First off, I apologize in advance if I tend to spotlight '80s artists from North Carolina a bit more often than demographically appropriate. However, perhaps residents of other U.S. states and other nations who may be reading this will be willing to cut me a little slack given the relative dearth of things to be proud of lately coming out of my home state. Of course, I'm speaking chiefly in a social and political sense there, as North Carolina has always boasted and continues to boast some of the finest artists in the world across a variety of media. So that brings us back to the music quickly enough, I suppose.
This week I'm spotlighting some fine '80s college rock with a bit of a heavy heart, as sometimes also happens on this site. Back on July 21, 2013, the music world and the state of North Carolina lost a major contributor to the early alternative music scene in former Let's Active bassist Faye Hunter. Following some years of personal difficulty and physical decline, Hunter apparently took her own life - leaving this world just a few miles away from Winston-Salem, where she and Let's Active leader Mitch Easter worked together 30 years ago bringing so much joy into it. Even though it's becoming more common every year for '80s music artists to join the ever-growing ranks of those departed too soon, it's still always a blow to anyone even marginally inspired by the music they made.
As I've admitted on this site more than once, many of the great jangle pop bands of the '80s would have remained unknown to me far longer than they were without the influence of a friend of mine from down the street where I grew up in semi-rural Buncombe County. I realized the other day when reading over some old material on this site that I've failed previously to mention him by name. I won't drop any last names in an attempt to protect the innocent (and guilty), but Scott was one of a few friends of mine back in the day who had his finger on the pulse of indie rock of this ilk. Because of him (and generally only because of him), I developed a working knowledge of the array of North Carolina bands that emerged in the wake and vein of the developing legend known as R.E.M. So I probably first heard about Let's Active during the late '80s, which was after Hunter had made her impact on the band - an impact felt strongly on its first two records, 1983's EP Afoot and 1984's Cypress. Since then, of course, I've had plenty of years to enjoy the work of Easter's seminal band, and even though he is far better known as R.E.M.'s early producer than as an accomplished musician in his own right, the output of Let's Active plays a central role in '80s music history. 1984's "Waters Part" languidly spotlights the easygoing yet urgent nature of Easter as a songwriter and lead vocalist. The jangly guitars certainly make themselves prominently known but never seem to be merely gimmicks, which is an important distinction in the early years of R.E.M.'s massive impact on underground rock. Cypress was the last Let's Active album to feature Hunter as a full-time member, but her keen sense of contrast and the significance of sonic shading leave an imprint all over this early alternative classic. For those who knew her over the years, Hunter will surely continue to maintain a presence - despite her untimely and now-permanent physical absence.
- Sample or download "Waters Part" here.
- Compare prices on Let's Active CDs here.
- Top R.E.M. Songs of the '80s
- Top U.S. Regional Music Scenes of the '80s