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You have an appreciation of the music, right?
Yes, but my opinion on Benjamin doesn't matter because I didn't know him, and I don't have much to do with the Atlanta music scene.
I would argue that you're an important part of Atlanta music. When I see the names Deerhunter, Bradford Cox and Atlas Sound mentioned, it's always in the context of Atlanta.
That's true, and Cole [Alexander of the Black Lips] and I will dig through dusty record bins for hours trying to find old Atlanta garage rock records ... . My point is if Benjamin saw this, he would roll his eyes and ask, "Why in the fuck are you asking this faggot about me?"
I often think of Smoke as a contemptuous character, a genuine freak when it was hard to be a freak. Many of the stories I've heard about him involve things like him walking down Moreland Avenue with a towel around his head.
People forget so much of that and wonder why music is suffering today. It's because everything is allowed. It's great to see strange music become part of the norm. You see weird people making normal music and normal people making weird music, but music has suffered as a result.
Sometimes it's good to have a regional or folk hero. Maybe Benjamin Smoke could function as that, but I doubt it. I don't think that he could because youth culture is growing increasingly homophobic. Not to say that a truly homosexual youth culture is progressive, that's definitely not the case. I don't practice any sexuality. But in our liberal-conscious minds, and in our artsy-ass way of thinking, you would think that our younger people would have some interest in these sorts of things. But middle schoolers today have no interest in gay folk heroes.
If you look at what's popular in today's mainstream culture, there have always been Justin Biebers and Backstreet Boys. But when you and I were younger, there were also Kurt Cobains. Now they've been replaced by what? Tokyo Police Club? Energy drink music? Compression? If you showed a middle schooler a clip of Benjamin Smoke and said, "Here is this guy who's wallowing around in dust and clutter;" he's a conservative person's horror story, a homosexual living with AIDS in squalor, living on government money. He's someone that a conservative would use to scare the congregation. You're more likely to have an enemy notice him. Like [disco/soul singer] Sylvester; he was a great gay glam icon, but he never reached a wide audience. Maybe he did through his influence, and maybe Benjamin does through his influence.
Is the gay aspect of his character really a defining part of who he was?
I think so, and he emphasized it. It's kind of Southern that he would be gay, too; in the sense of the B-52s [and] Michael Stipe of R.E.M. queer way. [It's] a Victorian squalor thing, which I aspired to be a part of in my younger days. But now it's not really honest of me because I don't lead an actively gay lifestyle.
Is there a Smoke song that resonates with you in a particularly strong way?
The first Smoke song that stood out for me was "Chad." It's depressing, but it's a very human song. I posted it on the Deerhunter blog as part of a mixtape, and I got an overwhelming response from teenagers all over the world. The guy that started the Benjamin Smoke Wikipedia page was a Deerhunter fan from Australia. I put that song up and it resonated with him so strongly that he had to look into it more. Smoke resonates with people like that, like a short story by a good author that makes you rabidly seek out the rest of his work.
What kind of things did people say when you posted it?
"What the fuck is this?" "Who is this Benjamin Smoke guy?" "If I send you money will you buy me the records?" I got more e-mails from that song than anything else I've posted, and I've made 30 or so mixes.
What pisses me off is the lack of archival information that's available. All that's available is what's in the documentary, and that just gives you shards that make you want to know more. But if you ask somebody who was there, they don't want to talk about their past because it is their past, and I can relate to that. I'm sure I will have to deal with that in a few years, when people start coming up to me saying, "Tell me about the early Black Lips shows?" I'll say: "Fuck off, I'm an old man."
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