the Swindles played, I think. Pylon was the third show there.

Maureen McLaughlin: And R.E.M. opened for them.

FP: How has this event been received in the local community?

MM: I hear about people who have changed their minds half a dozen times. A lot depends on who's coming and who's not coming. And some weren't sure if it was gonna be "cool" or not. Now I think we've reached the "coolness factor." We went from "cool" to "not cool," because people were like, "Oh, it's not spontaneous."

But I think some people have started remembering now. It took 'em a little while to change gears and get back into Athens gears. Now they are remembering, "Oh, I have this memory, and I want to see that person…"

KOL: We formed a not-for-profit corporation, just to cover the liabilities of handling money and all that stuff, and that's kind of an uncool factor, but we had to do it to protect our collective asses. We're professional party planners now.

PS: In a sense, we are throwing the party we wanted to throw back then, but now we have the wherewithal and the know-how to actually do it.

FP: Many people cite 1980 as the peak of Athens' "golden age." What was 1980 like for you?

PS: People were very interested in forming bands. Disco was still dying a very slow death, but you had clubs like the Mad Hatter that still did dance stuff. Athens was morphing, really.

JH: For me, "Athens" was very hard to find at first. I knew there was a club called the 40 Watt and somebody said it was above the sandwich shop. We were down there, lookin' up. "It doesn't even have any windows!" I said. "That can't be a club!" It's so weird to imagine that from here, where you have access to everything. You had to really search things out.

KR: It's hard to believe that in a town of 50,000 people, everything was kept so well hidden.

JH: But that was the idea. Once you got in it, you wanted to keep it hidden.

PS: There was a lot of ridicule, too. This was a new style of music. Really, the staple in Athens was cover bands and the whole R&B thing. This was a new style of music going on. Certain musicians just kinda had an attitude about the experimental stuff, like using walkie-talkies or toy pianos to do music with.

Some of the older blues cats were just stunned by the whole thing. It put 'em off. I heard rumblings: "I wish they'd learn how to play their instruments," stuff like that.

Paul Butchart: At that time, Tyrone's was the only local venue for "New Wave" music and that was only on Wednesday nights, because the crowd was really small and no one had any money, so we would always just drink water, therefore the bar made no money. Scales was working in a sandwich shop across the street from the building where Curtis Crowe was squatting. The idea came to open a specifically New Wave club just for the misfits about town.

Curtis, Paul and I worked together to build a new stage in the venue formerly known as the Crow's Nest, making it extra strong to support vigorous dancing by the singers and musicians. On May 9, what was known as the 40 Watt Club East opened its doors.

House parties were still all the vogue during the summer of 1980. The temperature that summer was at record levels, and after a hot sweaty night dancing at the clubs or parties, people would migrate toward the local swimming holes for some au naturel bonding. Ballpump, a small pond in the country, and Village Apartments on Carr's Hill near the cemetery were the favorite place for skinny dipping, though any body of water was given a chance when the daily highs reached as high as 105 degrees.

FP: What was it like to live at the renovated church [where R.E.M. played its first show]?

KOL: I moved into the church in late summer of '79. Dan Wall was renting the church and had decided to move out. Pete Buck was working for him at Wuxtry. I don't know why I wanted to move in there. Dan said it had five bedrooms, so I went in the record store and [asked Buck], "Do you need a roommate?" He said sure.

Gradually, it changed. Michael [Stipe] moved in, they started collaborating on songs. It was a little bit too wild for some of the girls [who lived there]. I ended up being the only girl living there for a while. We had a New Year's party with bands, but I don't remember who. I do remember that I had ham and turkey and little biscuits for party food at that. And I remember this huge food fight ensuing. What was I thinking?! There were people dancing and food was getting ground into the carpet. I introduced Bill [Berry] to Peter [Buck] and Michael [Stipe]. There were jam sessions there all the time.

FP: Can you describe the house party scene back then?

KR: The first words out of your mouth after every 40 Watt club show: "Where's the party?"

MM: At 1 a.m., we were just getting going. There was always something to do.

JH: We never stayed home.

MM: Unless the party was at your house!

FP: Can you tell us about that party at the Church on April 5, 1980?

KOL: It was my birthday party. I really wanted R.E.M. to debut there. I knew they had a real chemistry. I had been listening to them practice for months and months. They didn't even have a band name yet. They had written names all over the walls, but none of them were really taking. We wanted to have another couple of bands to play, too. The Side Effects, with Paul [Butchart], agreed, and Turtle Bay. And all their friends came. So it just turned into this big thing. It was one of those rock-the-house parties. It was pretty much like that at every house party; you'd rock the house, literally.

KR: And space heaters. The first thing you'd do in winter when you walked into a party is push someone out of the way to get to the space heater.

JH: And that space heater smell! Even now, when I smell that, I feel like I'm back in Athens.

KOL: [The Side Effects'] Jimmy Ellison was such an entry into the scene. He'd introduce you to everybody.

PS: And all it cost was a hug.

FP: How did you decide on a time for a cut-off period for this gathering, the end of the "golden age?" And when, in your opinion, was that?

KOL: A lot of the early bands, their musicianship wasn't outstanding or anything, but they went on to be a big part of the scene, whereas some of the later kids that would come along, they were not that talented either, but you'd call 'em, like, copycat bands. "Oh, they're Side Effects wannabes or Love Tractor wannabes or an R.E.M. wannabe," or whatever. So there was a certain point…

JH: When Chronic Town came out, to me, something clicked and it was like "something's different now." And a whole new group of people had come to town by then.

PS: The honeymoon was over at that point.

JH: When we were planning initially, we said '77 to '83, beginning with the B-52's and then ending in '83, because that's when everything was a little bit… it had kinda moved outside of what it had been. A lot of people had moved away.

PS: And the Watt moved uptown [to Broad Street]. That changed a lot of things.

JH: It got to the point where you'd go see shows and you wouldn't know most of the people in the audience: "Who are these people?"

FP: Did the photo in People Magazine (Jan '83) signal the end of the era?

MM: Part of the reason that seems like it was the end, was because that's the last time everybody was together.

PB: Personally, the People photograph did not signal any sort of turning point, the photograph was taken in August of 1982 and I wasn't even in a band anymore. It didn't come out until January of '83. For me, the turning point began with the unfortunate loss of our friends Carol Levy and Larry Marcus in the spring of 1983. There seemed to be a sense of mortality and loss of innocence in the air. In the spring of 1984, local writer, bass player and character Jimmy Ellison passed away from a brain tumor.

JH: There was a definite point where everyone became aware of something going on, rather than everything being fun and a little game we were playing, it was like Athens became a self-conscious thing all of a sudden.

FP: And even then, people were looking back on the recent past, analyzing it to death.

PS: You gotta give the nod to art school and Jim Herbert. And also, the Fans, an Atlanta band, kinda set things in motion with the B-52's.

MM: I was the original New York connection through Patti Smith, which is a whole 'nother story. I had been going to New York regularly, helping them out. The Fans said, "We want to go play in New York." So I booked them at Max's on a Monday night. Then the B's said, "You got the Fans a gig in New York, we want you to get us one, too."

PS: Them Yankees had never seen anything like that!

MM: They opened for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and got a horrible reception. But they got booked for another Monday night, and that's when it really started building. Lou Reed was there and the guy from Cheap Trick. There was a lot of information sharing. People would say, "Can you put in a good word for me in New York?" I'd say sure.

PS: Maureen was the Internet back then!

FP: How will you honor the folks who are no longer with us?

KOL: I wanted to honor all the friends that we knew that had died, so early in the game, I thought a Celtic Mandala would be a neutral, spiritual tribute that we could hang at the festivities. I added a question to our registration form regarding any decedents that should be remembered.

My original idea was to paint the mandala and then write the names within the spirals of the knot work. But after I finished, and with the addition of many names, I decided to just write them randomly on the canvas. It turned out okay, I think. I might leave a Magnum marker at the display to allow people to write on it as well, haven't decided yet.

At any length, it will hang low enough to be read close up and I think it's a nice gesture because many of the deceased were definitely a big part of the scene. It was actually quite therapeutic.

PS: The thing about the Rewind is that it's not about the 40 Watt Club. It's not about the bands. It's not about the "golden age" of Athens. What it's really about is reconnecting with those folks who were there in the same time and place for whatever reason.

JH: The really important part of Athens is what we are celebrating at the party. It was this undercurrent, and no one can really define it or know just how it happened. I still think of it as this really underground thing.

MM: Inspiration left Athens for a while. I really believe there's this goddess of inspiration that comes and sits down, it's there for a while, then it leaves, and goes somewhere else and then comes back. And I think it's coming back to Athens.

FP: And here we are in Decatur, talking about Athens.

JH: I feel like we have to be outsiders, in a way, to plan this party. For me, when I left there, it became a thing in my mind that I lived through, that I always thought about fondly and romanticized. I missed it. So now, there's inspiration. A lot of Athens, for me, is something in the past.

FP: Is Rewind going to be the ultimate Athens party?

PS: In a sense, we are throwing the party we wanted to throw back then, but now we have the wherewithal and the know-how to actually do it.

KOL: This is a labor of love, and it's a party. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible and recreate that Athens chemistry for a couple of days.

PB: I know everyone will have a great time reuniting with old friends. In many ways, it is like a family reunion, because back in the day we were a very close-knit group, sharing in both the joy and sadness of the times - not to mention bedrooms. But, that is another story…

JH: It's an opportunity for people to see each other who wouldn't otherwise. And to have Pylon on the bill, then I knew we could do it. To have a band that important back then, to play at our show, its just that good feeling we used to have that I haven't found anywhere else. We are touching on all the aspects that were important back then: paintings, music, video, deejays, lots to drink.

MM: And barbecue!

Leslie Michel: Funny thing about "throwing" a party is the throwing part. After all that fussing and fretting and brainstorming and meeting, hours of effort, you've got to let go of the darn thing! It rarely "lands" where you thought it would, but miraculously, years later, people still talk about the grand and glorious time they had like it was yesterday.

PS: When it's all said and done, it's gonna be a great party. We just want everybody to have a really good time and forget about everything else for a couple of days. Rewind a little bit and just have a big ol' time.

MM: Remember, it's not an Athens party unless there are two girls fighting and a boy in a dress.

Athens Rewind is a private, by-invitation-only event, but tickets for the Pylon/ Oh-OK/ DJ Paul Butchart performance on Friday, July 29 at the 40 Watt are available to the public and cost $20.

Party People Then & Now

Maureen McLaughlin


"I started out as the manager of the B-52's and worked with a lot of bands. At the same time, I was working as a trial consultant on death penalty cases. And that's what I'm doing now. I'm still selling T-shirts at Pylon shows, and we got a second degree murder conviction for a guy who was facing the death penalty in Chattanooga two weeks ago."

Kenny Rogers

"I worked at WUOG; I was a deejay. I did the New Wave show, and we called it 'new music' then. I managed Art in the Dark. In the mid-'80s, I played in a band called the Trash Reactors with my brother. I worked at Gus Garcia's, booked tours, helped bands. I was part of the evil side of Athens: a band manager. Now, I'm a producer at WSB radio in Atlanta and I'm a helicopter pilot."

Kathleen O'Brien Layson

"I was a deejay, always very involved in the club and music scenes. I was a party-thrower and still am. In my late '20s, I got into the administrative end of the food-service industry and started working for a construction company in Atlanta. I parlayed my bookkeeping experience into that. Now I currently own Constructive Innovations, a Decatur-based design/ build firm with my husband. We do high-end residential renovations. I have a family now and we still have parties in my living room."

Julie House

"I was a club-goer and a student. I was an observer, really. I drank a lot of coffee, hung out at Russo's, Tyrone's, Taco Stand. The usual. Now I'm a grad student at Emory in the French department, getting a PhD. I've sort of put it on hold for the last six months to do this. And I have a family and I live in Decatur."

Paul Scales

"My claim to fame is being co-owner of the 40 Watt Club with Curtis Crowe - did that for several years before it almost killed me. I played with the Family Rebirth Band for a long time. I retreated to the mountains of North Georgia and now I'm back - because of the generosity of Cindy Wilson, to name names. I've co-written some songs with her and her husband Keith Bennett. That was a real catalyst to getting me back in the game."

Paul Butchart

"Back in the day, I was pretty much a restaurant worker who had dropped out of school to play in a band. As soon as the band broke up, I became a restaurant-working student. At night, I could most likely be found working the door at the various 40 Watt Clubs. Nowadays I have a Bachelors of Psychology, yet for a living, I am doing most all aspects of restoration and renovation to some of the nice local homes."

Leslie Michel

"What I did back in the day is the same as what I am doing now. Be. I was resourceful, fearless, energetic and game for a good time. I've produced many theme events in San Francisco in already established venues - like raves, but legal and permitted. I directed and promoted my dance company GoGoToGo for years as part of the orchestrated ambiance of other people's events as well. I design websites for other artists. Athens Rewind has been a breath of fresh air from my musty, dusty past. Working with old friends has been so affirming. I can't even begin to describe what I love most about the thought of having a hand throwing a party in Athens again."

Original articles can be found at:
Wheres The Party Tonight?
Party People Then And Now

1 comment:

Chicken & Waffles said...

I heard so much about this when I was in college so knowing someone who was in the thick of it is cool enough. And to read the richness of this background is absolutely fascinating. Thanks for sharing this, Jules.