...with this meticulously reported microhistory, Hale, who once played in a band and ran an underground club in Athens, 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 ... Hale is dead-on in the details she relies on to evoke a scene that was in full swing in Athens when I arrived. She wisely emphasizes its L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly and female-empowering flavors ... She is smart on the way Athens art and music were defined by the tension between the rejection and embrace of Southern culture, both aesthetically and politically. She has a keen eye for fashion too ... [Hale] is right to criticize the Athens scene for its failure to attract a sizable group of nonwhite participants, even as its politics were antiracist.
... you are in for a wild ride with Cool Town, Grace Elizabeth Hale’s hybrid ethnography-memoir. And even if Pylon and Love Tractor are old hat to you, Cool Town is still going to teach you a whole lot ... she toggles back and forth between relatively standard historical narration and memoiristic exploration, and even a little bit of sharp score-settling ... Hale is refreshingly up-front about the evolution of her own artistic and political subjectivity in Athens ... Hale’s attention to the local is thrilling ... One of the most fascinating—and certainly one of the knottiest—threads in the book has to do with the Southern identity formation that was so crucial to the Athens scene ... Hale mostly leaves race alone as a category of analysis, except for a broad claim that it is unlikely that African Americans would have found much appealing about the willful bohemianism of the scene. That is a compelling counterfactual that elides as much as it explains ... Cool Town makes a convincing—and blazingly readable—case for the arty youth of Athens having invented a generative new form of bohemian life and artistic creation that would exert an influence well beyond the environs of the university, the town, and the region ... another Athens-based band, The Mendoza Line, would release a dark and haunting record they called We’re All in This Alone. The strength of Grace Hale’s Cool Town is that she convinces us that, at least for a time, the bohemians of Athens, Georgia, gave the lie to that darkly ironic title.
... it’s hard to deny that the Athens Effect was of unusual proportions ... It 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 ... Hale’s account clarifies that all this didn’t just sprout fortuitously like kudzu. It was cultivated like sweet corn ... she pushes back at claims that white indie scenes necessarily serve as advance agents of gentrification by saying that Athens has avoided the drastic upheavals that have beset Seattle, the Bay Area, or Brooklyn—but it would have helped to explore all that in more depth ... But Hale does us a favor by recapturing the experience. Something goes astray when people forget what it feels like to have those ideals and aims, to immerse themselves in that long conversation, and, as the B-52s put it, to dance that mess around.
... an insider’s perspective, but with the thorough research typical of her profession. The result is less a music or history book than a work of cultural anthropology in which 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, and yet the book stops short of convincing us that Athens truly changed American culture, as the title suggests. Artists and musicians still struggle to reconcile ambition and craft, and most still operate in the margins of even as nurturing a city as Athens. Most still struggle to make inroads beyond the arts in the city, let alone in the rest of America. And yet there’s much to admire in a group of people who strove, and continue to strive, to live according to their own values.
Grace Elizabeth Hale's Cool Town is one of those books with a subtitle that sounds like an oversell: How Athens, Georgia Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture. Hale has the receipts, though ... 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.
... historian Grace Elizabeth Hale makes the case that without the small Southern college town, there would be no grungy Seattle, no hipster Williamsburg, no weird Austin ... she does a good job of reconstructing the band’s fabled early years ... Hale does an even better job resuscitating those bands that did not play Japan numerous times, those artists the frat boys hated ... Cool Town should inspire widespread ransacking of old shoeboxes to dig up forgotten cassette tapes.
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 ... This exhaustive history will please fans of obscure indie movements.
This entertaining history takes a nostalgic look at the 1970s and ’80s indie music mecca of Athens, Ga ... The writing at times can get knotted with hipster detail, but Hale’s rich, personal narrative draws readers in ... This colorfully rendered reverie will delight indie music fans.