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In the summer of 1978, the B-52's conquered the New York underground. A year later, the band's self-titled debut album burst onto the Billboard charts, capturing the imagination of fans and music critics worldwide. The fact that the group had formed in the sleepy southern college town of Athens, Georgia, only increased the fascination. Soon, more Athens bands followed the In the summer of 1978, the B-52's conquered the New York underground. A year later, the band's self-titled debut album burst onto the Billboard charts, capturing the imagination of fans and music critics worldwide. The fact that the group had formed in the sleepy southern college town of Athens, Georgia, only increased the fascination. Soon, more Athens bands followed the B-52's into the vanguard of the new American music that would come to be known as "alternative," including R.E.M., who catapulted over the course of the 1980s to the top of the musical mainstream. As acts like the B-52's, R.E.M., and Pylon drew the eyes of New York tastemakers southward, they discovered in Athens an unexpected mecca of music, experimental art, DIY spirit, and progressive politics--a creative underground as vibrant as any to be found in the country's major cities. In Athens in the eighties, if you were young and willing to live without much money, anything seemed possible. Cool Town reveals the passion, vitality, and enduring significance of a bohemian scene that became a model for others to follow. Grace Elizabeth Hale experienced the Athens scene as a student, small-business owner, and band member. Blending personal recollection with a historian's eye, she reconstructs the networks of bands, artists, and friends that drew on the things at hand to make a new art of the possible, transforming American culture along the way. In a story full of music and brimming with hope, Hale shows how an unlikely cast of characters in an unlikely place made a surprising and beautiful new world.


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In the summer of 1978, the B-52's conquered the New York underground. A year later, the band's self-titled debut album burst onto the Billboard charts, capturing the imagination of fans and music critics worldwide. The fact that the group had formed in the sleepy southern college town of Athens, Georgia, only increased the fascination. Soon, more Athens bands followed the In the summer of 1978, the B-52's conquered the New York underground. A year later, the band's self-titled debut album burst onto the Billboard charts, capturing the imagination of fans and music critics worldwide. The fact that the group had formed in the sleepy southern college town of Athens, Georgia, only increased the fascination. Soon, more Athens bands followed the B-52's into the vanguard of the new American music that would come to be known as "alternative," including R.E.M., who catapulted over the course of the 1980s to the top of the musical mainstream. As acts like the B-52's, R.E.M., and Pylon drew the eyes of New York tastemakers southward, they discovered in Athens an unexpected mecca of music, experimental art, DIY spirit, and progressive politics--a creative underground as vibrant as any to be found in the country's major cities. In Athens in the eighties, if you were young and willing to live without much money, anything seemed possible. Cool Town reveals the passion, vitality, and enduring significance of a bohemian scene that became a model for others to follow. Grace Elizabeth Hale experienced the Athens scene as a student, small-business owner, and band member. Blending personal recollection with a historian's eye, she reconstructs the networks of bands, artists, and friends that drew on the things at hand to make a new art of the possible, transforming American culture along the way. In a story full of music and brimming with hope, Hale shows how an unlikely cast of characters in an unlikely place made a surprising and beautiful new world.

30 review for Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    A really interesting history of the creation and fostering of the Athens, GA music scene, I missed the college radio years of indie so it was great to understand how the transition from hippie to indie (through punk) happened. I also didn't realize just how many artists I've enjoyed came from or through Athens (R.E.M., B-52s, Vic Chestnutt, Widespread Panic, Matthew Sweet). Three things really struck me with this book. First, how important the geography, culture, economics, institutions, and peo A really interesting history of the creation and fostering of the Athens, GA music scene, I missed the college radio years of indie so it was great to understand how the transition from hippie to indie (through punk) happened. I also didn't realize just how many artists I've enjoyed came from or through Athens (R.E.M., B-52s, Vic Chestnutt, Widespread Panic, Matthew Sweet). Three things really struck me with this book. First, how important the geography, culture, economics, institutions, and people of Athens were to making the scene. Bands may have played up , played down, or alternated between accepting and rejecting the "southern" label, but Hale does a good job showing how the culture, contradictions, and relative isolation of Athens helped foster the scene. The second was the unique point of view of the author. She is both a trained academic and was an active participant in the scene (playing in a band and co-owning and operating a cafe/performance venue). I actually think the book (as far as I can tell) does a good job both as an objective-ish work of history and as a personal look inside the scene. Thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. *I was given an ARC of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan Bunten

    I wish I could give this book more than five stars. It’s refreshing to read about a place in time that is academically sourced. Hale’s participation in the scene and her academic background in history make her the perfect bohemian to write this book. If you were there, you get it. If you’ve never really experienced Athens I can see where this work might seem like so much name dropping. But those names are part of Athens’ story. The most important part of the Athens music and art scene was genuin I wish I could give this book more than five stars. It’s refreshing to read about a place in time that is academically sourced. Hale’s participation in the scene and her academic background in history make her the perfect bohemian to write this book. If you were there, you get it. If you’ve never really experienced Athens I can see where this work might seem like so much name dropping. But those names are part of Athens’ story. The most important part of the Athens music and art scene was genuineness, and Hale’s genuineness graces every page. If, like me, you spent time in Athens in the 80s, you are going to love this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    What I loved most about this book is that it isn't just about Athens: it's about how a "scene" gets constructed in the public imagination. I reviewed Cool Town for The Current. What I loved most about this book is that it isn't just about Athens: it's about how a "scene" gets constructed in the public imagination. I reviewed Cool Town for The Current.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    Hale crafts a veritable "There and Back Again" of Athens culture as we examine the genesis of the city's status into a music mecca, its power at the height of influence, and, of course, its legacy. An elongated introduction helps acquaint you with the author's prose, which helps separate this from your rank-and-file music history book (with all due respect to those) and galvanizes her authority on this subject. A seamless transition into precisely the how and the who of Athens' burgeoning musica Hale crafts a veritable "There and Back Again" of Athens culture as we examine the genesis of the city's status into a music mecca, its power at the height of influence, and, of course, its legacy. An elongated introduction helps acquaint you with the author's prose, which helps separate this from your rank-and-file music history book (with all due respect to those) and galvanizes her authority on this subject. A seamless transition into precisely the how and the who of Athens' burgeoning musical oasis follows before we lock arms with some straight-on music history of not just the most famous (B-52s, R.E.M.), but the most influential. Hale begins to explain her own role/contributions to the story as we settle in on a latter section that further explains the process in developing an environment conducive to making art. If you want a drinking game, take a sip every time the word "bohemian" is used; seriously, though, it's been a word that I admit I didn't really know the definition of but, thanks to Hale, I'm pretty clear on it now. A hip, packed, and illustrious account of a musical movement I had no idea about until Hale's work. A solid contender for the best music history book of 2020--the bar has been set high. Many thanks to NetGalley and University of North Carolina Press for the advance read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This book is meant for someone like me, which means someone who grew up learning to love the scene detailed herein, though from some geographical distance, and who went from early adolescent purchasing of R.E.M. cassettes to becoming almost gravitationally pulled to Georgia things well into adulthood.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul Manoguerra

    As an American Studies person, I was destined to like this book. As someone who lived and worked in Athens for 11 years at the beginning of the 21st century, and who has a litany of friends, former colleagues, and/or acquaintances among the people Dr. Hale interviewed for her book, I knew I would enjoy reading it and learn some stuff I did not know about their respective “former” lives in the late 70s and the 80s. In spite of 11 years working at UGA, I was an Athens outsider who had grown up as As an American Studies person, I was destined to like this book. As someone who lived and worked in Athens for 11 years at the beginning of the 21st century, and who has a litany of friends, former colleagues, and/or acquaintances among the people Dr. Hale interviewed for her book, I knew I would enjoy reading it and learn some stuff I did not know about their respective “former” lives in the late 70s and the 80s. In spite of 11 years working at UGA, I was an Athens outsider who had grown up as a teenager in southern California during the heyday of the Athens Dr. Hale writes about. This is not a strict (or well-thought out) review—of a book I truly had fun reading; it is a “cool” book—but a collection of thoughts, opinions, comments, and open-ended questions. Mostly, the thoughts are here in this “review” because Dr. Hale’s interesting book has me thinking about them. As an aside, reading a book so heavy on personal connections, interactions, and experiences, as art, in our age of pandemic and quarantine felt extra sad. The two strongest aspects of the book include the meticulous research about the Athens bands (who played instruments [for the first time?] with whom and where did they come from and where did they play music and when and what did it sound and/or look like and what did critics think and what happened next), and Dr. Hale’s personal story and connections to the Athens bohemia. I believe her book fully succeeds in answering one of the key questions she asks early on: “What exactly is it that makes us try [to make a new world, a utopia]?” I’m not sure she gives me enough of the “how,” however. I’m also not yet certain that Dr. Hale was as successful as I wanted her to be in proving two other points she makes: “…what art can do in particular times and places,” and the idea that Athens “changed American culture” as in the book’s subtitle. (My typed thoughts and comments will become more random now…I apologize in advance…) Athens, I think, has always been a bit weird and quirky: the double-barreled cannon, The Tree That Owns Itself, the Uga bulldog mausoleum, the Nuwaubians (who postdate the time of the book), etc. Dr. Hale touches on the Southern Gothic imagination, and Flannery O’Connor, especially as influences on the music and the lyrics, but the roots of quirky bohemia seem perhaps even deeper than she expresses. All the Warhol and Pop Art stuff is awesome. But Warhol owed so much to Duchamp, and something like Pylon’s music and Briscoe Hay’s singing might be viewed as an extension of Dada/Surrealism, tone poetry, and the Cabaret Voltaire. The origins of art as performance are older than Warhol. I think UGA gets shorted as a cause of the scene, as Dr. Hale calls it, in the early 80s, “a middle-of-the-road public university managed by good old boys.” Most of the university comes off as a fraternity- and sorority-loving business- and agriculture-school monolith (largely) in opposition to the art school and the bohemians. I wish Dr. Hale had presented the school as a more complicated and complex place; for example, Eugene Odum as the pioneer of ecology—the metaphor of “ecosystem” might have been nice to describe the 80s Athens scene? I don’t think Dr. Hale ever mentions “The Georgia Review” at all, clearly an important contributor to the bohemian-ness of Athens, and its literary culture, all with both a national and international impact. Or much about any of the other humanities at a vibrant public university. The art school and the museum were always progressive, for the Deep South. Alfred Holbrook acquired a painting for the museum from the young Jacob Lawrence in 1947, essentially right off the artist’s easel and a decade and a half before desegregation of the university. Bill Paul organized an Alice Neel retrospective in 1975. The art school had been a progressive beacon, especially in the South, since its founding by Lamar Dodd in the 30s. Art Rosenbaum previously taught at Iowa, a flagship state school where the art program had been established by a working artist, Grant Wood. Wood, of course, a “regionalist” or American Scene painter, was a collector of Midwest vernacular history. Rosenbaum emerged from that tradition at Iowa to end up teaching at UGA, at an art school established by a southern American Scene painter, Dodd. Rosenbaum’s own paintings, filled with open-ended narratives, local characters, and attachment to place, could have made nice comparisons to R.E.M.’s music and lyrics. Visiting folk artists might have been “a bohemian rite of passage in Athens” but Dr. Hale misses a chance to make deeper connections at this point, with Finster and Meaders in particular. Rosenbaum and Andy Nasisse might have been introducing students to folk art, but both Meaders and Finster were already world famous. Meaders had already participated in the Smithsonian Folkways programs, and been honored by the Library of Congress. He would be given a 1983 NEA National Heritage Fellowship. The Meaders family pottery was just one of several in the region; the craft’s literal use of the land, of place, would have worked as an extended metaphor for bohemia and the music. Meanwhile, Finster might even have been more famous; he would appear for two segments on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1983. “Black Folk Art in America,” including several Georgia artists, opened in 1982 at the Corcoran, with Nancy Reagan attending. The “Local Color” chapter had a chance to make stronger connections to the music and Athens bohemia than it did, I think; as a place where bohemia could flourish as an example of ingrained creativity. I imagine others might end up upset with Dr. Hale’s comments on the top of page 206, but they seem brave and on point to me; but, again, I was always an outsider who came to Athens more than two decades after the scene began. Does “quality” or “talent” in the incestuous and self-referential nature of any “scene” ever matter in a bohemia, or is R.E.M.’s eventual international success the answer to that question? Some of the music by secondary and tertiary bands is just bad. But is the act of creating more important than the creation? Dr. Hale touches on mythologizing the past, but takes a passing swipe at Vince Dooley and the university’s athletic culture, especially football. This also feels like a missed opportunity to make a larger point: perhaps the mythologizing of R.E.M. (and Stipe) mirrors the myth making of college football (and someone like Herschel Walker). Walker and Stipe were (and are?) probably the two most famous people with Athens connections in the 80s. The rootedness-in-place and tribalism of college football, especially in the South, seems ripe with metaphors that would have helped Dr. Hale, I think, with her discussion of the ongoing impact of bohemian Athens and the culture created by all those bands.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    This book shines a spotlight at a short period in a small town that launched a seismic movement in American music culture. Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture is an exhaustive account of how Athens, Georgia, in the 80s was the right place at the right time to grow a scene out of which thrived bands like the B-52s, R.E.M., Pylon, Love Tractor, Mercyland, and more, as well as artists, zines, poets, and a new kind of bohemian lifestyle. The author This book shines a spotlight at a short period in a small town that launched a seismic movement in American music culture. Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture is an exhaustive account of how Athens, Georgia, in the 80s was the right place at the right time to grow a scene out of which thrived bands like the B-52s, R.E.M., Pylon, Love Tractor, Mercyland, and more, as well as artists, zines, poets, and a new kind of bohemian lifestyle. The author, Grace Elizabeth Hale, was a part of that scene as a musician and University of Georgia undergrad and grad student specializing in American cultural studies. I myself caught a glimpse of Athens culture when I worked for Atlanta's alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing straight out of college. I was drawn to Hale's book because a lot of the bands, venues, folk artists, and characters on the scene were familiar to me. Hello, Rockfish Palace! It brought me back to a time when every night meant another chance to be a +1 on the list at the door. Another chance to hang with the cool freaks. Another chance to "discover" a folk artist's installation in the woods. Cool Town skews very specialized, but if you're into meticulously crafted and researched cultural history of popular music, you'll want to read it. [I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review.]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Exhaustively researched (and I do mean exhaustively -- there's as much detail in the notes as in the text, which is saying something) story of Athens, mostly circa 1975-1990 or so, written by a UGA student/musician/coffee shop owner who was there when much of it was happening. There's a lot going on in this book, some of it fascinating (the rise of the B52s from rural house party oddballs to NYC superstars), some of it not so much (complete Eastern Seaboard tour itinerary of a band I've never he Exhaustively researched (and I do mean exhaustively -- there's as much detail in the notes as in the text, which is saying something) story of Athens, mostly circa 1975-1990 or so, written by a UGA student/musician/coffee shop owner who was there when much of it was happening. There's a lot going on in this book, some of it fascinating (the rise of the B52s from rural house party oddballs to NYC superstars), some of it not so much (complete Eastern Seaboard tour itinerary of a band I've never heard of. They played the Mudd Club? Uh, neat, I guess). Which makes this book a valuable historical document because Athens is definitely important to American popular music of the late 20th Century, but it's not necessarily a fun read. It seems like a PhD thesis stretched out to 300 pages -- I felt like I was about halfway through it for weeks. But kudos to Hale for taking on the entrenched sexism of indie rock and its white supremacy and fetishization of black artists and musicians. Also it did make me want to listen to more Pylon, so there's that!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    Rarely does one read a book in which they felt that they got a glimpse of first hand. Having attended UGA and lived in Athens in the late 80’s and attended a lot of shows in the clubs there it was definitely a walk down memory lane, although not always a pleasant one. First and foremost, no one in my two years there ever uttered the word ‘bohemian’ to describe anyone inside or outside the music scene. Yes, the author does point out the ‘townie’ pejorative that was more often used, but her overuse Rarely does one read a book in which they felt that they got a glimpse of first hand. Having attended UGA and lived in Athens in the late 80’s and attended a lot of shows in the clubs there it was definitely a walk down memory lane, although not always a pleasant one. First and foremost, no one in my two years there ever uttered the word ‘bohemian’ to describe anyone inside or outside the music scene. Yes, the author does point out the ‘townie’ pejorative that was more often used, but her overuse and abuse of the word bohemian was annoying and cringe-worthy at best. I suppose we should be grateful that she didn’t use ‘hipster’ instead? Next, while the author was not factually inaccurate on any of the names and places, she presented a tale that had a much different lived experience than many others in that milieu. She captures the shared recollections such as many out-of-towners moving to town to see what all the fuss was about and leaving shortly thereafter (the quip about Gibby and the Butthole Surfers was a well-worn anecdote). These short stays had much to do with Athens’ social groups and circles in the music scene especially at that time being extremely insular and having a way overinflated sense of self-importance and egos for what was essentially a typical college town with many local bands; for the most part there was hardly any there-there. Certainly after the early bout of creativity in the late 70’s and early 80’s it had become a shell of its former self, running on the fumes of its former glory. Having said that, credit should be given to highlight the names of bands and people that would otherwise have been forgotten – it was nice to see mentions of BBQ-Killers and Mercyland and Porn Orchard. It’s difficult for me to think that anyone with just a passing interest in the B-52’s or REM would want to read or much less listen to some of these present-day obscurities, but kudos to her for capturing them. Much more critically, the book clumsily addresses race in Chapter 5 when the author goes into self-flagellation and historical revisionism mode on the topic of diversity and appropriation in the Athens scene. It feels as though the author is desperately attempting to cram a topical subject into a time and place where it held much less social relevance. Though she doesn’t accuse anyone of being overtly racist, there is attribution of guilt by absence. Look, to be clear, even though I wasn’t an integral participant of that scene, in my time spent going to many shows I never once detected anything untoward anyone with a differing skin tone and the ginning up of this issue is in the end very inept. Only one time was racism on display as some skinheads showed up to a show at the 40 Watt, and only because Fugazi was headlining their first show there and the draw was Ian McKaye. Now, of course there was overt racism in general in that dinky town because, duh, it was still in the deep South in that time period; but put blame where it was due - namely with the local hicks and the overbearing white frat population. And not that she posits this, but did she really think that African Americans or POC would look at these scene doofuses with their ratty clothes and crappy music and want inclusion in that? Good lord! I know of at least one POC who did want in, and Melvin was booked at the 40 Watt and the Uptown and his ‘band’ (loosely calling it that because he fronted a crappy noise outfit) got plenty of shows without any problem or hint that he was being treated differently. Again, the more likely reason for any Black absence in that scene is that like a lot of us, being in Athens meant getting an education, not dropping out and getting drawn into the drug and music scene. And to top it off in a different chapter the author has no problem with naming the Bells near Prince as “ghetto” Bells: um, none of us who shopped there who didn’t have cars given to us (whose parents also sent us to $40k / year Woodward Academy like the author did) had the funds to shop wherever we wanted all over town. I would have much rather have hit the Kroger outside of town, but guess what – I didn’t have the resources at that time to do that. Those of us who shopped at that Bells never called it that, but the author who in one chapter has fits about racial injustice has no qualms about using that pejorative term in a flippant manner. It would have been so much more insightful and interesting had the author instead examined the overbearing and historical presence of social stratification in the South as emulated and adopted by the local scene members at that time – it was similar in Atlanta as well. It wasn’t until moving to the Pac NW that I recognized this and it was a breath of fresh air to be rid of those overarching Southern social strictures. Of course, the main omission in this book is that while the author bemoans the non-diversity and at the same time praises loose sexual norms (nothing untoward there), she fails to mention the glaring elephant in the room which was the well-known preying of underage boys (and likely girls too) by well-known older members of the scene. It didn’t quite seem to fit the narrative that the author wanted to tell – that the only warts would be those that conform to the hot culture war topics of today, but it was the worst kept secret in town of this activity going on and surely the author couldn’t have been unaware of its presence? It apparently didn’t fit into her shiny-happy narrative. Hale did do a nice job with treating Chesnutt – it was hard to imagine that the sullen guy always on the right side of the stage in his wheelchair at every show I attended there would go on to get national recognition and she handled his end well. But too bad she didn’t mention some of the others lost along the way like Laura and Ted as I understand they're not around any longer either. The book was an interesting reminder of the past and a small blast of nostalgia. That said, I don’t know who the target audience is besides those mentioned in the book and diehard REM / B-52 fans as it’s just so meandering and unfocused in scope after the first two chapters. I have long lost acquaintances that stayed in Athens and live there to this day – they seem to like it still and that’s just fine. Others of us couldn’t wait to get the heck out of there.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC. This is a well researched, well documented, pretty straightforward history of the Athens music scene. It is not for everyone. If you are a big fan of these bands, you will like this, but if you are not, I don't think this book will grab you and make you want to listen. This is a book written by someone who was there for people who care. It is essentially fan service and that is totally fine.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rupert

    I had no intention of reading this book. Loved the first B-52s album, the first two REM releases, got to know the scene a little when a good friend moved there in the early 90s, but was never under the Athens spell. Then a fellow bookseller gave me a copy and I’m a sucker for a free new hardback. Though there aren’t interviews with key scene players like Paul Thomas and Jeremy Ayers, the writing and details capture a grass roots creative scene taking off & spreading. It reminded me of how Baltim I had no intention of reading this book. Loved the first B-52s album, the first two REM releases, got to know the scene a little when a good friend moved there in the early 90s, but was never under the Athens spell. Then a fellow bookseller gave me a copy and I’m a sucker for a free new hardback. Though there aren’t interviews with key scene players like Paul Thomas and Jeremy Ayers, the writing and details capture a grass roots creative scene taking off & spreading. It reminded me of how Baltimore was in the 80s, dirt cheap, lots of questionable buildings open to occupation because real estate people weren’t yet blowing rents up. A big difference from Baltimore’s interesting experimental also vastly kooky scene was that it didn’t have its moment in the national limelight and bands weren’t making the hop to the bigtime after a show or two. The author traces the Athens scene through the brilliant career & tragic death of Vic Chesnutt. He appeared just when I was wondering why I was still reading & was a poetic end. Being a historian the author also shows how the scene affected their environment in the long run, in a positive way. Older scene people getting into local politics & fighting the far right religious stranglehold on the culture & laws of the region. She credits the local paper The Flagpole with rallying people to help shape their home, reduce the power of the far right and preserve the old buildings and natural spaces that they loved, not let it all morph into chain business America. I guess it will take another book to get into the Elephant 6 collective & their time in Athens. I would like to read that. But even not having a passion for many of the bands in here, the author’s passionate writing about youthful rebellion & DIY culture was the true story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marcia

    I would like to give 3.5 stars, but I'll round up. This is a very detailed, well-researched, and lovingly executed history of the Athens "scene", circa 1978ish to 1991ish. It skews academic (for obvious reasons) but overall is very readable. Hale does a good job capturing what it was like to be a college student in the 1980s, even if you weren't in a cool town like Athens or part of a scene. She makes a big claim right in the title, and I wish she had followed through with some of the launching I would like to give 3.5 stars, but I'll round up. This is a very detailed, well-researched, and lovingly executed history of the Athens "scene", circa 1978ish to 1991ish. It skews academic (for obvious reasons) but overall is very readable. Hale does a good job capturing what it was like to be a college student in the 1980s, even if you weren't in a cool town like Athens or part of a scene. She makes a big claim right in the title, and I wish she had followed through with some of the launching and changing beyond Athens (maybe just a one-chapter overview? something). While Athens was certainly unique in many ways, in others it was not -- lots of college towns launched indie rock bands and had music and art scenes in the 80s -- and I wish she had made some broader connections there. While I get what she was trying to do, I thought the analysis of sexism and white supremacy in the Athens scene was a bit much. I would be nice to think that a bunch of Georgia college-aged kids would break down the walls of sexism and racism, but the small inroads she describes were really huge for the time, and I think she does a disservice to the open and expansive ethos that was obviously present by suggesting that they should have been more actively "inclusive". Hard for me to explain what I wanted from this book. In some ways it met my expectations fully, and in others it fell a bit short. Worth a read if you're interested Athens, R.E.M., and/or indie rock, or if you were a college student (especially in a small town) in the 80s.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan R

    Over all a decent read. If you are a fan of REM or the B52s, you'll probably enjoy this book. If not you'll get tired of it pretty fast. Athens in the early 80s was a fairly brief period of time. A very small set of bands. And really outside of music, I'd argue didn't have that much influence on popular culture at all. It certainly was no where near the level of 60s SF or 70s NYC. My major criticism of this book. And for that matter other 'scene' books. Is this. If you ask 10 people what a scene Over all a decent read. If you are a fan of REM or the B52s, you'll probably enjoy this book. If not you'll get tired of it pretty fast. Athens in the early 80s was a fairly brief period of time. A very small set of bands. And really outside of music, I'd argue didn't have that much influence on popular culture at all. It certainly was no where near the level of 60s SF or 70s NYC. My major criticism of this book. And for that matter other 'scene' books. Is this. If you ask 10 people what a scene was about. You'll get 10 different answers. And this is really her perspective about what Athens meant to her. The other criticism I have is the attempt to try to find racism in everything. Which given her previous works and the current zeitgeist is not that surprising. But overall provides no insight and is frankly cringe worthy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Davy

    Sure to become the definitive document on the Athens scene. Reading Cool Town was like seeing my love for the town proven statistically. A full scholarly argument for it's enduring uniqueness, a timeline of its evolution. A love letter. I still hold out hopes for a sequel that focuses on the Elephant 6 years and beyond -- that's my era. But this was an enlightening and energizing read. Incredibly well-researched and enthusiastically told, the story is easy to follow from Point A(yers) to Point B Sure to become the definitive document on the Athens scene. Reading Cool Town was like seeing my love for the town proven statistically. A full scholarly argument for it's enduring uniqueness, a timeline of its evolution. A love letter. I still hold out hopes for a sequel that focuses on the Elephant 6 years and beyond -- that's my era. But this was an enlightening and energizing read. Incredibly well-researched and enthusiastically told, the story is easy to follow from Point A(yers) to Point B(52s) to Point P(ylon) to Point R(EM) and all points in between. I love the attention given to the underdogs and supporting cast, and I learned so much about the Art School scene in those days -- this had been a gap in my knowledge. Highly recommended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sara Pauff

    Having lived in Athens for ten years (off and on) but largely outside the bohemian scene, I loved learning about the city in the 80s and 90s, when bands like the B52s, REM, Pylon and others helped establish the art scene we take for granted today. I also enjoyed learning about the beginnings of some fabled local businesses, like The Grit and the 40 Watt. You can still see remnants of that scene around town, even as more and more chains take over parts of downtown and more expensive high-rise stu Having lived in Athens for ten years (off and on) but largely outside the bohemian scene, I loved learning about the city in the 80s and 90s, when bands like the B52s, REM, Pylon and others helped establish the art scene we take for granted today. I also enjoyed learning about the beginnings of some fabled local businesses, like The Grit and the 40 Watt. You can still see remnants of that scene around town, even as more and more chains take over parts of downtown and more expensive high-rise student apartments spring up everywhere (sigh). Definitely recommend to anyone who has ever lived in Athens, misses Athens or wants to come to Athens.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diane O'connell

    A comprehensive slog by a “scene participant” The author tries to use a historian's lens to document a scene she was too intimate with to be objective about. The result is a lot of name dropping of undeveloped identities to a numbing extent. And generalizations about the intentions of “art students,” “bohemians,” “hippies,” and the catch-all “scene participants“ makes for a crunchy read. Still, it is informative and well intended, and clearly rendered with love. It ends better than it starts, pos A comprehensive slog by a “scene participant” The author tries to use a historian's lens to document a scene she was too intimate with to be objective about. The result is a lot of name dropping of undeveloped identities to a numbing extent. And generalizations about the intentions of “art students,” “bohemians,” “hippies,” and the catch-all “scene participants“ makes for a crunchy read. Still, it is informative and well intended, and clearly rendered with love. It ends better than it starts, possible because you get used to her stilted prose after a while.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Helen Marquis

    As a fan of REM and the B52's I was interested in learning more about their formative years. I guess I'm just not THAT much of a fan of them, as I found this book a bit impenetrable as it goes into way too much detail. I imagine it's interesting if you were actually there, and knew all these people. If you weren't, it just becomes a random blur of scenesters, references that go over your head, and what feels like a peripheral hanger-on, trying to prove that they were there. Disappointing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    disneypal

    I really enjoyed this book. I grew up in Atlanta, GA during the same time period and and was very much a part of the Atlanta music scene and often went to Athens to see many of the bands, who would also come to Atlanta. I remember going to the Updown, the 40 Watt, Georgia Theater and the Downstairs so many times. I was at some of the shows that was mentioned in the book. It brought back a lot of great memories.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Keebler

    A Thorough Look At Artistry I am confounded my the amount of detail and clarity provided in sharing this history of Athens. The writer’s directive at showing the many artists and people who create and continue to create is astounding. My only wish is that someone could write as well-researched a book about Portland, Oregon.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Frank Vestal

    3 and 1/2 stars

  21. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Such a thoroughly researched and enjoyably written account of the growth of the Athens scene. I especially appreciate her balance of incisive critique along with insightful memories.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andy Nasisse

    Hale does a great job of illuminating the many aspects that created a special musical and artistic focus in a small Southern College town, Athens Ga. Especially interesting if you lived there.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David Kroeber

    Fun read, especially the first chapters covering the beginning with B-52's, Pylon, and R.E.M!

  24. 4 out of 5

    William Cottrell

    It's great hearing more about a town that I call home and even better hearing more about some of the wonderful people I've known over the years.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rick Sands

    I really enjoyed this book and the author is sooo qualified to write this Maybe not for everyone but for those that like 80s music and are curious about the Athens, GA scene this one is tremendous

  26. 4 out of 5

    Khalid Al-Babtain

    The chapters about B-52s and Pylon were interesting, the rest is boring!

  27. 5 out of 5

    James

    Cool Town is an interesting look at a small college town, Athens Georgia, and how a variety of people from diverse backgrounds helped develop a music and art driven scene during the period that began during the late Seventies. Author Hale came to town as a student at the University of Georgia in 1982 and tell this story both based on numerous interviews and her own personal experiences. Hale makes the argument that the emerging style was that of a bohemia which was both an outgrowth of other sce Cool Town is an interesting look at a small college town, Athens Georgia, and how a variety of people from diverse backgrounds helped develop a music and art driven scene during the period that began during the late Seventies. Author Hale came to town as a student at the University of Georgia in 1982 and tell this story both based on numerous interviews and her own personal experiences. Hale makes the argument that the emerging style was that of a bohemia which was both an outgrowth of other scenes such as late Seventies New York City and an organic development based upon the free wheeling culture that felt natural some of the art students at UGA. The context is important, since the late Seventies had variety of other movements such as disco, southern rock and the conservative movements associated with Ronald Reagan, all of which were mostly distinct from what Hale describes. She also noted how some of the drag and gay elements of the New York scene also influenced artists and musicians in Athens. An early case in point was the B-52s, which managed to emerge locally in Athens and forge connections in NYC. The B-52's were just the first of several bands that initiated the idea of an Athens sound, though each of the bands had different elements. For example, Pylon was formed by a group of art students and gradually became a local legend, but wasn't as well known to the music public at large, even though they got rave reviews from critics in both the US and UK. The best known band to emerge from this scene was REM, whose members were going to art school at UGA and decided to form a band. In the early days, they were still developing their skills, but they played gigs between New York, Athens and in-between and rapidly improved. REM's evolution was a major sub-theme throughout the book, but Hale did a good job in showing how REM was just one band on the scene, albeit highly influential. This is a good book for those who would like to hear the story of how Athens ultimately became known for its' bands, but continued to developed in other artistic senses as well and challenged the stereotypes of southern bands and aspects of southern culture. Hale is a decent tour guide, though sometimes the story is overwhelmed by the pure number of people who are cited. She is currently a university professor, but participated in this scene as a student, music fan and later, as a club owner and musician in a local band. Her university background as a historian is evident in the copious set of notes that back up her narrative. I was intrigued by the book and its title, since I have a son who will soon be a graduate student in the UGA art program and who is arriving from another small southern city, Asheville, North Carolina, which has also developed an impressive art, music and cultural scene. As a musician, I enjoyed hearing about the Athens scene and how it intermingled with so many other local, regional and national music, art and cultural trends.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    https://www.npr.org/2020/08/26/905526... https://www.npr.org/2020/08/26/905526...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Enoch

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