The Swimming Pool Q’s
The Deep End
If you’re a native of Atlanta like myself, you have seen a lot of changes in our fair city over the years. As someone who was born at Emory Hospital (not far from the Protestant Radio and TV Center, where this album was recorded in the early ’80s), I’ve watched the city grow, and in the process, gain more crime, traffic, and snotty interlopers from other parts of world than you can shake a dead cat at. Largely gone is the unique élan that helped define our place in the landscape of America. Today, it’s skyscraper after skyscraper nudging each other out of the way, the state symbol is a building crane, and all our highways are redneck Autobahns.
One thing that hasn’t really changed, in all those years, is that for some strange reason, Atlanta is not really thought of when you come to list great American rock and roll cities. Athens, our up the road neighbor, sure. Macon? You bet. Hell, even lowly Waycross gave us Gram Parsons. And even though Atlanta is a major concert venue and center of commerce when it comes to distributing product, there is no “Atlanta rock sound.” Mainly because there is no real “Atlanta scene.” Sure, we have plenty of bands, and places for them to play, but the nightlife in Atlanta is centered around drunken yahoos in Gap wear, baseball caps proudly backwards, guzzling imported microbrews like the world was ending in an hour, and by damn god, they ain’t gonna be sober for it. It’s no wonder that the date rape drug GHB is known as “Georgia Home Boy.” It’s hard work chasing skirt when your shirttail is sticking out of your zipper. Between the frat boys who steadfastly refuse to admit they aren’t in college anymore, wannabe rock stars who work on landscaping crews and live with mommy or a stripper, and the flocks of woozy, old-before their time bottle blondes balancing a 40 hour a week temp job with the endless rounds of Buckhead barcrawls they feel prone to traverse, this city is too busy mackin’ on itself to support a scene.
Which is not to say we don’t have the goods. One of the hottest rap acts, Outkast, is from here, so is The Marvelous 3. This city has always been blessed with some rather good, if somewhat mainstream talent. For each occurrence of The Producers (oh, you remember “What’s He Got (That I Ain’t Got?)”), there was The Brains, who Cyndi Lauper stole “Money Changes Everything” from. For every Starbuck (“Moonlight Feels Right”), there were The Satellites (no Georgia needed — the real band existed, flourished, and died before that crap tag got added on). From punk to funk to junk, Atlanta has had it.
But few bands so perfectly summed up our little nest of strange like Jeff Calder and The Swimming Pool Q’s. After studying with novelist Harry Crews at the University of Florida, Calder found his way to Atlanta, and along with guitarist Bob Elsey, vocalist Anne Richmond Boston, and a revolving cast of drummers and bassists, he founded the Q’s and has kept some form of the band intact ever since. Equal parts Captain Beefheart and James Brown, with an acerbic, lancing tongue, Calder’s southern-fried fanaticism meshes so well with Elsey’s gymnastic guitar that it is impossible to imagine them apart. Dancing to a song such as “Ratbait” can cause whiplash — and most likely did, on some of those humid, sex-drenched nights at Hedgen’s, which was a little bit of heaven in Buckhead, all those years ago. So when they released “Ratbait” on a single along with “The A-Bomb Woke Me Up” in 1980, we all loved it, because they were ours. Frankly, we were stunned when A+M signed them a bit later, and not too surprised when the band sank without a trace back into the incestuous Buckhead/Brookhaven waters that bred them. Over the years, they would rear their kinetic heads at some show or another, or release a new single. Hell, they even got it together and released a brilliant album, World War 2.5, that while not featuring Boston, still captured the early Q’s magic. I think it topped out at about 3,000 copies or so. Who knows, now?
So, surprise, surprise when Mr. Unwitting Consumer wanders into his local music store and sees the first and best Q’s album, The Deep End sitting in the racks, butting heads with the Limp Whatevers of the world, just as proud as you please. Flip it over, and oh my head, the album has grown in the 20 years or so since it’s birth. Damn thing is twice as long now, chock full of unreleased songs, lost singles, and demos. An event this stupendous is almost enough to pull our eyes away from pit row, don’t cha know. All remastered and sounding spiffy, with an exhaustive history penned by Calder himself, this is almost too good to be believed.
Listening to the record now, with a few years behind us, brings a smile to your face. Elsey proves himself (again) to be, along with his former teacher Glenn Phillips (the real GP, from The Hampton-Grease Band, not the other guy), the best guitarist to slither out of Atlanta. Calder is almost too smart for his own good, but then again, so are Captain Beefheart and Jon Langford, being in the position of having to almost “dumb down” their vision to make it fit the rigid confines of rock music. Calder does it by utilizing odd time signatures and a floating pool of instrumentation, from saxophones to sitars. On headphones, Anne Richmond Boston on “Little Misfit” or “A-Bomb” sets up the typical “chick singer” pose just to smack it down again. She’s a minx, a vixen, and a prim little schoolmarm, all in one.
It always surprised me when people thought the Q’s sounded strange. To me, they sounded perfectly normal, just like that imaginary music that reeled in my head. “Stick In My Hand,” Calder’s epic look at the transgressions of high school, sounded just as natural to me as “In a Gadda Da Vida” did to an earlier generation. Listening to it now with grownup ears hasn’t changed my opinion a bit, if perhaps only to strengthen the impression I had as a youth. The Swimming Pool Q’s were, for one bright shining moment, our greatest treasure. The fact that they never caught on in the mainstream, radio crap world only makes it seem more right. There is no place for “Ratbait” amongst a culture of Britneys and Korns. Such intensely real music was never intended for the Buckhead Bozo the Clowns. They didn’t want it then, and they won’t want it now. Somewhere today, a young guitarist is attempting to get his fingers around the neck of his pawnshop guitar, all posed to be the next Bob Elsey, and he doesn’t even know it. That’s OK. The Q’s did their work, way back when. Maybe it’s just taken the rest of the world 20 years to catch up to them.