The first album I ever bought with my own money, and one of my favorite albums of all time, The B-52's debut album, released in July 1979 on Island Records and distributed by Warner Brothers.
The first time I ever saw or heard The B-52s was on NBC's Saturday Night Live in January 1980. By mid-1979, both Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi had left the show, and SNL was definitely on a downhill slide. But Saturday Night Live's saving grace during its fifth season was in the quality of its musical guests. In that year, the show featured famous, iconic appearances by David Bowie (backed by future recording artist Klaus Nomi, in definitely one of the weirdest yet most fascinating network TV performances of all time), The Specials (they did :"Gangsters" and "Too Much Too Young", which absolutely SLAYED me), Gary Numan and Blondie. Frankly, due to the uneven writing of that season, the musical guests were practically the only reason to watch the show that year.
Anyway, I watched the episode featuring The B-52s from my home in Massachusetts, and thought I had just witnessed one of the greatest bands in the world. I couldn't get "Rock Lobster" out of my head!
When I went back to school the following Monday, I was eager to hear my friends' reaction to this New Wave band from Georgia. So I was surprised when nearly everyone who saw the show began running the band down, talking about how 'weird' and 'crappy' they were. Mind you, this WAS during the end of the 70s, in a small conservative town in New England. The popular bands for people at my school back then included Styx (it's always surprised me that multiple hearings of "Babe" and "Come Sail Away", which played constantly that year, didn't lead to more teen violence and suicides . . .), Foreigner and ELO. The more 'rebellious' kids were into The Cars. But overall, in 1980 there were very few guys or girls there who would admit to liking punk or new wave, 'weird' music that would get you classed with a very select and nongrata group of students.
So I was sort of on my own, and kept my love of that type of music to myself. The SNL performance was the only time for many months afterward that I heard "Rock Lobster", but I kept the song in my head and looked forward to hearing it again.
That spring, we got the word that my dad was going to be transferred from Massachusetts all the way across country to California. This was very exciting to me and the rest of my family. I had never set foot in California up to that point, but from what I read and saw, it was a land of constant sun, palm trees and movie stars, where every kid wore OP shirts and carried surfboards to school, so they could hit the waves after the final bell. My Massachusetts friends were extremely jealous of our upcoming move, and I was completely jazzed. In July, we loaded up the Chevy van, said goodbye to New England, and made a long, epic cross-country journey to the Monterey Peninsula, arriving late one evening.
On our first morning there, my brother and I leapt out of bed and raced for the door, eager to see bright, sunny California with our own eyes. We got outside to find it grey, cold and dreary, not like what we pictured at all! It stayed that way all day. Oh well, we thought - the next day will be better. But the following day was just as foggy and cold and the first, and that trend continued for most of the summer. We didn't realize that Northern California was nothing like the Southern California of TV shows and Beach Boys fantasies. That cold water running down along the coast from Alaska, past San Francisco and into Monterey, leads to some hellacious fog that usually doesn't burn off until late morning/early afternoon. It was definitely not what I had expected, and it was depressing.
School started there that September, and between the stresses of getting acclimated to new surroundings and dealing with the cold, damp weather every morning, I was pretty miserable. My sister (who was in the same grade) felt the same way, and for the first couple of weeks she and I sat out on the stone bleachers overlooking the football field during our breaks, looking out across the bay towards Seaside and wishing we were somewhere else. I could see or sense nothing special about my new home . . .
Until one afternoon in late September. I was once again sitting out on the bleachers, mired in a funk, when suddenly a student I didn't know drove up in a beat-up Mustang, music blaring. His nearby friends walked over to talk to him. It was then I realized that the song blasting out of his car was "Rock Lobster", the first time I had heard it since SNL in January! It would have been unheard of for someone at my old school to be caught with a B-52's song thundering out of his car. I don't know why, but hearing that song again, in the place were I was, made me think to myself "See, this place is going to be all right."
I worked up the nerve to walk over to introduce myself to the guy, and we eventually became good friends. He introduced me to his buddies, and suddenly I had friends all over the school. Later that week, out of the blue, I got a job working after school at a ritzy girls' school down the road from where I lived. With the first paycheck I received, I went down to the record store at Del Monte Mall and bought the Yellow Album, which I played to death on the family stereo with the volume turned low - my parents didn't 'get' this crazy new music at all! But overall, things were suddenly a whole lot sunnier, funnier and happier; I didn't even notice the morning fog anymore.
From the point I heard "Rock Lobster" again, things at school got better; life in general there was a whole lot better. Now, I look back fondly on that time, and consider Monterey, California to be the best place I ever lived. And that's why I love and enjoy this album to this day.
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