Journal: News & Comment

Saturday, January 14, 2006
# 10:36:00 PM:

We were at a party

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DSC_8955ppFor many people of my generation who grew up in the '80s, our equivalent to the "where were you when you heard JFK was shot?" moment was when we heard that the shuttle Challenger had exploded. Our "Beatles on Ed Sullivan" event, on the other hand, was probably when we heard "Rock Lobster" by The B-52's for the first time. At least it was for me.

Two events could hardly make for stranger bedfellows. For the Challenger news, I was at school that sunny day in 1986, in the covered walkway outside the biology lab, and heard from a classmate.

By then I had come to "Rock Lobster" already, but late, I think in 1985, six years after the B-52's first album came out. I was in the deepest depths of my nerdy prog rock (Genesis, Yes) and electronic music (Jean-Michel Jarre, Synergy) listening. I sat in the passenger seat of my classmate Chris Marshall's blue Honda Civic while he rode the clutch on a steep hill at a stoplight, and he told me I should hear something. He popped a cassette tape in the deck.

Ricky Wilson pounded the bottom strings of his reverb-heavy Dick Dale–vs.–Duane Eddy guitar. Fred Schneider shouted "Pass the tanning butter!" like a flaming carnival barker while singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson made bizarre drowning-dolphin noises in the background. One of the instruments was an electric buzzer.

It was weird.

It took a few years and I was in university before I actually bought the album, but "Rock Lobster" seared itself into my memory that day. Like the Beatles did for so many others 20 years earlier, the B-52's shocked my rock-n-roll listening out of its complacent space and made music fun again. It's possible I wouldn't be a musician today without them.


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