AC Temple, Birmingham, AL 3/7/07
We’re driving back and forth along “the hill with the cast-iron Vulcan statue on it” looking for tonight’s venue—up, down, it’s nowhere to be found. Charalambides has played plenty of house shows, but for some reason this place eludes us. A few blocks below the ridgeline we find 1709 12th Street, a dilapidated ‘20s home with two guys zoning out inside. They tell us that indeed, this house has shows, and yes, it’s usually called AC Temple. There is zero evidence of impending musical activity other than a monolithic speaker cabinet surrounded by couches in the center of the dining room. It is composed of at least a dozen 6 to 8-inch speakers mounted in a line array within a gorgeous brown wood-grain cabinet. It’s certainly the nicest thing in the house.
We leave for a while, eat at some forgettable restaurant in town, and head back. There’s a bit of action now, most notably a group of dudes in the kitchen huddled around a toy record player playing 45s at 16 rpm, children’s songs melting into undifferentiated slag. The listeners sit mesmerized. One of them tells us that he’s teaching himself taxidermy in the basement. A friend of his has generously donated a large piece of roadkill (time has erased my memory of which species) towards this cause. Regrettably, I decline to inspect his progress.
The promoter was born in the same town as I was, which, given geographic reality, is a small miracle. Salisbury, MD is a tidewater town built along the Wicomico River, sandwiched between cornfields and salt marshes. Expansion and suburbanization have not treated it kindly. Every summer, thousands of DC tourists toting booze-packed Colemans and bags of dope passed through Salisbury on their way to Ocean City. During my last sojourn in Ocean City (summer of ‘83), I stuffed chicken parts with cayenne at Popeye’s, bought my first Circle Jerks record (Golden Shower of Hits), and witnessed my first bong rip. One night after work, as I made the long walk home from 112th Street along the glittering moonlit beach, a guy walked up to me and asked if I had the time. He was stark naked.
We stand outside as people gradually roll up. Thankfully, some guy at the gig has weed. He’s telling us about Birmingham: Sun Ra’s grave, the giant pentagram downtown, how Vulcan’s spear used to glow red every time there was a fatal car crash. Weed dude is the only person I speak more than two sentences to besides the promoter and Rodger Stella.
Rodger is the only musician on the bill that I’ve heard of. He’s most famous as the star of Tumblr’s “Rodger Stella With Cats.” He’s playing in a Whitehouse cover band. They perform in complete darkness, punctuated by Rodger turning on a flashlight, reading a line of lyrics from a crumpled piece of paper, and then turning off the flashlight again: “I’m coming up your ass.” Click, click. “You love it, you slut.” Click, click.
Charalambides plays. I remember nothing of our performance.
Between sets Rodger follows me into the bedroom to look at merch. “I came to Birmingham to clean up,” he says. “But it turns out this is the filthiest town in the South.” Pause. “Isn’t that fucked up?” I shrug and we talk about Ash Ra Tempel.
The last band is too nervous to perform in front of anyone, so they’ve run a line from their safe berth in the attic to the giant speaker array in the dining room. The half dozen or so who aren’t outside on the porch smoking crowd the couches. The band starts—a tentative drone oozes out of the speakers, building to a steady throb. Staring at the array is hypnotic—I imagine it pulsing, as if molten.
Rodger begins to doze off. He spasms awake, looks around confused, hears the music and an annoyed furrow crosses his brow. He rises and announces that as his encore, he is going up to the attic to teach the shy musicians a much-needed lesson. He disappears toward the stairway at the back of the house, and seconds later we hear the sound of heavy feet, clunking first up the creaky stairs, then thumping across the ceiling overhead.
A voice through the speaker cabinet: “What’s up, Rodger?” Then some frantic off-mic muttering. “Rodger, what are you doing?” Rodger: “I’m going to punch you in the face.” A flurry of shuffling feet, the cries of a muted struggle. Then silence. The speaker sits impassive. Everyone comes back downstairs and looks unhurt but embarrassed—except Rodger, who declares, “People in the South are DOING it.”
The party winds down. Rodger disappears. There are tarot decks and poetry books floating around. The promoter tells me about Frank Stanford, a suicidal poet from Arkansas who I’ve still barely read, and who Wikipedia tells us “is most known for his epic, The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You—a labyrinthine poem without stanzas or punctuation.”
Christina and I hide in the front bedroom, finally drifting off to sleep in our clothes, on top of the blankets. The next morning the house looks much as it did when we arrived. We leave before everyone wakes up, head down the hill, drive north on I-65, passing unscathed beneath Vulcan’s unlit spear.
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