Cindy Wilson has been shattering perceptions on the music scene for four decades. The B-52s, which she founded with her brother, Ricky Wilson, Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, and Keith Strickland exploded onto the music scene in the 70s – a “Big Bang” that helped create the musical Milky Way that is modern-day Athens.
Their music was “mystical and otherworldy,” says Wilson, “yet coming from a primal place.” And the band’s signature style mirrored their songs: Energetic and experimental. They took the stage in high beehives (also known as B-52s), groovy boots, and retro outfits. Over the years they earned the moniker “World’s Greatest Party Band,” along with gold and platinum albums, MTV Music Awards, and GRAMMY nominations.
Today, Wilson is settled in suburbia with her husband, Keith Bennett, and their two children in Atlanta. Though you’re more likely to find her with a mop than a microphone these days, Wilson has not strayed far from her musical roots and continues to record and perform – and, of course, “Roam” around her beloved Athens every chance she gets.
Lake Oconee Living was honored to talk to Wilson about her unabashed style and unforgettable impact on the music scene.
The B-52s is arguably one of the most recognizable bands in pop culture. How did your “signature look” come about?
We were just clowning around and it was a way to entertain our friends and ourselves. It was original back then. Retro was new and it was kitschy, and making fun of Americana and pop culture.
Who did the beehives and bouffants for you when you performed back then?
A woman named Laverne in Athens, and she taught me how to do it myself. I would add wig pieces and other elements sometimes. I was using my own hair until it became clear that wigs were going to work out better. We even had road cases for wigs at one point! I don’t often do the wig thing any longer but when I do, Steven Perfidia, up in New York City is who I go to – in fact the purple wig I wore for this issue is by him.
Where did you find your outfits and accessories for the stage?
Back in the day it was the Potters House and other thrift stores. Back then the whole vintage thing had not caught on and you could snag amazing stuff dirt-cheap – not only 60s stuff but also 50s and even 1940s outfits. Then I began to design my own stage outfits and get them made by seamstresses. I did this for years.
Where do you like to shop now?
These days you have to be creative and keep options open, you never know when something will jump out. I continue to create many of the looks myself. I am always on the lookout for good fabrics – silks, velvet, cotton, and polyester is still always a good option.
There are a few places unique to Athens that are fun to go to and see what you can find. One is Kum’s downtown; it’s vintage stuff yet all brand new. I also like Cillies for great-unexpected accessories and outfits and Atomic for vintage clothes and such.
Which “look” was your favorite throughout your career?
After a while I tended to settle into a favorite wig style among the many I had over the years – a bouffant with a ponytail. It was inspired by the 60s beach movies with Frankie Avalon. There was a biker chick in those movies who had a great look with that style. Also Bridgett Bardot wore that same hairstyle.
What was your all-time favorite piece of clothing, shoes, or accessories? Have you held on to any favorite outfits from the past?
Fortunately I kept many of the outfits from the years of touring. Great 60s looks – the Mondrian motif dress with matching boots – come to mind. I have donated a number of them to the UGA Special Collections Library, where they will be safely preserved for years to come.
It is an amazing place – a world-class archival facility and worth checking out if you haven’t been over there. In fact, during the Art Rocks Athens event a few summers back they staged a fashion show there with students and local models wearing many of the donated outfits and it was a blast.
What are some of your favorite beauty products that keep you looking so young?
Olive Oil for my face, I like to shave my face every day for exfoliation. I like Witch Hazel for an astringent. In my makeup bag I have Nars Eye Paint for a great eyeliner paired with a wonderful ergonomic eyeliner brush, the Pro Bent Liner by Sephora. And Date Worthy Lip Lush by Acure Organics. For my hair I like Lavender oil.
Right now some things on my “it list” are Bert’s Bees Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleansing Towelettes, Lather’s Almond Milk and Honey body butter, Sephora’s Disney Collection of Eye Shadow. For my foundation I like the YSL Touché éclat.
What was your favorite performing venue in Athens and today?
Back in the day we only played a handful of Athens gigs before we moved to New York City – a few parties, The Georgia Theatre, Memorial Hall on campus, the Last Resort. We toured up and down the East Coast in my Daddy’s van and eventually relocated to New York.
Over the years we played all over the world – from clubs to theaters, sports stadiums to Music Festivals. So many places over almost a 40-year span (40 year anniversary next February) but places like the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Atlanta’s Fox Theater, and Wolftrap in Virginia stand out.
As far as current day Athens is concerned I feel that Athens is so fortunate to have first-rate venues such as The 40 Watt Club, Live Wire, The Georgia Theatre, and the Foundry, the latter which I really like a lot – I think they have the best sound system around and love the house mixer. But they all offer something special.
Where are some of your local haunts in Athens today?
For a quick bite it’s the Taco Stand, now and forever. We also like Ted’s Most Best for fast but great food. For a little more upscale experience it has to be The National. Love it. Also Little King’s Shuffle Club is the pub of choice. And we love the Graduate Hotel – such a fun design, and so comfortable and tucked away, with great service. And the coffee shop can’t be beat for a place to meet up with friends or just sit with a coffee and a Danish before checking out and heading back home. And it’s close to the Lyndon House Arts Center, another favorite.
What’s your “adult beverage” of choice?
Being from a college town – born and raised in Athens – I am a beer lover.
What do you think of Athens becoming a major player in the craft beer world?
I think it’s fantastic! What better place than a college town for a craft beer to call home? Plus it gives a lot of people jobs, so I’m all for it.
Any reflections on how Athens was when you were performing there frequently versus today?
It’s night and day of course, 100 percent different. We had to leave town to further our music career and now people move to Athens from all over the world with the same goal in mind. That being said, I did see the most endearing scene in Athens the other day. I saw a 1940s style car, maybe a Desoto, filled with the most charming, young types – exuberant, having so much fun, without a care in the world, just living the Athens life. So some things haven’t changed.
Which album was your most memorable?
Of course the records I made with my brother, Ricky, were my favorites, when it was all new and fresh. However, the “Cosmic Thing” album, our comeback LP, showed amazing resilience and power over tragedy after his loss and it gave us “Love Shack” and “Roam.” Plus it represented a look back at the Athens we used to know with songs like “Deadbeat Club,” so that one too is dear to me.
Almost everyone will recognize “Love Shack” or “Roam,” but what song over the years sticks out in your mind?
Well, there are a lot that I’m very proud of but I guess I would have to say, “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” (from “Bouncing off the Satellites,” 1986) stands out and still sounds modern to me today.
What project are you currently working on?
I’ve been working on a project for the last year or so, recording locally in Athens, over at Suny Lyons Studio with Suny Lyons, Ryan Monahan, and Lemuel Hayes, which we are looking to release this fall. I’m very excited about this work. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever done and it has been a great collaborative effort. We are in rehearsals for the live act this summer.
Anything you miss about Athens?
I do miss so much about Athens. Mostly I miss walking down the street and running into lots of different people that I know, or ones that I want to know. And I miss how easy it is to live here and be happy.
Compiled by Chris Hodges
Photographed by Terry Allen