Sunday, April 04, 2004

POOB

I just finished re-reading Party Out of Bounds, the well-regarded but previously out-of-print account of how Athens, Georgia spawned the B-52's, Pylon, R.E.M., etc.

In the spirt of full disclosure, I should note that the author, Rodger Lyle Brown, is a friend of mine. He's Encyclopedia Brown at U-Joint Trivia nights, in fact.

As I learned when I met him about three years ago, Rodger is an interesting dude. He created The Blotter at Creative Loafing, headed up the "editorial" side of Playboy.com for a bit (yes, he has good stories), holds a Ph.D in American culture and just happened to spend his formative years at the University of Georgia when the Bs were breaking and Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe were getting to know each other.

Rodger does a good job in P.O.O.B. of not inserting himself into the story, but Pete Buck's book-jacket quote hints at his status as a true scene "insider."
"Really captures the rhythm and feel of the Athens music scene. Rodger should know - he was there from the beginning."
Before the book was re-released a couple of months ago, it was considered a prime catch for used-book hunters. Rodger lent me a manuscript copy back when we worked together, and I bought two copies (one to share) of the new version (it's cheaper at amazon.com, by the way).

The thing I like most about the book is that the central character isn't Michael Stipe, it isn't Fred Schneider or Kate Pierson, it isn't the 40 Watt. It's Athens. Rodger goes back 225 years to trace the city's evolution from an outpost of swindled Indian land to a podunk college town to a secret society of artists and musicians and finally to an over-hyped "hotbed" of American musical genius.

The "stars" are just pieces in the puzzle. After the B-52s move away to New York, they barely appear in P.O.O.B. The story of how the R.E.M. guys ended up in Athens, met each other and became a band commands about three chapters; their post-Murmur success gets about three paragraphs. Near-equal time is given to Pylon, The Method Actors, Love Tractor and others who almost became "the next big thing" to follow the Bs.

It's a great story about an interesting little college town and how strange things can happen to strange - or even normal - people.

Of course, I'm no literary critic, and it's easy for me to say "buy my friend's book". That said - it's good, and you should buy it.

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