Admired and Influential Musician

Athens, Georgia musician Randy Bewley — an original member of New Wave/rock band Pylon and a high-respected figure on the Athens music community — died this week. I read the news online at the Athens weekly paper Flagpole’s web site (read music editor Michelle Gilzenrat’s piece here). The Athens daily paper Banner-Herald ran a feature by entertainment editor Julie Phillips (with comments from Athens musicians) this week as well.

According to reports, Bewley (pictured above at far right and below at top left) died on Wed. Feb. 25 after he suffered from a heart attack on Monday evening while driving in downtown Athens. He lost control of his van, was injured, and remained in a coma for a full day.

The remaining members of Pylon released a statement on their Facebook page:

“Today, our bandmate and brother passed away at a little before 5 p.m. with his family and friends at his side. He will be missed, even as we celebrate his life and creativity. His guitar sound was as special as he was and always will be. Randy’s guitar work defined not only a generation of sound but Randy himself. His visual art, painting and photos, combined with his signature sound formed a loose set of boundaries that helps understand him. His quiet devotion to family and friends will become a benchmark for those he leaves behind.”

Pylon were one of the pioneering and inspiring bands of the early modern Athens music scene. They had a brief but influential early-’80s heyday, following musically and stylistically somewhat in the footsteps of The B-52’s. Bewley, singer Vanessa Briscoe-Hay, bassist Michael Lachowski, and drummer Curtis Crowe pounded out some of the weirdest rock and dance music to bounce outta the South.

My first experience with Pylon was via R.E.M.’s 1986 cover of “Crazy,” a jangly, minor-key pop song with a stiff dance beat, originally released by Pylon on their 1983 Chomp album. Then came the stylish rockumentary Athens, Ga.: Inside/Out (released on video in 1987). The segment on Pylon was mesmerizing stuff featuring killer vintage live show film footage (mostly in Super-8 film), and amusing interviews with Vanessa and Michael — both of whom emphasized the fact they were a band of artists who could hardly play their instruments, but were dedicated to making off-kilter music that was fun to play and perform.

Here’s a clip from Inside/Out on YouTube featuring the song “Stop It” from the band’s first full-length, Gyrate. DFA Records re-released Gyrate in the fall of 2007, re-mastered from the original reels, with the addition of their landmark 1979 debut 7” single “Cool” b/w “Dub” (1979) and unreleased demo track “Functionality.” The liner notes were from Fred Schneider, Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham, and Michael Stipe.

Bewley was a friendly, cool, and supportive guy. As part of Pylon, he was part of the spirit of the Athens music scene at its very best. “Turn up the volume.”

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