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Faye Hunter, rest in peace

What you had yesterday is only memories; what you will have tomorrow is your dreams and what you will do today, let it be love.” ~ Santosh Kalwar

Late Thursday night, Faye Hunter posted that quote to her Facebook page. Apparently, it was meant to be her final message to the world. Hunter died Saturday night in Advance, near Winston-Salem, victim of an apparent suicide. She was 59 and will be best-remembered for her time in the 1980s Winston-Salem band Let's Active.

"I'm not shocked, but I am surprised about the timing," her friend Jamie K. Sims said Sunday night. "She'd been talking about this for quite some time. The past three or so years were really bad."

In happier times, Hunter was the original bassist in Mitch Easter's group Let's Active in the early 1980s. The trio of Easter, Hunter and drummer Sara Romweber was part of a wave of Southern underground pop that eventually took R.E.M. to mainstream stardom and the top of the charts in the 1990s.

"Faye was Mitch's girlfriend and they were the perfect rock couple," said former Winston-Salem Journal music critic Ed Bumgardner, who sold Hunter her first bass and showed her how to play it. "She was an incredibly cool, sweet, kind person, always gracious. Also cute as a bug's ear. Everybody fell in love with Faye at least once."

Hunter was a key player on the first two Let's Active releases -- 1983's poppy mini-album "Afoot" and the brilliant 1984 full-length "Cypress" -- which were both fascinating combinations of sunny pop sensibilities and dark undercurrents. She also contributed to 1986's "Big Plans For Everybody" before departing the group, adding impeccable harmonies, on-the-one bass work and the occasional lead vocal.

"As soon as we got the band together, it felt like we really had a thing," Easter said. "That version of Let's Active didn't last long, which was the sad part, but it was great while it did. I remember Faye being interested in playing bass, deciding to do it and following through. She was always good and got better. A natural who could take things and run with them, which was a thrill to be around. Also a big animal person, and anybody who loves animals so much has got to be o.k."

Sunday night, Hunter's status as an important part of North Carolina's musical ecosystem was in evidence as remembrances lit up Facebook upon news of her death. Peter Holsapple, co-leader of Let's Active's Winston-Salem peers the dB's, described her as "the big sister I never had during my teen years," and numerous people posted pictures and YouTube links -- and lamented that they'd been unable to help her.

"It's sad that it takes something like this to see how many people care," Bumgardner said. "Faye didn't think anybody remembered her or cared, and nothing could be further from the truth. I think she'd be shocked to see how far this is resonating, all over the world. A core group cared very deeply and tried to reach out, help her climb out of the hole she saw herself in. She tried, but it didn't happen."

Hunter gave a rare public performance in May at Winston-Salem Centennial, a musical celebration that reunited many of the key acts from Winston's '80s underground-pop glory days as Comboland. But in recent years, she struggled with job woes and the stress of care-giving for her elderly mother.

“She’d become physically worn down, very thin and having physical problems from the stress of working and care-giving,” Sims said. “Faye was thinking about leaving, but… I guess this is the only way she could figure out how to do it.”

Funeral and memorial service arrangements are still pending.

ADDENDA: Obit from the Winston-Salem Journal; a remembrance on WFDD; the official obit (written, I believe, by her longtime friend Ed Bumgardner); and Mitch Easter's remembrance.

The return of the Cosmopolitans

Unless you were frequenting New York City's alternative-music nightclubs at the dawn of the 1980s, you've probably never heard of the Cosmopolitans. And that's a real shame, because they were an amazingly fun little tangent of the new-wave era. "Wild Moose Party," "(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy" and their other Cosmpolitans chestnuts were lighter than air, evoking a smart-aleck punk-rock take on the girl-group era. And they also knew how to put on A Show, with costume changes and ace choreography.

While they were very much a New York phenomenon, the Cosmopolitans' one commercially released single did get airplay in some unexpected places. Glen Tig, who is now a psychotherapist who splits time between Carrboro and Vancouver, was a fan and friend of the Cosmopolitans. He remembers hearing "Husband Happy" on the BBC in London in early 1982.

"I remember being mesmerized by Laurie Anderson's hit 'O Superman,' which was No. 2 on the British charts at the time," Tig recalls. "And suddenly the tranquility was broken by the Cosmopolitans! I think it was probably the contrast of the two, Laurie's mystical tranquility followed by [the Cosmopolitans'] hilarious irreverence. That memory has stuck with me for 27 years. I loved it and still do."

Alas, the Cosmopolitans broke up later that same year and have not been heard from since. But they're back together for a reunion show that plays Cat's Cradle on Saturday, with fellow underground Tar Heel pop legends Don Dixon and Mitch Easter also on the bill. For much more on the reunion, check the feature in Sunday's paper. 

Reunion fever: The Cosmopolitans

In the big picture of North Carolina rock history, the Cosmopolitans rank as little more than a footnote. But they're a pretty great little footnote, thanks to 1980's "(How To Keep Your) Husband Happy," one of the great obscure singles of the new-wave era. And for one night, at least, the Cosmopolitans will live again at a reunion show. The word from Jamie K. Sims:

Yes, it's a miracle. Got all musicians and club and allergies to agree on a date. This is the SOUTHERN reunion -- and I'll decide if I want to deal with NYC after we do this!

It's Aug. 1 at Cat's Cradle. I asked Mitch Easter (also doing some Let's Active songs) and Don Dixon to play on the bill with us, and they are onboard. Don may be playing bass with us. So it's a real family reunion -- as they were both involved with making the first single.

Unlike Spinal Tap, who will be touring as age appropriate adults (and without wigs), we will be making complete fools of ourselves attempting to do our exact medically accurate show with original choreography and costumes! I am working on a new song that addresses some important issues of this time, hoping it will be ready by then to premier.

Click here for a story on the Cosmopolitans from a few years back; then check out some vintage video goodness.

Mitch Easter gets active with Gravel Truck

For years, Mitch Easter seemed  reluctant to play songs from his legendary 1980s band Let's Active. So Easter's recent willingness to revisit the Let's Active catalog onstage under the name Gravel Truck (a moniker cribbed from the title of an instrumental on 1984's masterwork "Cypress") is wonderful news. Gravel Truck plays tonight at The Cave in Chapel Hill; and as an added bonus, Jon Heames -- a veteran of Let's Active as well as Motorolla -- will sit in on drums for this show.

ADDENDUM (10/27/08): Review.

Let's Active revolves

The Revolve Film & Music Festival gets underway tonight in Winston-Salem, continuing through the weekend with a cool schedule of independent films. For our purposes, the festival's main event happens Friday -- a show at the Werehouse in Winston-Salem featuring recently regrouped '80s-vintage new-wave band Pylon. But I'm more interested in opening act Gravel Truck, a Let's Active tribute band (named after a song on Let's Active's 1984 magnum opus "Cypress"). Since Gravel Truck consists of Let's Active main man Mitch Easter "and friends," and since Easter went many years without playing Let's Active songs at all, this one is highly recommended for North Carolina music history buffs.

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