I was a little surprised when Kate Pierson’s publicist patched me through to her that he would be calling time at fifteen minutes. The notes I had taken and the questions I formulated didn’t fall neatly into a quarter hour segment. All the same, I respected the time parameter he set. I would have to make do with the time allotted.
Kate is a complex and complicated woman. She expressed her genius in her mid-twenties founding the iconic rock group The B-52’s. She and I both arrived in Athens in 1976. She had gone on the grand tour of Europe after graduating from Brown University. I was beginning my master’s degree at the University of Georgia School of Social Work. We probably passed on the street or sat at nearby tables at the Taco Stand. I didn’t know until recently that we have friends in common. Our mutual friends love Kate and her band for their Southern kitsch style and their ability to get an audience up on their feet dancing. They love her more for her deep soul and her devotion to the community that provided her with her original love shack, her band and her launching pad.
Before we spoke, Kate didn’t know that I knew what she and The B-52’s did on behalf of the fledgling AIDS Athens. They raised lots of money to give the tiny organization traction to provide services to with people with HIV/AIDS in the city. They not only provided cash but moral support at a time when others in their industry were silent. Kate and The B-52’s were on the vanguard and their support never wavered.
Kate grew up in New Jersey and went to college in Boston. She met her ex-husband while touring Europe and when they moved back to the states they headed south so he could find work that didn’t require a green card. Serendipity led them to Athens and they rented their love shack, complete with outhouse, for $15 a month. Kate worked as a paste up artist for the Athens Banner Herald and found enough musical camaraderie to start a band. The B-52’s are not named after an airplane but a hairstyle that was popular in the South in the 60’s and 70’s, a version of the beehive only more so.
The band couldn’t find much of an audience in Athens or the South so made forays to New York where they began performing at Max’s Kansas City, Mud Club and CBGB’s. They were courted by a record label and soon began recording and touring more widely. They became one of the most successful punk rock bands of their time and still command a cult following whenever they perform.
“Guitars and Microphones” is Kate’s first solo album. She said she had been thinking about it for a long, long time and was encouraged to do it by her partner Monica and their friend, the Australian pop singer Sia. She and Monica and their dogs Athena and Zeus drove to LA to work with Sia and a variety of gifted musicians Sia connected them with including Nick Valensi of The Strokes.
Sia wrote songs and Kate worked with others to write additional songs. Kate says the writing sessions were exhilarating with titles and lyrics coming out of jams with her musical collaborators. Her signature powerful vocals link the songs on the album. She says that “songs change the world.” But don’t expect every anthem to be about a social cause. Kate’s music has been described as “humanism and feminism out for a good time.”
We had passed the fifteen minute mark (her publicist had kindly not blown the whistle) when I asked her what else she would like for people to know about her. She mentioned the retreats she owns and operates, Lazy Meadow in the Catskills and “Lazy Desert” near Joshua Tree in California, where one can be lazy in B-52’s style. She wants people to check out her website (katepierson.com) for all the cool graphics and especially the videos which her partner co-produces. And she wants the people of Atlanta and Athens to know that she is looking forward to singing for them and dancing with them at her shows, which for her will be a “coming home.”
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta poet and psychotherapist. www.franklinabbott.com.