Category: Birmingham

Everything you ever wanted from a 4 minute video showcasing one of Birmingham’s color tunnels

Jan-David Soutar stood still for at least four minutes and forty seven seconds to produce this. Jan-David also really digs Beach House.

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Everyone loves Freedom

You may have heard this before, but there’s a new football team and a new league setting  up shop in Birmingham. Maybe you are jaded about such an event. Maybe you remember all the failed attempts at establishing a competitor to the NFL in a meaningful way. Did you go to Stallions games like I did? Birmingham Fire (the CFL)? The infamous Birmingham Blast (changed to Bolts)? Steeldawgs? Americans? AAFL team that never actually played a game?

I was down with all of them, except Americans because I wasn’t alive. I’m all for football in my city. I don’t care. You want to go in motion before the snap? Great. A league run by Vince McMahon? I guess. Some weird abomination in the BJCC with nets? Uh. Kinda hate it, but I will allow it.

I remember, quite clearly sitting next to my father seeing Joe Cribbs run for the Stallions when I was very young. I love football. I would like more of it.

Today, I see some people mentioning the new team on Twitter.

The Birmingham Freedom.

According to the NAFL website, this name was chosen to reflect Birmingham’s rich history in the civil rights movement. That’s an unassailable stance (which al.com commenters will probably assail and bum me out).

But what bothers me is the language. “First Down, Freedom!” “Freedom’s backfield is deep this year”. “Freedom comes out ahead of the Sentinels, 21-7.”

I hate things that are vague concepts as team mascots, like the Jazz or Heat. It’s just unwieldy and very, very unSouthern. We have Tigers, Blazers and uhh Crimson Tide. Hm, maybe this is because I’m an Auburn fan. Anyways, it’s a terrible name. A well done logo, for sure. All of the NAFL graphics are pretty good, for what it is. Some of the logos have some janky text on them, but it’s clear they actually hired a graphic designer.

So the name makes me cringe a little. I was ready to be mad about it, but then I saw this.

hashtag_birdhat

That’s a bird wearing a hat.

I repeat, that’s a bird wearing a hat.

BIRD. HAT.

I can’t stop looking at it. It’s mesmerizing. I joked, sort of, that I wanted a hat with a bird wearing a hat on it. But I kind of do. I want to go to these games. I want to celebrate the fact that we are the most American of all teams, and that everyone else we play, whether it be the Memphis Kings or the North Carolina Red Wolves,  hates Freedom. Dirty Communists, how dare you even lift one finger to stop Freedom.

If they have any sense, they’ll have Auburn bring up an eagle for the pregame festivities. Everyone loves it when the eagle flies. But with one addition. Can you guess what it would be?

THAT EAGLE WILL DON A HAT BEFORE IT FLIES.

To satiate Alabama fans, I am perfectly OK with an elephant wearing a Ben Franklin costume.

To those wondering what I would choose for a mascot, it would be a Yellow Hammer. The Alabama Yellow Hammers. It would not be a bird. It would be a yellow hammer. Everyone in attendance would have hammers and every night is dollar beer night.

If that’s not freedom, I don’t know what is.

In lieu of that, I’ll take some Freedom please. I declare our rival to be Memphis, and we will destroy them.

See a show with your dog at Bottletree!

Music lovers and dog lovers, listen up!!!

Tomorrow night, Bottletree Cafe is hosting the “Bama Bully Rescue Bash (6 bands, 6 Bucks).” Come join the fun, bring your pup (maybe even leave with new one!) and listen to some great music presented by Rocket City Sounds from Huntsville, AL.  All proceeds will be donated to Bama Bully Rescue, Inc in Fultondale, AL.

Check out some of the artists before you head out: Robby Eichman,  Alexa Rankin, Zac Mayhall, Christian Lee, ADAM ADAM and Natas Kompas.

 

Album Review: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Dereconstructed

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Nowadays, it seems pretty easy to reduce Southern culture to a few reality TV stars with beards and a duck call business. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires are here to remind the world about the complexity and vitality of this

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blessed patch of dirt.

On their previous album, There Is a Bomb In Gilead, the band cautiously belted out a fine mix of country, southern rock, and soul music. Dereconstructed is their first album for the venerable Sub Pop label,and builds on the successes of their first record while backing them up with increased confidence and volume.

Lead off single and album opener, “The Company Man” serves as a statement of intent and an introduction to the current, road-tested lineup of The Glory Fires. The ragged opening riff propels the song forward into an onslaught of guitars pushed into the red by Bains and new addition, Eric Wallace. It’s a classic Southern Rock anthem that’s built to be catchy, but offers surprising

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lyrical depth. Lee has a knack for examining social issue particular to the South. The title track turns the fire and brimstone of a Southern Baptist preacher on its head and begins to spell out a new way of thinking for a generation of Southerners that are smart, tolerant, and equal.

The thematically related, “The Kudzu and The Concrete” and “The Weeds Downtown” take a

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look at living in the a post white flight Birmingham. Both songs touch on the realities of growing up at the foot of a bustling Southern city, but also identifying with your country roots. “The Weeds Downtown” in particular is an anthem for the revitalization and rebranding of downtown Birmingham. Where our parents generation saw danger, Bains and the rest of us see opportunity.

The second side of the record sees the band continuing in the politically minded vein of the first side with the one-two punch of “We Dare Defend Our Rights!”, and “Flags”. In previous generations, Alabama’s state motto was used as a symbol for defending the racist status quo, but Baines takes a look at the motto and turns it around by making it a rallying cry for a new generation of proud, progressive citizens.

To finish up the record, Bains delivers what I think is the best song of the album. “Dirt Track”, like all great southern food and art, works on several levels. The song relates Alabama’s history in stock car racing to DIY punk rock; the dirt track of the music business. The song’s late break and triumphant finish offers a capstone for the record, bringing everything full circle.

Bains and Co. offer the next logical step beyond the storytelling of bands like the Drive By Truckers, by getting down into the nitty gritty of living in a rapidly evolving South. There’s a sense of wrestling and reckoning with our shared past, but an unending faith and hope in our shared future. Dereconstructed offers an alternative to the duck call Disney World South that’s presented on TV and gives an authentic look into being an intelligent, proud southerner.

Sun Ra’s 100th Birthday

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I went to bed on May 21st with no intentions of going to visit Sun Ra’s grave in Elmwood Cemetery the next morning, but shortly after waking, I felt myself compelled to seek out the final resting place of Birmingham’s greatest contribution to jazz on his hundredth birthday. I’d only ever visited two other famous people’s graves: Bear Bryant and Hank Williams, two other titans of Alabama culture. I drove out to Elmwood seeking Block 25, where I could do whatever it was I’d come to do. I didn’t really know what I had it mind, but it seemed like the thing to do. Finding his humble, flat grave marker (there is no elevated headstone) would’ve been nearly impossible to find on my own and I considered stopping to ask for directions from the cemetery office, though I doubt that actually would’ve been very much help either given the enormity of the cemetery and the low key headstone. I found good directions and a few photo indicators of where to go on findagrave.com. Perhaps not the most tasteful of URLs, but it’s one that certainly gets the point across and helps do what it advertises quite well.

It was early, around 9:00 a.m. or so when I made it out there and there was no one else around like the times I visited the graves of Bear Bryant and Hank Williams. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare for a music legend on such a momentous anniversary: a fake flower was inserted into the ground and various trinkets were left on the headstone as a thank you or acknowledgement of visitors’ presence: a ring, a few coins, and the most peculiar item…a severely faded CD of the Grateful Dead’s Wake of the Flood. I stood there for a few minutes looking around and enjoying the peculiar, but peaceful quietness and serenity of the cemetery on what was a gorgeous morning. I fished around in my pocket for a coin and placed it on the headstone with the others. I did it as much for those that might come after me to know that others still cherish this legend as much as I did it for Sun Ra himself. Funerals, as they say, are for the living and I suppose in this day and age, leaving a trinket or coin is for the living as much as it is for the dead. After placing the coin down I stood around a few moments longer and just kind of said a thank you to him and then snapped a picture of the headstone. I thought about his music and all of the musicians I love that he’s inspired and realized that my musical world (and my life for that matter) would’ve been very different had he not made such a great impression on so many brilliant minds along the way.

You may not be a Sun Ra fan or even a jazz fan, but there’s a good chance the ripples from the boulder he dropped in the pond made their way to some musician you love no matter the genre. George Clinton has constantly cited his influence, Kid Congo (The Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) is a fan, Ty Segall Band and Thee Oh Sees made the pilgrimage to his grave the last time they played here, and countless others like John Medeski and Trey Anastasio are fans as well. Sun Ra was a gift to the world, and I hope Birminghamians are proud he was from here.

 

Burning at Liberty House

Today, if you lived or worked near Birmingham you saw the smoke clouds. There was a fire. It was a loft in downtown

Photo by @gtice4
Photo by @gtice4

Birmingham called Liberty House. Fortunately, no one was hurt but there was a close call. It looked like the fire was on the roof. On the deck, if I had to guess. A deck I used to haul kegs of beer up to. A deck I had some good times in the early part of this century on.

You can read about the fire and the causes and the important stuff on Birmingham’s Digtial Hub for Information and Photo Galleries. As I looked at my friend Greg’s tweets of the fire, I thought about Radiohead.

When my friend lived there, he was one of the first people I knew who had a CD burner. I remember playing Dreamcast in his apartment as he burned a copy of OK Computer behind us. It was a 1X speed burner, so you’re talking a good 40 minutes of time to create an exact copy of a CD. But it was worth it. So worth it. This wasn’t a filthy tape that you only could play in your car. This was an exact replica of an album! Until I bought the vinyl of OK Computer last year, I had never actually owned a copy. I got a burned CD from Liberty House lofts. I ripped that into Real Jukebox. I imported the .mp3s from Real Jukebox when it died into iTunes. Those same files sit on this hard drive now. Can you feel nostalgia for an .mp3? A 96k bitrate reminder of a bygone era? It was a time when that 40 minutes of real time burning, fraught with the peril of a bad disk or error in the burning process was amazing.

Now I have so many ways to access new music that I barely do it. Bands appear and disappear at alarming rate to me. Is this a product of getting old? Probably. But as I prepare to exit my 30’s I’m beginning to realize that the last 10 years or so of gorging on music has made me not care as much about music as I used to. It’s made me force myself to grab an album tight and not let go until I’ve wrung something personal and interesting out of it. It’s made me want to slow down.

40 minutes for 40 minutes of music. Then that CD sits in my car stereo for months, eventually replaced with a collection of Pixies b-sides. When I hear Paranoid Android kick in, I can’t help but smile because I’ve heard it so, so many times. We added Talk Show Host to the end of it so that song will be forever part of OK Computer to me. As soon as Fitter Happier starts I hit the skip button. This stuff is burned into me. No errors.

It’s a terrible thing, but when I heard Liberty House was on fire, this is what I thought of. Glad everyone is alright and I can write about dumb stuff.

Summer Music Series on deck

btreeSometimes living in the real world is a bore. Sometimes it’s chaotic. Most times it’s a distracting recipe of both that prevents you from actually “doing” the things you claim you care about the most.

See, I saw M. Ward perform to what seemed like 40 people the other day. There was a massively under appreciated exhibition at Alys Stephens showcasing artists’ use of light, topped off with awesome hip hop. Chance the Rapper was “sick” and ditched his Hangout performance.

Did I write about any of this? Naw.

That’s changing.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be writing about on a ~dailyish~ basis about things worth a damn this summer. Read and listen if you like. Seek out and actually attend if you really like.