I went to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school thirty miles west of Chicago and, until I met my second wife 22 years ago, I considered those college years (1966-1970) to be the best of my life.
That first full school year I was one of a group of students who drove into Old Town (the Greenwich Village of Chicago) every Saturday night with the intention of sharing our faith in a winsome and intelligent way with other young folks (mostly hippies). Throughout the evening a couple of us would distribute half-page flyers and invite people to a rented space called The Extension coffee house for food and drink, live music and deep philosophical and spiritual discussions.
The room was in a building located down a winding alleyway next to the entrance to the legendary Second City improv comedy club (training ground for future SNL stars) and across the street from Mother Blues (which featured blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Chicago’s own Paul Butterfield). At that time in my life, I had zero interest in seeing performances at either venue. Coulda. Shoulda.
One member of that coffee house team who could play and sing was Cathy Pierson from Rutherford NJ. We shared a common appreciation of Bob Dylan and the Judy Collins version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. In spring of 1967 I took Cathy out for a date to an afternoon campus event, followed by a small gathering afterward at the home of the school chaplain (that’s me on the far left in the picture). Shortly after that date Cathy and my roommate, Paul McGarvey, became an item. Sadly, for both of us, Paul died in a motorcycle accident during the summer of 1967. For whatever reason, Cathy transferred the next year to Boston University where she graduated in journalism. Then for years I never heard of her or from her.
Fast forward now to spring of 1981 when I attended a B-52s concert at the Exit Inn in Nashville (I had moved there in 1978). The group had no bass player, and the vocals were unusual to say the least, but compared to other mildly punkified groups like the Ramones they had a unique sound—and you could dance to them. I’d bought their first two albums mostly because of the infectious beat and the curious lyrics.
That fall, another former Wheaton roommate of mine, Stephen Reilly surprised me one day with a phone call, saying that he would be driving through Nashville and asking if he could stay over with me for one night. I was keen to hear what Steve had been up to in the intervening years and to share with him tales of my own circuitous journey. We went out to a Mexican restaurant and over salsa and chips, he surprised me in a different way with this piece of news. “Hey, did you know that we went to college with a rock star?” he asked.
“No, I wasn’t aware of anyone,” I replied. “Who was it, Steve?”
“Kate Pierson of the B-52s,” came the answer. “Have you heard of them?”
“What? I bought the first two albums and coincidentally I saw them in person just a few months ago. Wait, are you telling me that one of those gals with the beehive hairdo was Cathy Pierson?” Yes, friends, I had read the album credits but never made the connection.
Fast forward again to 2017 to my life in Massachusetts (wife Laurie and I had moved to Chestnut Hill down the street from Boston University in 2014). That spring another Wheaton friend, Maynard Clark (no relation) contacted me to tell me that he’d had dinner with Kate Pierson who was in town because the B-52s were going to do a concert with the Boston Pops. Would I like her email address? Hey, does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?
That evening Cathy/Kate and I had a nice little email chat, and at the end she asked me, “Would u like to come to our show with the Boston pops tomorrow night / Maynard is coming also.” Those lines were copied and pasted intact from the original email.
Tickets and backstage passes in hand, Laurie and I did attend the show and it was pretty much what I had expected. The Boston Pops trying to blend with B-52s music was listenable but incongruous as heck. After the concert we did go backstage, where Kate told me that she had written a song about Paul McGarvey, and it had been released on an album available only in Japan. Don’t believe me? Check out the second picture. Fifty years after the first one. Almost to the month.