Cover image for Cool town : how Athens, Georgia, launched alternative music and changed American culture
Cool town : how Athens, Georgia, launched alternative music and changed American culture
Physical Description:
371 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
"In Cool Town, Grace Elizabeth Hale examines the town's flourishing as a Southern alternative culture mecca, emerging out of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s to become home for a set of artistic, social, and political alternatives to northern liberalism or urban punk on the left and Sunbelt Republicanism on the right. In this moment of cultural flourishing, Hale argues, a generation of young white southerners could not or did not see themselves fleeing the region, but also did not fit the cultural or political options available at home. So they blended a DIY ethos, local traditions, and musical and other influences from outside to create their own thing-the "Athens scene"--


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Book 306.4842 HAL 0 1

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In the summer of 1978, the B-52's conquered the New York underground. A year later, the band's self-titled debut album burst onto the Billboard charts, capturing the imagination of fans and music critics worldwide. The fact that the group had formed in the sleepy southern college town of Athens, Georgia, only increased the fascination. Soon, more Athens bands followed the B-52's into the vanguard of the new American music that would come to be known as "alternative," including R.E.M., who catapulted over the course of the 1980s to the top of the musical mainstream. As acts like the B-52's, R.E.M., and Pylon drew the eyes of New York tastemakers southward, they discovered in Athens an unexpected mecca of music, experimental art, DIY spirit, and progressive politics--a creative underground as vibrant as any to be found in the country's major cities.

In Athens in the eighties, if you were young and willing to live without much money, anything seemed possible. Cool Town reveals the passion, vitality, and enduring significance of a bohemian scene that became a model for others to follow. Grace Elizabeth Hale experienced the Athens scene as a student, small-business owner, and band member. Blending personal recollection with a historian's eye, she reconstructs the networks of bands, artists, and friends that drew on the things at hand to make a new art of the possible, transforming American culture along the way. In a story full of music and brimming with hope, Hale shows how an unlikely cast of characters in an unlikely place made a surprising and beautiful new world.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This entertaining history takes a nostalgic look at the 1970s and '80s indie music mecca of Athens, Ga. A onetime devotee of the scene--having helped run a local music venue and café, and played in a band--Hale (A Nation of Outsiders) paints a generous portrait of how artistic kids turned a semiremote college town into "the first important small-town American music scene." Cheap rents; a hip, avant-garde arts scene; and a cool historic downtown made for a fertile cultural petri dish. Athens birthed such bands as the new wave B-52s, post-punkers Pylon, and college rock band R.E.M. Hale then puts on her critic's hat ("My historian self has interviewed everyone who will talk to me") and zooms out to analyze how regional bohemias such as Athens feed into a society's creative gestalt. The writing at times can get knotted with hipster detail, but Hale's rich, personal narrative draws readers in ("I knew every cracked sidewalk and narrow back alley and flaking brick façade"). This colorfully rendered reverie will delight indie music fans. (Mar.)

Kirkus Review

A carefully constructed history of how Athens, Georgia, became a cultural hot spot.Everyone's heard of R.E.M. These days, fewer are familiar with the B-52's, and almost no one outside the musical cognoscenti knows the Flat Duo Jets and Pylon. All of these bands, writes Hale (American Studies and History/Univ. of Virginia; A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love With Rebellion in Postwar America, 2011, etc.), were ingredients in the cultural stew in which she grew up. The author combines her insider's perspective with her academic skills, creating a book that is scholarly without being arid, popular without being condescendinga pleasing mix, as were the sounds produced by Athens bands from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. During that period, Hale writes, "the Athens scene produced amazingly good musicbut the scene also transformed the punk idea that anyone could start a band into the even more radical idea that people in unlikely places could make a new culture and imagine new ways of thinking about the meaning of the good life and the ties that bind humans to each other." It wasn't just bands: The hipster/hippie/bohemian set neatly interacted (and often shared memberships) with the gay community, drawing like-minded people in from the surrounding countryside and outstripping larger cities such as Charleston and Atlanta in building a community in which writers, painters, musicians, poets, and scholars wandered between media and genres. Not much has changed, writes the author. In Athens today, "the currency remains DIY culture," with primacy placed on the homemade rather than the appropriated. Many of Hale's cases are happy ones, but some end tragicallye.g., Vic Chesnutt, for whom the Athens scene "worked pretty welluntil it didn't," whereupon, ever on the verge of fame, he killed himself. He would doubtless be pleased to be included among the many "outcasts or weirdos" whom Hale respectfully recounts.A welcome history of an overlooked milieu, one that provides ample inspiration for art makers today. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Readers may be surprised to learn that the "first postmodern rock band," according to Hale (American studies & history, Univ. of Virginia; A Nation of Outsiders), emerged not in the so-called musical mecca of New York City but in Athens, GA. Releasing their self-titled debut album in 1978, the B-52s caused a stir with their danceable art pop and campy, drag-inspired performances, drawing a national spotlight onto the bohemian art scene that flourished in their hometown. What united artists such as the B-52s, R.E.M., and Pylon was less a cohesive sound than a shared ethos. While punk rockers believed that anyone could start a band, these artists went a step further--anyone could start a band aanywhere. With this egalitarian mentality, the author convincingly argues, they ushered in the alternative rock era of the Nineties. Both a historian and a participant in the music scene, Hale crafts a lively account of 1980s Athens: the artists, their stories, and the haunts they frequented, such as the Grit and the 40 Watt Club. VERDICT This exhaustive history will please fans of obscure indie movements, though readers with a more general interest in the groups should try Robert Dean Lurie's Begin the Begin.--Amanda Westfall, Emmet O'Neal P.L., Mountain Brook, AL