The first time I even considered Athens as anything other than the home of R.E.M. was in the summer of 1988 when I first rented Athens, GA: Inside/Out from the local video store in York, Pennsylvania. By this time, I was already on a fevered search for the most fucked up, obscuro music that my 20 year old noggin could find. For fear of sounding like an old fuddy duddy, 1988 wasn’t only a time before instantaneous information thru the internet, but living in York, Pennsylvania made things almost impossible. Sure, there was the occasional trip to South Street in Philadelphia to hit the Philly Record Exchange (where I bought the first Nirvana 7" in 1989), Y&T in DC or Tower in NYC, but other than (say) The Trouser Press Record Guide, I had zero idea how to find cool music other than by frantically cross referencing everything that I could. From my initial discovery of R.E.M. in 1985, I found out about any one of a number of bands from any one of a number of different sounds. The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Green on Red, The dB’s, Wire, The Undertones….. All of those originated in some form or fashion from my high school adoration of R.E.M.
And then there was Inside/Out. At the time I first saw the movie, I didn’t even know what a college town in the South was. I was in York and well, there was a band called Public Affection who covered R.E.M. and U2 and were later to become the insufferable cuntballs known as Live. Oh yeah, York was a charmed city.
Upon seeing I/O, The BBQ Killers became my new favorite band. Seeing this "thing" ferociously strutting around on stage with its equally hip/cool bandmates just clicked with me. Almost exactly how The Minutemen clicked. It was that simple. It wasn’t until I pored over the credits to their "Comely" LP (which I played religiously on my radio show) that I found out that the "thing" on stage was actually Laura Carter. "Wait, it was a woman?!", I thought. Unreal. With my cross-referencing kick in full swing, I found out about every other Athens band in a matter of weeks thanks to magazines like The Bob, Bucketful of Brains, MaximumRockNRoll, Flipside, Option and even Pulse put out by Tower Records. Again, I was working at a fevered pace to get up to speed on everything that was going on in this tiny college town hundreds of miles from where I was in Shit Splat, Pennsylvania.
Then there’s the first time I drove to Georgia with my then-girlfriend Lisa. It was right after I graduated from college and was looking for somewhere to move that wasn’t near York. I knew Athens was the town to move to when, upon tuning into WUOG about 30 miles outside of town, I heard the first track off the newest Thinkin Fellers record. "Is this heaven?" I thought.
Well, obviously, I moved to Georgia shortly after my first trip and the rest was mere academics at that point. I consumed Athens music for my entire residency there, and one of the very early records I purchased upon moving to town was the "Some" EP which was put out by Alan Connor, Brian Cook and the legendary Dave Barbe back in the fall of 1986. "Some" was the second (and final) release on their DRG (short for Dominant Rock Gods) record label, the handmade aesthetic immediately grabbed me and I’d lie if I didn’t say it wasn’t an all-time favorite Athens record. The hand crafted inserts, incidentally, were all made by the BBQ Killer’s Laura Carter.
Dave Barbe’s Mercyland, Eat America and Time Toy turned in fantastic tracks on this EP and as I found out, they did a tour of Florida to promote this album shortly after its release. The tour consisted of approximately 40 people in a bus which sounds disturbingly similar to those early Olivia Tremor/Neutral Milk tours in ’96 and ’97. Upon returning from tour, all parties were $2000 in debt to the bus company. The 40 Watt staff generously turned the club over to them for two nights to resolve their debt. And amazingly, Michael Stipe offered his services (even allowing them to put his name on the billing) on the second night performing on guitar to an adoring capacity crowd of frat boys and girls.
As years passed on, Laura Carter (not be confused with the "current" Orange Twin/Elf Power Laura Carter) became the presence behind the JackONuts and subsequently wrote for the Flagpole during the same time that I was. Unfortunately, Laura and I hated each other for reasons that, to this day, I still don’t understand. She’d smack talk me in the Flagpole, I’d volley by throwing out drunken heckles at their shows at the Shoebox or Club Fred. I don’t know, I think it boiled down to one of those things where we were so similar that we just butted heads. Of course, I say this, but at the core of it, I always regret that she and I were never friends because it is her performance on that Athens, GA: Inside/Out tape that was a major contributing influence in me moving to the South almost 20 years ago. Laura moved from Athens around ’96 after having massive back problems and (from what I’ve gathered) a slight pain killer addiction. She retreated to St. Croix, got married and had a child. Even with her aggro, contrarian ways, I always admired Laura. Sadly, Laura died in the winter of 2002 with her son and husband by her side in St. Croix. I’m sure if she would be reading what I’m writing, she’d invariably tell me to kiss her ass. Then again, that was all part of Laura’s unusual, yet charismatic, charm.
It’s records like "Some" that succintly define a music scene at a particular moment. And now, with the full permission of Dave Barbe, I offer up the "Some" EP to all those who haven’t been fortunate enough to get one of the hand-assembled copies that never got much distribution beyond Georgia.
BBQ Killers – Chester Drawers
Mercyland – Amerigod
Time Toy – Windowsill
Eat America – Hands of Murmansk