Kate Pierson: From the B-52s to Kate's
For DVEIGHT, DECEMBER 2017
The author Tom Robbins speculates that redheads come from another planet. I didn’t ask Kate if red was her natural color, but there’s evidence to suggest.
It’s 1989. It’s the opening scene of the “Love Shack” music video and, bouncing on the top edge of the back seat of a whale-sized, aquamarine Chrysler with her hair in a crimson topknot the size of a volleyball, the B-52s’ Kate Pierson belts out that iconic triplet:
I'm headin' down the Atlanta highway
Lookin' for the love getaway
Headed for the love getaway
When she swings her long legs over the side of the car in the next shot and sticks a perfect landing in a bell-bottomed, halter-topped suit and stilettos in the driveway of the Shaque D’Amour, it’s official: She’s not like other girls.
Her calling-card red ‘do is varies in hue, length and shape in every ensuing scene, so who knows what’s real. But almost thirty years later, it glows brighter than ever – an otherworldly shade of magenta stoplight – and the set of the original love getaway is just a few towns over.
- - - - - - - -
LOVE SHACK I: ATHENS, GEORGIA
The actual “Love Shack,” set way back in the middle of a field, was Kate’s first Athens home in the 1970s: five-room cabin, tin roof, no indoor plumbing.
When she landed there, five miles from town, her aim was ‘back to the land.’ “ She had cultivated an appreciation for the simple joys of country life on a family farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, where she developed a taste for ‘real food,’ as opposed to the canned spinach and frozen peas she knew from Weehawken: “In Athens I had a huge garden and learned to can and ‘put up’ vegetables and jams and pickles. I raised goats and chickens, made goat milk cheese, had blue eggs from the chickens...”
She didn’t plan for her funky little shack to become a band retreat (where the foundation for “Rock Lobster” – the song that pulled John Lennon out of the deepest creative lull of his life – was laid) and she didn’t choose Athens for the music scene: There wasn’t one yet.
But inevitably, she made contact with other out-there local residents: the Wilson siblings Cindy and Ricky, Keith Strickland, Fred Schneider. They started building their own far-out world from scratch, and it took off like a rocket. They became the B-52’s.
The band still tours occasionally (and has a blast in the process), but at a different pace: “I can’t imagine doing it like we used to: Get on a bus and live on that bus for, like, a year. I mean, we had some really good times back there in the cosmic days. We’d party on that bus and dance…” Kate pauses for a moment to picture “the cosmic days.”
“That bus would be zooming down the highway, and we’d all dance and be playing loud music and just hanging onto the rail on the top of the bus… Oh my god we had so much fun. And even when the bus would stop, it would be parked outside of the hotel, and we’d get back on the bus and all party. So,” she said, “those were more wild times.”
That bus brought her and the band to many a hotel, where she, perhaps subconsciously, stocked up inspiration she’d draw upon later, for her future venture in the world of vacation rentals. She found the persistent interruptions of typical hotels – mini bar restocking and housekeeping calls – grating. But stays in places like the iconic Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, full of whimsically themed rooms, stirred her imagination.
The wild world the B-52’s built also left a strong impression: “We thrived on B movies, science fiction, also Fellini... We read tons of ‘50s and ‘60s Vogues, especially the ‘60s… Diana Vreeland…” she recalled. “We loved mid-century modern stuff. It was all over thrift stores at the time. On tour, Fred and I and the band would go ‘tiquen’ or ‘junkin’. I had a good little collection of things.”
It would all come in handy later.
- - - - - - -
LOVE SHACK II: HIGHLAND, NEW YORK
Kate didn’t move to the Catskills for the music scene either. Tons of fellow musicians, including ‘52s alums Sara Lee (also of Gang of Four, Ani Difranco) and Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie’s bass player) lived in the Hudson Valley, but that was just a coincidence.
In fact, like Athens, there was no discernable music scene in the Catskills... at first glance. “I found that when I first moved up here everyone was just holed up in their mountain lair. More lately, in the past ten years even, more people are playing, there are more venues, and more people are jamming and cross collaborating,”including Kate herself.
But how did she land in the Catskills of all places? “After Athens, we all moved to this place called Lake Mahopac, and we all lived in one house. That was kind of crazy,” she said. (Just imagine.) It lead to another group move — this time to NYC, where everyone lived separately. That didn’t last either.
In 1985, Ricky Wilson was lost to AIDS. It hit the band hard. “After Ricky died, Keith really wanted to get out of the city. Laura Levine, a rock photographer who lives down the road, invited us both to come up and stay a couple nights. There’s a legend that if you stay up here overnight or a couple nights, you just never leave. It’s the blessing. Some people say it’s the curse, but it’s the blessing.”
Keith and Kate, each blessed by the curse (or cursed by the blessing), stayed and nested in the area.
Her first home in the Catskills was a cabin on Yankeetown Pond, where she moved in 1987. Two years later, at Dreamland Studios near Woodstock, the band recorded the groundbreaking hit “Love Shack.” And the beloved video was shot at the Highland home of designers Phillip Mayberry & Scott Walker, in none other than Ulster County.
- - - - - - -
LOVE SHACK(S) III: MOUNT TREMPER
Perhaps you’ve seen the meadow, eighteen miles down Route 28 from the Kingston traffic circle, beyond the tiny burg of Boiceville and before the Emerson Kaleidoscope, up against the Slide Mountain Wilderness on the left: a campy, rugged sign with red sticks leaning together to make the letters, KATE’S LAZY MEADOW.
Each abode is its own color-conscious world of mid-century modern decor and accoutrements. Some rooms are themed: Owls. Flying saucers (on wallpaper handmade by Mayberry/Walker). Flamenco women. Some themes run throughout: Artwork and working sketches by students of the Byrdcliffe Colony, plucked from dusty abandoned portfolios antique and junk stores around Woodstock, or horror flicks on VHS and working VCRs. In each suite’s eclectic charm, everything fits perfectly.
But when Kate drove past the property for the first time, FOR SALE sign posted, it was an aged strip of no-frills roadside efficiency cabins for trout fishing enthusiasts on summer jaunts. In classic Woodstock style, the rooms were lined in knotty pine, by that time dingy from tobacco smoke and neglect. And there was no telling how much it would change her life.
She was struck by the beauty of the Esopus creek bank and the birds on the water. She thought, “Hey, fix it up, theme the rooms — This would be an easy project.” A botany teacher was the previous owner. “He’d planted all these apple trees, cherry trees, rows and rows of these beautiful blue birch trees…”
But the nine cabins were in disarray, and Kate needed a partner.
Enter Monica Coleman. It’s Monica to whom Kate credits the possibility of her Lazy Meadow thriving as a business. “She is really the driving force behind Lazy Meadow. Of course, we both had fun decorating, but Monica did the hard work and make it all come to life.”
At the start of it all, Kate knew Monica as a friend, asked her to help with the project. But over the couple years of renovations leading up to the launch of the business in 2004, Monica and Kate fell in love. In 2015, they were married.
Now, their project thrives, and ancillary Lazy properties fan out from the Meadow — Kate’s Lazy Lodge, Shack, and Cabin are all within a few minutes’ drive of the original property. Not to mention Kate’s Lazy Desert in Joshua Tree.
Kate and Monica live together nearby in Woodstock, with their family of german shepherds – Loki, Zeus, and Athena. (The Greek goddess Athena, by the way, was a redhead.)
- - - - - - -
Things are different now, but not everything. The B-52’s may have released their final album, but Kate can’t promise they won’t record another single. They still tour together, but Cindy and Fred have solo albums now. Fred is embarking on a coffee business venture. Kate has the Lazies, and in 2015, she put out her first solo album, too.
Watching the official music video for its autobiographical titular track, “Guitars and Microphones,” childhood photos ebb and slip across the screen. There’s a young Kate grinning in front of a retro Christmas tree, standing on a living room windowsill dressed at Superman, playing an acoustic guitar... All with long, authentic ginger locks of a more subdued, more terrestrial persuasion.