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Cool Town

How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture

Grace Elizabeth Hale

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The University of North Carolina Press
23 March 2020
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.
By:   Grace Elizabeth Hale
Imprint:   The University of North Carolina Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 155mm, 
ISBN:   9781469654874
ISBN 10:   1469654873
Series:   A Ferris and Ferris Book
Pages:   384
Publication Date:   23 March 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Grace Elizabeth Hale is the Commonwealth Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Virginia. Her previous books include A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America and Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940.

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

A carefully constructed history of how Athens, Georgia became a cultural hot spot. . . . A welcome history of an overlooked milieu, one that provides ample inspiration for art makers today.--Kirkus Reviews Hale's rich, personal narrative draws readers in. . . . This colorfully rendered reverie will delight indie music fans.--Publishers Weekly Both a historian and a participant in the music scene, Hale crafts a lively account of 1980s Athens: the artists, their stories, and the haunts they frequented, such as the Grit and the 40 Watt Club.--Library Journal While the Athens buzz may have been manufactured, Athens is a very real place, and Hale writes with real passion about her formative years there.--The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club, Minnesota Public Radio Captivating. . . . A deeply researched, highly engaging history of the Athens music scene.--Atlanta Journal-Constitution Reconstructs the musical hotbed that birthed R. E.M., The B-52s, and Neutral Milk Hotel.--The AV Club Delivers more than a love song to the music. Cool Town also serves up a textured portrait of a generation caught between baby and tech booms, wriggling under the thumb of the mainstream--in the pre-internet days when 'mainstream' was a discernible thing--and rummaging through thrift-store bins both literal and figurative in an effort to create something new.--New York Times Book Review [The Athens Effect] propagated a thrift-store, sexually fluid, avant-pop aesthetic that seemed more accessible than the extremes of punk or of successors such as goth. The fun of Cool Town is to hear where those elements came from, illuminated by Hale's theories about why, and, most poignantly, what it means today.--Bookforum A lovingly rendered and richly realized panorama of a new alternative aesthetic in the making. . . . Hale's lucid prose vibrates with generosity as she tells the story of a small town on the move, that surprisingly moved the world. Cool Town is a must-read for anyone interested in the ideas of place and placemaking, and the history of bohemian cultures, alternative music, and the New South.--The Metropole A detailed work of art. . . . It's hard to imagine an author better qualified or a book more up to the task. Cool Town has done its job admirably.--level: deepsouth Offers an insider's perspective, but with the thorough research typical of her profession. . . . Hale, rather than celebrate and catalog Athens music, contextualizes the music as the most visible product of a culture both experimental and insular, and of a community that nurtured its artists. . . . We see in the Athens of Cool Town the beginnings of the indie culture we may recognize today.--The Georgia Review A thorough history of the scene told from an insider's p.o.v. and buttressed on thorough research. . . . The Cool Town story is multifaceted enough to be interesting without Hale's personal perspective, but that perspective is what makes the storytelling moving and absorbing.--Mike Segretto, Psychobabble

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