Music » Music Issue

The triumph and tragedy of the Cabbagetown sound

Part 1 of 2: Have you heard death singing? An oral history



Page 2 of 7

One of the earliest arrivals on the scene was Tim Ruttenber, a spoken word poet who used the stage name Deacon Lunchbox. He was a bear of a man with a long beard who yelled out his poetry and punctuated it by banging on metal objects with a hammer.

J.T. Thomas: There was no contrivance in Tim. There was a little bit of contrivance in us because we were all kids who came from middle class backgrounds. But Tim was the genuine article. He'd introduce the Chowder Shouters and perform a poem at intermission, or if we were too drunk to play. People came to see us because they didn't know what to expect -- who we were going to insult, or if Eric and I were going to get into a fight on stage. People came to see Tim as an 'artist.' We benefited much more from him than he ever benefited from us.

Bill Taft: The Mudd Shack became a platform for Deacon Lunchbox to work on his poetry. He became a big reason people came to the event. WSB-TV did one of those human interest stories on the poetry night and they interviewed Deacon and asked him the secret of his poetry. And he looked right into the camera and said, "Failure. Failure is where it's at."

James Kelly: Deacon took from what the Chowder Shouters were doing; he was beating on empty bomb casing and garbage can lids and yelling through megaphones. He added an element of black comedy to that whole scene. He looked like one of the biggest, meanest rednecks you would ever meet in your life, yet he was one of the most socially conscious, progressive humanist thinkers I've ever met.


IT WAS ONLY NATURAL that the scene that was sprouting in Cabbagetown would attract the most avant garde person in Atlanta: a flamboyant drag queen named Benjamin Smoke. He had already been in several performance art bands such as Easturn Stars (which Smoke described as "four young dykes and a bitter old drag queen"). One critic wrote that the band "didn't so much play music as conduct cathartic rituals, ... strumming and sawing guitars, screaming a lot and removing their clothing at every opportunity."

Smoke worked as a busboy and waiter at the Little Five Points Pub, which was at the hub of the Atlanta music scene in the '80s, and he was soon to become the driving force behind the Cabbagetown scene.

James Kelly: I'd go to the Little Five Points Pub [now the Corner Pub] to see the Indigo Girls and all kinds of people. And Benjamin, you couldn't not know the guy. He was amazing, what a weirdo who lived on the edge.

Danny Beard (owner of Wax 'N Facts and DB Records): Benjamin used to walk by the store after we were closed and tap on the glass until the cassette tapes that were stacked on the ledge by the window would fall over. I don't know if he was mad at us or what, but that's what he used to do.

Col. Bruce Hampton: We were playing Monday nights at the Pub, and Benji was working as a cook or busboy somewhere. We both got off at 11 p.m., and every Monday night, I'd see him standing outside Wax & Facts; he'd stand there for an hour and tap-tap-tap on the window. I watched him do that for an entire year, trying to knock [the cassette tapes] over, and he finally did. There must've been a hundred tapes crashed on the floor.

Bill Taft: I first met Benjamin at a show at the Mattress Factory sometime in the late '80s, maybe Easturn Stars. They played fur-covered instruments and they all rolled around on the floor. I thought it was just great.

Doug DeLoach: Easturn Stars was the perfect example of the anarchic, "anything goes" M.O. that many noise and no wave bands emulated. If they were trained, they weren't using any of their training. Often they were just making noise using pots, pans, sticks, out-of-tune guitars, boom boxes.

William DuVall (lead singer, Alice in Chains): My group, the Final Offering, played a show at the Exit on DeKalb Avenue with this band for whom Benjamin was the singer. I remember Benjamin rolling around on the floor trying to shove the mic up his ass. And I remember making a mental note not to use that mic."

IN THE LATE '80S, Benjamin Smoke formed a duo called Freedom Puff with singer/songwriter Debbey Richardson and began to take music more seriously. He started performing at the Little Five Points Pub during the brunch hour on Sundays, and it led to his first band of note: The Opal Foxx Quartet. The core of the group was keyboardist Connie Hanes and bass player Matt Hanes (no relation). Benjamin was the front man, dressed in full drag as Opal Foxx.

Comments (11)

Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

Add a comment