"His name is Emotron and he is going to light his dick on fire." This was the buzz around Raleigh the weeks leading up to the yard sale/ punk show/ breakfast, dubbed "Slam and Eggs," at Flint Place on June 30.
As many summer escapades seem to go, the whole adventure started with the cops hassling the kids. Hans Hesselein, 26, a resident of Flint Place, a street located one block off Hillsborough Street near the N.C. State campus, describes the morning show as "a knee-jerk reaction" to the police who "seem to think it is their duty to cease all late-night activity."
You might not know this, but there is a once-thriving counterculture being threatened with extinction in Raleigh right now. Disappearing venues, rising rents and police harassment are conspiring to make life difficult for the people who are attempting to keep life interesting and weird. The local show houses of Raleigh, stocked with young anarchist punks, radicals and disaffected intellectuals, have operated on a pseudo-socialist system of communal living and hosting venues for music acts that either can't be booked at The Pour House or simply find house shows to be more suitable.
The shows support a grassroots art scene where performances are about performances and not capital or controlled and restricted expressions of creativity. Shows range in format from music acts to poetry readings and whatever else you can convince the Flint Place residents to host. Some entertainers are local, some are out-of-staters. They can be completely unrecognized artists or more established musicians, like Al Burian, formerly of Milemarker from Chapel Hill, who gave a spoken word performance to a grateful audience at Flint Place last year. Places like the Flint house don't make any money from these shows; in fact, they usually lose a little since they always provide the artists and show-goers with a home-cooked meal.
Unfortunately, the scene has fallen under the critical gaze of Raleigh's boys in blue, and every show for the past couple of months has been shut down. Though the worst illegal activity taking place at these gatherings is the occasional joint smoking, show houses have been getting warnings—and most currently citations—for noise violations.
There is just one problem: No one seems to be complaining about the shows. Josiah Shackleton, 22, views the shows as innocuous and has never called the cops. "I live right across the street, and I think there is a genuine effort to make sure the shows are settled down by a decent time. The noise has never been too bad that I would have a problem with it or anything," he says. He even attests to the necessity of the Flint house, stating that "you need places like this willing to put on shows ... there is no violence, everyone's friendly and the bands they bring are good people."
At least once, the cops have openly admitted at Flint Place that they had not received a complaint but had instead overhead the performance themselves. According to Hesselein, a performance by Big Ted, an electronic-experimental noise band from Asheville, was shut down without anyone having complained. Instead, the cops explained that they had responded to an unrelated call on Ashe Avenue and overheard the show. "They said they had not received a noise complaint, and then they wrote me a ticket," Hesselein says.
Well, what about the fact that noise regulation laws are not enforced until after 11 p.m., you ask? Shouldn't these houses just adjust their timetable? Well, they tried that. They began to start shows at 8 p.m., but their last evening show was shut down at 10:30 p.m. And as you might predict, citing of written laws was an ineffective tool employed in the residents' objections to their newly acquired tickets. It seems that a way to get around the noise violation laws is the utilization of the nuisance party act.
Jim Sughrue, public information officer for Raleigh's police department, explains that a nuisance party citation can be issued without a complaint and outside of any set time frame. "A call is not necessary. If an officer sees a violation, he or she can issue a citation," he says.
So, as a response to police harassment, Flint Place had a morning music show on the last Saturday of June. "All punk-rock ideologies are reactive, and we went with the typical paradigm," explains Matt Joyner, 25, Flint resident and Slam and Eggs organizer. To make their event resemble a standard early-morning weekend activity, they decided to also host a yard sale, which was posted on Craig's List (a defining act of legitimacy, as one Flint Place dweller noted).
Because so many friends, music lovers and thrill seekers had pledged their devotion to arrive at Flint early on a Saturday morning to watch some dirty punk rock, the Flint occupants decided to cook the congregation a good old-fashioned Southern breakfast. By 9 a.m. the Flint kitchen was packed with 20-somethings making cheese eggs, hash browns, waffles, bacon and coffee for the more than 30 music aficionados that had arrived.
The morning repast inspired the event's name: Slam and Eggs. "It was an attempt to show our pseudo-counterculture can be accepting of everyone—anyone that wants to participate can come over and eat breakfast with us, listen to some music and hopefully not complain," Joyner says.
This first (and so far only) Slam and Eggs boasted some of the best local bands in Raleigh, including Cross Laws, and a mystery performer from Georgia that had been booked at the last minute: Emotron. Meanwhile, friends and fans brought goods to sell, and the front yard of Flint was strewn with independently set up yard-sale stations. A drum set, a punching bag, books, clothes and tree house memberships were among the purchasable items at the yard sale.
The first band started their set at 10 a.m. after everyone had secured breakfast, and Flint's living room became packed with young music devotees sweating in the crammed, un-air-conditioned show space. The noonday sun beat down on the porch sitters, and crusty kids were posted up on the front yard trying to stay cool in the shade while attempting to sell some of their slightly used merchandise. Though not too many people actually came for the yard sale, the event took on street-fair proportions as random neighbors and Raleighites wandered from around the area to check out the commotion. When cars crept by the house, the outside crowd would simultaneously yell "YARD SALE!" causing the driver to either speed off or park on Ashe Avenue and check out the pandemonium.
A mother bought her kindergarten-aged boy a Darth Vader toy, and a man who had accidentally stumbled upon the show purchased a crock-pot. By the time Emotron took the center stage in the living room, the indoor/outdoor crowd of people had swelled out across the yard and street. People had set up lawn chairs on the edge of the road and in the opposite yard, listening to the show and talking with new friends that had traveled all the way from Charlotte for Flint's Slam and Eggs.
The cops never came to bust up the show, and by 3 in the afternoon, most of the kids had stumbled home to take a nap and sleep off the morning rowdiness. Oh, and yes, Emotron did light his genitals on fire. In the finale of his electronic-pop set, he stripped out of his denim jumpsuit and cowboy boots, sprayed his junk with hairspray, held a lighter to the delicate area and then quickly slapped out the flames protruding from his naked crotch.
Art? Maybe not. Freedom of expression? Most definitely.
If Emotron sounds like your thing (and you are interested in what he did with two dozen Yoo-hoos after the show), then watch the video he filmed at Flint Place entitled "Tribute to Michael Stipe," currently featured on YouTube, or check out his MySpace page at www.myspace.com/theemotron.