On this date in 1989, the B-52’s burst out of their bunker, releasing Cosmic Thing.
There’s a great story that others have constructed of the mainstream success that the album brought the band, some twelve years after they’d flattened everyone in Athens, Georgia with songs like “Rock Lobster,” “Planet Claire,” and “Killer B’s” (never released). After a string of increasingly less-successful albums since their eponymous debut, the band looked finished after guitarist and musical leader Ricky Wilson died of AIDS in 1985. The group (especially sister Cindy Wilson) went into a deep, rudderless funk.
Then, led by drummer-turned-guitarist Keith Strickland, the B-52’s decided to manage their grief by returning to the studio, and somehow managed to meld their eccentric, kitschy sound and look with their previously underused pop sensibility. The result was a totally unexpected monster hit: Cosmic Thing sold four million copies, and spun off the back-to-back home runs “Love Shack” and “Roam.” “Love Shack” has somehow made the ranks of wedding reception staples; more than a few unlucky folks have seen me grab the microphone from a startled (but so far, not litigious) DJ and belt out the Fred Schneider vocal.
The album, which I first owned on something called a “cassette,” was the only thing playing in my car for what seemed like forever. At first swept along by my obvious enthusiasm and by the album’s sheer greatness, people soon began going to great lengths to avoid traveling with me. I would quote parts of the album at random, scarcely needing relevant provocation to do so.
The reasons for my obsession are somewhat obscure, even to me. As I sit here typing this, I’m looking at a photo of Schneider, my friend Ray, and me, taken at an after-party sometime in the mid-90s. Ray and I and anyone foolish enough to come within our gravitational field were, as someone once told me, “one step from celebrity stalkers.” Their shows were a big reason for my behavior. I’ve seen them too many times to count, and every time I go with someone new, they’re likely to rate the show as among the best they’ve ever seen.
But there was more to it than that. The album came along at a time when I needed something…liberating. It helped me deal with some personal issues (including coming out) by providing a constant, warm reminder that different was OK. Even today, I can listen to it from end to end (although I don’t do so too often) with a big smile on my face, singing along and calling back many great memories. It still sounds great to me, all these years and life events later. It’s not for everyone; if it doesn’t work for you, get your own crack.
Tracks: Cosmic Thing; Dry County; Deadbeat Club; Love Shack; Junebug; Roam; Bushfire; Channel Z; Topaz; Follow Your Bliss