Age doing little to derail the B-52s’ dance party



By Steve Newton

That Lux Interior sure knows a hit when he hears one. Back in the late ’70s, when the B-52s first journeyed from their native Athens, Georgia, to make the scene at underground Manhattan clubs like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, the outrageous Cramps frontman heard them perform “Rock Lobster”. Blown away, he suggested they release it as a single, and in a career-defining moment, they took his advice. According to founding B-52 member Keith Strickland, the offbeat number had already impressed the Big Apple’s punk and new-wave crowd.

“We were beginning to feel like, ”˜Oh, there’s something with this song,’ ” recalls Strickland from his home in Key West, Florida. “And when it started getting radio play, it was quite shocking, really, because it was like nothing else out there.”

Wholeheartedly embracing the quirky goodness of “Rock Lobster”, the B-52s have performed it during every single show they’ve played. Today Strickland—who started out as the band’s drummer—delivers the classic licks of original guitarist Ricky Wilson, who died of an AIDS–related illness in 1985.

“When Ricky was in the band, he and I would write the music together,” explains Strickland. “Sometimes I would start out a song on guitar, and we would switch instruments about midway through the writing process. But Ricky was such a phenomenal guitarist, and just so original in his approach that, after he passed away, I felt it was gonna be difficult to find somebody that would understand his sensibility, his style. So I just started doin’ it, and it’s worked out, I think.”

It certainly has, as anyone who’s heard the band’s multiplatinum ’89 release, Cosmic Thing, can attest. And the supercool sounds continue on Funplex, its first album of new material in 16 years. Strickland wrote the music in Key West—came up with the chord changes, bass lines, beats, and grooves—then put everything on a hard drive and flew up to Atlanta to meet with bandmates Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson (Ricky’s younger sister), who added their own lyrics and melodies.

“I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic dance music and rock ’n’ roll,” says Strickland, “and this idea came to me to try putting these two sounds together with our own sound. It’s a simple idea, really, but it was a good jumping-off point, and I could imagine this combination, which would be more rock, more electronic, leaner, more focused. I certainly felt that we’re best when everything is up-tempo and danceable.”

The music on Funplex—from opener “Pump It Up” right on through to the aptly titled “Keep This Party Going”—boasts the unstoppable, get-yer-ass-up vibe of Cosmic Thing hits like “Love Shack” and “Roam”.

On the band’s current headlining tour, it’s proudly blasting forth seven tracks from the new disc, not just relying on the requisite career highlights. Spring chickens they ain’t, but the rockin’ vibrancy of Funplex makes it sound like the B-52s haven’t aged a day since “Rock Lobster” knocked ’em dead at CBGB.

“When we get together, it’s kind of like instant recall,” notes Strickland. “We just go back into our own world, and our chronological age becomes irrelevant. Sometimes our psychological age becomes very relevant—but that’s another thing!”

Leave a Reply