“If You Took One Block Of New York City And Set It Down in Rural Georgia”

Mar 10th, 2012 | By | Category: Feature

History revolves around a nexus – 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of Duke Ferdinand, etc. The biggest one for Greensboro was November 3, 1979. Two groups of outside agitators – a KKK/Nazi alliance from Stokes County and the Communist Workers Party out of Chicago descended upon Greensboro that day. In a move that defied all logic, the CWP goaded armed redneck bigots to Greensboro by holding a “Death to the Klan” rally. And the shooting began. Four college campuses were locked down- Bennett, A&T, Greensboro College and UNCG. Over the next few months, people became afraid to leave their homes.

But the next turn of the nexus came. The Brothers Three-Miles, Ian and Stewart Copeland were making changes to the burgeoning music scene nationwide. The Copelands were the sons of a CIA station chief father and MI6 agent mother, growing up in North Africa and the Middle East. Stewart Copeland started a band in London called the Police. Miles started a record label called IRS in New York. Ian bought and renamed a booking agency called Empire to FBI in Atlanta. He needed to book the Police on their first US tour. With limited funds, Ian developed a network of clubs – CBGBs and Hurrahs in New York, Maxwells in Hoboken, The Old North Church in Philadelphia, The Marble Bar in Baltimore, The Station in Carrboro, The Milestone in Charlotte, 688 in Atlanta, and Fridays in Greensboro. Copeland brought the Police through this circuit once in the late 70s and used it for the next wave of IRS bands – The GoGos and most importantly for us, REM, who became a staple band at Fridays.

It was the end of the Punk era. The Police themselves turned the musical part of that nexus. Born out of the emotion of punk, they were opposite of the punk sensibility of “just make an angry noise”. Stewart Copeland hired Andy Summers for guitar, who just as at home with classical and jazz as he was with rock. He hired an unknown jazz bassist and singer named Gordon Sumner, who had little experience with rock. All three were consummate musicians in their own right and together they changed the music. The 80s were born.

The city began to live again as bands now known by all filtered through Greensboro. Not just REM but the Violent Femmes, Black Flag, Jason and The Scorchers, The Psychedelic Furs and many more.

Along with the new music scene filling Fridays to the breaking point week after week, a typed, sometimes handwritten newsletter came from out of the blue called No Greensboro. There was much emphasis on the music scene but it also expressed the sentiments of the times. It was edgy, with content that was no-hold- barred, sarcastic and humorous. It appeared throughout the city randomly as a stack of xeroxed copies. No one really knew who was responsible for it. It also covered the arts community to the extent possible for the times. (I’ll apologize in advance for the photos – there weren’t any scanners available then, these are actual photographs of the pages.) This is the cover of the first issue, complete with a staple in the upper left corner:
NG1

It came out right around the time of the last Who concert in Greensboro. The band referred to as Krackers eventually became The Graphic, a band that I spent 6 years with.

This page contains one of the earliest interviews with REM done by Lynne Blakey after one of their earlier gigs at Fridays:

 

Before Henry Rollins became a stand-up comic, actor and poet, he was the front man for the punk band Black Flag, seen here on the cover of No Greensboro:

The parallels between No Greensboro and Avant Greensboro are enlightening to say the least. Avalon Kenny’s parents, Bill Kenny and DD Thornton were part of the scene. And so were others, myself included as part of the original group. Avant Greensboro strives to make the arts known and chronicles it all. No Greensboro chronicled and informed the same way.

What does it really take to get the music and arts scene back to its former glory? There isn’t magic bullet but what brought it about before was a confluence of factors. Greensboro has not had a consistent centralized club to gather around since. History has shown that when there is such a venue run by someone is willing to take big chances with new and vital music and arts, auxiliary venues pop up around it. At this time, we have a nexus moment again. Two big questions could hold the key to the answer. The so-called “noise ordinance” may be the single dumbest thing to come from the Greensboro City Council in many years. There is an old adage about “if you don’t like noise, don’t move next to an airport!”. It applies here. Due only to some minor complaints from a very small few, the city is actually considering this ordinance. If these few don’t like noise, downtown shouldn’t be the place for them. One answer may be an exception to the ordinance for the downtown area. Stay on your council members to make sure this doesn’t put downtown back to sleep.

The other important question is a new Performing Arts Center. A well-chosen downtown location will probably direct the future of the arts in Greensboro. The downtown area needs to be the place for the arts and the destination for anyone visiting Greensboro – the nexus point for the future.

Credits: Photographs courtesy Rusty Moore, thanks to Ian Copeland for his assistance in compiling the timeline.

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9 Comments to ““If You Took One Block Of New York City And Set It Down in Rural Georgia””

  1. Robot says:

    This is a great article about some music history a lot of folks here don't know so much about. I'm really skeptical, however, about the notion that a performing arts center downtown will serve as a hub of local performing arts. A lot of people are putting a lot of faith into this thing – from all different perspectives. I think it is far more likely that a performing arts center, wherever it is located, will bring in some great acts that otherwise would go to Durham or Asheville, but will not do much at all for the local music scene. If people want to support it, that's great. But don't do that under the impression that it will help our Greensboro-based musicians or other performing artists. That's not really it's purpose.

    • Dwight says:

      It can serve that purpose. But building it is only the start. It has allow more than just big name act, it would need to allow local, regional, and other acts as well as performance artist and some gallery space. If it drives a crowd in, it gives the art and music venues already downtown more visibility. But we still need a push to support all artists, no matter what.

  2. Bill Kenny says:

    So many memories for me in this article. I remember my father walking in to our den and glaring at me after reading a "letter to the editor" I had written about the Klan/Nazi CWP shooting and the aftermath. He called me a rabble rouser. Would be a good name for a band.

    Very good article, Dwight.

  3. Good article.

    A downtown performing arts center would be the rising tide to lift all bands. The War Memorial Auditorium was built in 1959. A time when the suburbs were the place to be for white people to see "performance." I imagine the corner of Lee and Chapman was a lot more suburban in GSO back then. And at that time, downtown still had a life of its own.

    The writing is on the wall in Asheville and Durham, where creativity is valued.

  4. Robert Ashford says:

    Excellent article. I remember some weeks that Friday's line up was so strong that I ended up going three or four nights. Probably contributed to my taking 15 years to finish college.

  5. tommy cowett says:

    I will never forget the look on the faces of my brothers from nc a&t state after the othermothers ep "no place like home" release. Cover: a clan cross burning photo taken from the networks. No place like home! Black people in those days 1980's did not understand white sarcasim. I never had the pleasure of speaking to them ever again. They thought we were raceist

    pigs. What a shame and a bad experience. I don't like playing the song "rodeo" anymore.

  6. Rusty Moore says:

    Fun to see the bit about No Greensboro, which was the work of Phil Pfaff, Greg Eason and myself (N.G.'s Chiquita Ferrari in the R.E.M. interview above) with contributions by Raymond Tucker, Lynn Blakey, Jeff Clayton and others.

  7. manny ray says:

    I saw that Black Flag show at Fridays, real fuckin' eye opener that was!

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