Friday, February 27, 2009

Randy Bewley, 1955-2009

Yesterday was a very sad day: Pylon guitarist Randy Bewley passed away. Most of the obits run like this one, but I don't think they come close to encapsulating the kind of impact his playing, or his band, had on rock music.

I got to know Pylon after they had broken up the first time, when I was in college. I bought a cassette of Hits, which compiled 90% of their entire recorded output at that point (two albums and an EP) into one cassette. Serendipity intervened, as at almost exactly the same time the band re-formed and released their third (and final) album, Chain. I later went out and got Hits on CD as well. I rarely listen to this album, as Mrs. Snilch Report long ago hijacked it for her music collection (and there is no higher praise of my musical taste than that); it remains a thoroughly underrated pop gem. As a band, Pylon consistently remains one of my all-time favorites, despite such a small recorded output of material.

Pylon made their bones in the Athens, GA, scene in the late 70's/early 80's, breaking up just before Athens became ground zero for the next wave of music. Without them, R.E.M. is not R.E.M. - the B-52's and Pylon shaped the scene, and the rest followed. And when they re-formed, R.E.M. returned the favor, putting them on as the opening act for the Green tour. After that tour, Pylon broke up again; their final re-formation came a few years ago (after a 15-year hiatus), when they played the occasional show here and there, and re-released Gyrate. I never saw them live, and wish I had.

Pylon's music has be described as danceable pop tunes with simplistic lyrics. But it was more than that: musically, their songs had a strong sense of urgency, and were brilliant in a simple, understated way. They knew how to write a pop song with a edge to it. And their music did not grow tired after repeated listens.

Randy Bewley's guitar was at the heart of their sound. His playing was laden with hooks -- deceptively simple, consistently smart, and always interesting.
A lot of guitar players owe a lot to him. He's an underappreciated legend and a genius, and he will be missed forever.

Here is a much more thorough and well-written tribute, with videos to boot. Godspeed, Randy.

- Snilch