This Saturday night Jan. 28 at the Plaza Theatre, redneck street poet laureate Deacon Lunchbox will live again at the “The Love that Won’t Shut Up Memorial Show and Screening: A celebration of the lives, loves, music and friends of Benjamin and Deacon Lunchbox.” If you say, “who?” then shame on you; it’s time to get educated and why we’re declaring Deacon our first posthumous Kool Kat.
For Atlanta’s Cabbagetown alt-music scene, the April 1992 auto accident that cut short the lives of Timothy Tyson Ruttenber, aka Deacon Lunchbox, drummer Rob Clayton and bassist Robert Hayes of the incredible Jody Grind was the Day the Music Died—as impactful as the plane crash that stole away Buddy Hollen. Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper was to a nation falling in love with rock ‘n’ roll in 1959. The Jody Grind was on the cusp of a national breakthrough and had been featured recently in Rolling Stone. Deacon Lunchbox coined the term “Redneck Underground” and had a crazy style all his own that went beyond performance artist and street poet and was, well… Cabbagetown personified and then some. The Sat. night event at the Plaza also honors Benjamin Smoke, the marvelously manic cross-dressing lead vocalist of Smoke and the Opal Foxx Quartet whose life was cut too short by hepatitis C in 1999. If you don’t know about Deacon, Benjamin and how pivotal the Cabbagetown art/music scene was back in the late 1980s/’90s, Creative Loafing wrote a great piece about it in the June 24, 2010 issue called “The Triumph and Tragedy of the Cabbagetown Sound.” The article was composed as an oral history featuring interviews with more than a dozen people who were part of that scene.
The Plaza event includes screenings of the short film, LAWRENCE OF LAWRENCEVILLE HIGHWAY by Neil Fried, which starred Deacon, and the documentary BENJAMIN SMOKE (2000) by Jem Cohen and Pete Sillen, as well as an amazing line-up of Atlanta independent music scene veterans who were collaborators and friends with Deacon and Benjamin including Smoke That City, Debbey Richardson, Slim Chance and many others. The Jody Grind’s lead vocalist Kelly Hogan even is coming down from Chicago. And you know the Deacon Lunchbox set by Jim Stacy (AM Gold, Grand Moff Tarkin, GreasePaint, LaBrea Stompers, Pallookaville, Starlight Drive-In, etc.) will be something to behold. We hope the rumors are true that he’ll be doing a choice selection of Deacon’s signature Atlanta-inspired numbers such as “Omni Beer” and “Lewis Grizzard, I’m Calling You Out!” Amazingly this whole crazy shindig is just $10, with proceeds supporting the nonprofit Plaza. Think about dropping a little extra at the door, though, because independent cinemas like the Plaza are having a really rough time right now and we don’t want to be singing about the Day the Movies Died in Atlanta, too. As Deacon would say, “Brown bag it Ladies and Gents!”
ATLRetro asked Jim Stacy to share a few personal memories of Deacon, one Kool Kat that Cabbagetown and Atlanta lost way too soon. If you have any stories to share about Deacon, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add them to this feature, too. Hope to see you Saturday at the Plaza when the South may not rise again, but Cabbagetown sure will.
ATLRetro: In your opinion, what was special about Deacon Lunchbox?
Jim Stacy: For me he was like an older brother or uncle. He was, for sure, one of my heroes. He was the first time I had seen someone craft a persona that was more than just a performance foil. He was Tim, but Deacon was larger than Tim. Deacon could be more outspoken because he was a character. Now that’s not to say that Deacon wasn’t Tim and Tim wasn’t Deacon; it’s just Deacon amplified whatever Tim needed to say. I was really influenced by this process. I’ve spent my career inventing persona after persona to do the same thing. I think being able to provide a voice from a Character rather than “a Guy” allows for much more concise points to be made, in a shorter time, with no questions. It works like this: Here’s this guy on stage, he looks like this, he said this, he did this, this is what I think about what he just did and said.
Deacon, it was almost a cartoon of Tim. Though he looked and acted like Tim, when he put on the “Deacon” persona, the audience didn’t have to get to know the performer, they only needed to get to know Deacon, listen to what he said and then viscerally react. That all can happen through a Character. It’s no different than Alice Cooper or Ziggy Stardust. I just didn’t know it could be done by regular people.
Do you have a favorite memory/story about Deacon?
I have tons, but the most special is not really the most fun. Deacon called me either before or after the last show the day they were killed. He always started the conversation with, “FUCK YOU!” I don’t remember when. He called asking if I wanted to do another Psycholympics with him at the old Cotton Club. Told me we’d talk more after he got home. It was sometime later I got the call Robert, Robert and Deacon had been killed.
Before the wreck, during Desert Storm I, he called me, telling me I had been drafted and hadn’t shown up at my induction. Told me that a car would be pulling up to “Get your pansy ass ready to serve your Country.” He had me convinced for 15 minutes I was going in the Army that night.
What will you be doing Sat. night at The Love That Won’t Shut Up Memorial?
I’ll be doing a few Deacon numbers as Deacon on some of Deacon’s props. It will be a pale substitute for the real thing. Pale indeed.