The Alabama State Fairgrounds in Five West. Lord knows I love ’em. First, of course, is because that’s where the Batmobile of Birmingham was displayed when I lived down there. Second is the flea market, where you could get massive old 70s Playboys for a dollar. “Oh, I only read the articles,” you could say, and you wouldn’t be lying. You could read some half-assed, opaque Norman Mailer piece for a week, ready to chat up some heavy smart-guy shit, if’n you knew any smart people who’d have you over to their house. You could get all sorts of nutty lighters, if you thought having a nutty re-fillable lighter would improve your public image. Then there was the CD graveyard, laundry tubs full of cut-out, schlocked discs from ‘local sensation’ ‘power-pop’ bands the nation over. They were all on subsidiaries of ‘big’ labels, didn’t sell like big-time TV bands and left to get picked over in the funky Birmingham flea market. I loved this because it felt somehow ‘just’ to see the failure of cromulent Baltimore bands like Love Nut and Love Riot. One of those stinkeroos was called ‘From The Land of Pleasant Living,’ had Mr. Boh images on the cover, and was just generally lame.
Best of all were the ‘stereo booths.’ They were at a far end of the complex; I’m not 100% sure what was for sale in those booths, but the middle-aged vendors kept themselves from falling asleep with giant, 70s-style ‘furniture’ stereos (wood paneling, glowing displays, the whole nine yards) and listening to music that was waaaaaaaaaaay out of my bailiwick. I’ve been trying for twelve years to identify what that weird stuff was. It had strange keyboards, too ‘repetitive’ to be jazz, too ‘adventurous’ to be funk (as I knew it), and too far South to be Go-Go. I thought for a while that it might be Sun Ra, as he was from the area — a local hero, perhaps — and played on home-modified electronic keyboards. So I got ahold of some early 70s Sun Ra, and while it was weird, it was just too weird to be what I heard in the fairgrounds.
Thanks to Gilligan’s Retrospace site, I found out what it was: Fred Wesley and the J.B.s, a splinter group of the James Brown empire. Here’s the weird robot music of the paleo-future I heard twelve years ago:
Ya gotta keep your ears open in this world.