Pylon, Athens GA., and ‘Gurl Seventeen’ Vanessa Briscoe

Athens, GA. spawned the post punk dance music of R.E.M, The B-52's and Pylon, featuring the Dionysian presence of "Gurl Seventeen" Vanessa Briscoe.

Pylon, featuring Vanessa Briscoe, "Gurl Seventeen". (Photo by Terry Allen)

BOSTON 1980 – Dance. Dancing. That universal need to move your spastic bones and use those special muscles. It needs music. Whether you simply hear it in your head, feel it in your heart or -if you want the best out of it- have it pour over you in wave after wave of rhythm and melody, it completes our connection across space and time.

Hypnotic, transcendental and o-so-easy to do, dance makes the human race less a sprint to a finish than a competition for comity.

Gurl Seventeen is an exhilarating dancer. She is an even more exhilarating vocalist for one of the greatest dance bands of the burgeoning, new post punk sound scape that your humble narrator (YHN) was a part of.

She came from Athens Ga., a place which had already helped make the modern dance dominant by spawning the B-52’s and a scene that would soon produce REM and a whole host of amazing artists.

Pylon’s first single “Cool” rippled through the airwaves, into singles bins at hip record stores and into heavy rotation at the Underground right from the start.

Vanessa Briscoe, lead singer and provocateur of Pylon, from Athens Ga.
(Photo by Laura Levine)

A slow burn sub bass throb that lobbed hip shakin’ mojo starts it off. Groupings of guitar grind and crackle then short-circuit rational thought almost immediately thereafter.

A hypnotic beat that shuffles the ganglia into spinal crackin’ with a malice aforethought snaps it’s fingers and then, Vanessa Briscoe (later Briscoe Hay after she married Bob from the Squalls, another insanely amazing Athens combo) enters like an enraged wraith bearing gifts of myrrh, music and madness.

The use and rituals attendant the with adoration of a 45 rpm single makes imagination run wild. We only had two songs and virtually no photographic notions of the band to guide our anticipation for Pylon’s arrival at their first Boston gig.

They showed up for sound check looking more like the art school students they were than the idealized exemplars of Chomp they would soon become. Fascinated by how Vanessa carried herself YHN lost no time in helping them/her in any way he could.

The process of doing a sound check can be incredibly tedious, an indication of a shitty night ahead. The times it goes smooth as silk however, portend performances that can validate all the reasons folks embark on the horrendous road known as “show.”

Pylon’s sound check went as easy as whiskey down George Jones throat and we had some time to kill.

The same Winter Hill mooks who owned the Underground also owned a bar/restaurant with no allusions to Thornton Wilder called Our House, that was just up Commonwealth Ave from the club.

It was a step above a fern bar by its inclusion of comfy furniture (with stains you didn’t to consider the origin of) and a battered, old grand piano. Hence the “Our House” moniker.

It was decided to go there for some food and drink. Because of Vanessa, YHN was 86ed from an establishment for the first time. It would certainly not be the last but, you always remember your first.

It started off oh, so innocently as most of these things do. There wasn’t even much substance abuse involved. If anything, it was youthful exuberance, the joyful discovery of kindred kooks in places far from home and the usual tension between boize and gurls.

It started with some good-natured thumps on the shoulder, a reversion to a playground with no adult supervision. At some point, feats of strength became a lively demonstration of influential, as Vanessa would say “rasslin’” moves vividly remembered from our youth.

Vanessa seems to think it was a demonstration of the “Camel Clutch” that precipitated our being bounced out of the bar.

More likely than not, it was simply gravity, the exploitation of our combined mass that somehow propelled us across, into and over a love seat. It tipped over us and laughing manically we crawled from underneath and started to square off once more.

We circled each other like weary centurions, looking for an opening, some chink in each other’s stance when two waiters, a cook and someone who looked like a slumming Elliot Gould burst-in and demanded our immediate exit.

The Dionysian presence of Vanessa Briscoe from Pylon. (Photo by Michael Lachowski)

As we left, we were told with all the sternness able to be mustered by people confused by what they have just seen, that we were no longer welcome there.

Pretending to be ashamed of ourselves, we all sauntered back to the club where some old friends of theirs from Athens were waiting. They went off pealing laughter about the story and promising to be back in time for the show. They were late.

As usual, the club was packed to the gills. Freedom of movement was minimal and air to breathe was in short supply since these were the days when you could still smoke in clubs. It sucked for lung tissue but made even the simplest lighting seem noir-ish and provocative.

With Vanessa in the lead, the band took the stage as the crowd parted like the Red Sea for her. Needless to say, they killed it. Imagine two hundred people bouncing in a Dionysian frenzy. Yeah sure, that has been around since Elvis.

How often though, does the act onstage participate in it? The genius of Pylon is that they got lost in the music as much, if not more than the folks in the audience.

Nowadays, Pylon are considered one of the fundaments of the Athens canon. REM gave them mainstream access with their cover of one of the bands most revered songs.

Gurl Seventeen gave me courage.

There were no ejections from any type of establishment in the writing of this piece.

Your humble narrator Lewis Lambert Strether is a minor character in “The Ambassadors” and is known mostly for wondering if his life has been wasted. His doubt made it hard for him to complete an impossible mission.

Punk rock music can be heard regularly on John Carlucci’s SpeedieJohn program on
Channel 21 of Little Stevens Underground Garage on Sirius XM Satellite radio.

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