When I was a young child, we had intermittent access to cable television. I subsisted on the traditional rural Georgia solution of PBS and “rabbit ears while sticking your tongue out just so.” But when I was able to finally watch everything available, I was consistently drawn to the strange and unusual. Many of these shows and movies are now considered “cult classics” but they were my lifeblood. And none more so than a show about a boy named Pete and his little brother, also named Pete. Yes, the show technically took place in New Jersey but in my mind it was always happening in my backyard. Maybe a little down the street where the people with nicer houses lived.
“The Adventures of Pete and Pete” aired on the kids network Nickelodeon during the early nineties, often surrounded by brightly colored bumpers and ads with jingles that would stay in your head for days. The theme tune of the show itself, a jangly jam called “Hey Sandy,” was performed by Polaris, an offshoot of Miracle Legion; basically it was like watching the New England version of an R.E.M. music video every day. I can’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember the music and the colors, all of it swirling around in this little world that was just a little off, a little odd, and felt more like home to me than anywhere else I’d been.
I felt that swirling, happy sensation again last night while watching the B-52s play to the hometown Athens crowd one last time. A friend had gifted us tickets, landing us in the back balcony rows with quite a few other familiar faces. I had swapped my usual black on black attire for a shiny golden jacket that bounced light off my back like a mirrorball. I am unused to being seen and was very aware of myself through all of the opening acts. But the second the band kicked into “Private Idaho,” I was just amongst friends, all of us in the high seats wriggling to the beat.
It’s at this point I should admit that I’ve never seen the B-52s perform before. Just like R.E.M., my first time watching the home team would be my last. I’ve been able to witness Cindy Wilson’s solo outings and Fred’s incredible punk set at a venue that technically doesn’t exist anymore, but never seen the “whole” band. And just like R.E.M., even if I hadn’t been so tardy to the literal party, I still would’ve been too young to witness the original band in full flight. There’s a lot in the world you can’t change, I suppose, so I try to console myself with the idea that I’ve seen new bands come up that some folk will never get to see. But I digress…
“Give Me Back My Man” is the hardest, punkiest song on the planet when it wants to be. Cindy’s begging, pleading, stuffing her hands into pockets while her voice soars into the atmosphere, all the while the beat keeps going steady, telling you to dance during this narrator’s misfortune. Fred’s merrily playing some chimes, Kate breaks in here and there. This is a performance honed and done for literal decades and it is glorious. The setlist moves at a breakneck pace, the crowd in my portion of the room has finally started to lighten up a bit and dance, and the band brings out a Funplex tune much to my delight. Too many people ignored that fabulous album and it makes me sad.
But I’m not ready for when Fred leaves the stage and Cindy and Kate start into “Deadbeat Club.” Folks have asked me before about my favorite Bs song and are always puzzled when it’s this low key, downbeat little tune instead of a beehive to the wall dance number. Kate and Cindy are singing, blending their voices together as only they can, describing the old days of Athens to the people in the front row who were there for it all. “That town and time doesn’t exist anymore,” the surviving members of the Deadbeat Club will tell you. But a song like this brings it all back for a little while. You think back to the days where the company of your friends, some coffee, and a little beaten down shack decorated with spare paint and shredded sheets is all you needed to be happy. I’m tearing up a little. I miss my friends and the places we used to go.
I’m still very much in my feelings when the duo begin “Roam.” I’m dragged out of my wistful bittersweet sadness and I’m instantly slammed back into my childhood days, where everything was colorful and bright, all at a slight angle like it’d been directed by Adam Bernstein or Katherine Dieckmann. I now want nothing more than to gather my friends into the largest open top vehicle I can find and take off on a road trip to nowhere in particular. We’ll sing our favorite songs all along the way and stop at weird gas stations and take photos of the strange things we find. “Roam if you want to!” I want to. All around the entire beautiful goddamn world.
I’m slowly coming back to my senses as the full band finally starts up a slightly slower paced “Love Shack.” I’m catching my breath, watching the glorious colors of my youth fly across the screen while the B-52s perform the song I’m fairly certain was the first one of theirs I’d ever heard. I’ve seen that love shack sign more times that I can count, courtesy of a spouse working where it is stored. The song’s grooves are comforting, familiar, and happy.
When you grow up a little weird, a little odd, you find yourself searching for safe places to land, a home. It’s no wonder that I’m attached to these tunes from Cosmic Thing, they share so much DNA with the beloved shows of my youth. The Bs were everywhere, singing the themes to “Rocko’s Modern Life” and “The Flintstones.” The directors they worked with on these videos also directed episodes of “Pete and Pete.” Kate was a guest star on the show, playing a blind billionaire longing for her lover. Stipe would pop up on the show as well, much like he did in the Deadbeat Club video, and Kate returning the favor by showing up twice on R.E.M.’s album. These people meant so much to me because they felt like home. Their accents sounded like the extended family I never got to have, the types of people who’d steal you away during a family gathering to show you a painting you’d never seen before, give you a cigarette and a smile, or just chat a bit while your very normal other family members carried on. To find such people who are so forward about dropping g’s (both their strings and vowels) is priceless.
After the break there’s an encore. What a band to have taken us through time from Mesopotamia to the year 3000 and and through space from bottom of the ocean to a planet where the trees are red. It’s all over too soon. The B-52s use this time to speak the most they have during the entire show. They thank us all for 45 years of support, Keith appears from the side stage to take a quiet bow, and the confetti settles on the last night of the last tour. I will miss this band, even though they’re not truly gone. But I have them to thank for making my Athens feel like home.