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The triumph and tragedy of the Cabbagetown sound

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

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When you went to a Jody Grind show, a significant percentage of the audience had never heard these songs before. That was something great and magical they brought to the scene, the expansion of the universe in terms of the musical scene itself. A lot of rocker kids or punkers who came to see them were suddenly saying, "Wow, that Hoagy Carmichael was pretty good.

It was an exciting time in the Atlanta music scene. The Redneck Underground, also headquartered in Cabbagetown, was going strong. Ever so often, they co-mingled. But for those who weren't yet familiar, it sometimes took a while to "get" Opal Foxx and Deacon Lunchbox.

Doug DeLoach: Benjamin was so chameleon-like. Even when he would be dressed and acting outrageously on stage, when that mic came to his mouth and he started singing, he did it straight no matter what he was wearing.

Amy Pike: I was living in a boarding house in Little Five Points. One day, I came out heading off to work. It was a Sunday and there stood Benjamin in his full Opal Foxx getup. I had never seen Opal Foxx, so I didn't know what the heck was going on. Everything in the purse was laid out in little perfect rows there on the sidewalk. He was looking for matches; he asked if I had any and I said, "No." That was my first experience with him.

Brian Halloran: Benjamin used to live right down the street from the Austin Street Buffet. I wouldn't call it conservative but it had a redneck underground niche going on. And even before that started, he would go in there in drag. If anybody ever reacted in a strange way, they'd say, "Oh, that's just Benjamin. Come on! That's Benjamin." His ability to put people at ease was like an X-Man superpower.

James Kelly One year Deacon Lunchbox booked a show at the Variety Playhouse: It was the Opal Foxx Quartet, Slim Chance and Deacon Lunchbox. When he did a radio interview on WRFG, he started his usual craziness and one of the things he said was, "Guns will be checked at the door!"

And Steve Harris, the guy who owns the Variety, heard it and got upset and hired extra security. He thought he was going to have a bunch of bikers there or something. Of course, Deacon was full of shit. There were no guns.

Connie Hanes: Deacon was so versatile, he could sit in with anybody and bang on his missile casing or blow on his bird whistle. And anybody could play along with him because it was basically construction worker rap.

Doug DeLoach: One thing Tim absolutely was conscious of was the dichotomy of being a construction worker and a poet, being an artist and being a redneck. He was very much focused on debunking stereotypes and calling people out on their hypocrisy and shining a light on bullshit. That's what he was doing when he put on the pair of tits. He was saying: You don't know what anyone is capable of, so get over it and accept it. Because Tim knew the drag queens and he knew the construction workers.

Brian Halloran: When Opal Foxx went to New York the first and only time, someone stole Edgar Parker's violin. Right after we got back, Deacon got a settlement in a civil rights lawsuit. [He had marched with Hosea Williams in the infamous 1987 incident, where a small group of civil rights protesters were attacked by the Klan in Forsyth County.] He used most of the money to buy Edgar a new violin; he loved that because he was buying a black man a violin using Klan settlement money.

CHAPTER FOUR

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT venues for the Cabbagetown bands was a quaint old-school strip club, the Clermont Lounge, a quaint old-school strip club just on the borderline of seedy. When the club began to devote Thursday nights to live music, it quickly became the place to be for anyone who followed the Atlanta underground bands. It was a surreal scene, the nude dancers, surrounded by indy rock hipsters, trying to gyrate to music that often offered no danceable beat.

Amy Pike: The first time I played there, I was the only girl in the band. And the guys were just as scared as me to go in there. They were trying to make me go in first.

We shared the dressing room with the dancers. And they immediately sized up all these boys and decided they were just scared to death. Of course, the dancers started talking to them in the nastiest way possible, just scaring the crap out of them. Somebody was talking about sucking on things until it shot to the back of their throat. I don't think any of us ever lightened up from complete scarlet from the moment we stepped into the place.

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