Well things do have a way of rolling around to the same juncture, and maybe that´s what it means that an electron can be in two places at once, and why the Greeks offered wine to their ancestors. Last time I wrote about the year that has passed since I took over the Birmingham Weekly--again. And now it is the xxth anniversary of the first time I took over the Weekly (though it was not called that yet), for my brother Bobby´s estate.
In fact, the real genesis and heart and soul of this enterprise--get ready for your history pop quiz--is a little paper called Fun & Stuff that used to come out once a month in the 90s. There were other grass roots garage presses (I would like to hear if anyone remembers all the papers that were passed on the streets in the manner of the Great Speckled Bird--yes, that is an extra credit question). But Fun & Stuff was the first to achieve distribution throughout the city and widespread recognition in the years after Bobby took it over from its honest, humble beginnings at Pepper Place.
Since then, Fun & Stuff has attracted copiers--some who went so far as to interview Bobby and get him to explain his business model. Well, Bobby was no MBA, but he did something that was hard to copy, which was to capture the spirit of Birmingham that, with all its issues of backwardness, had some native ability to turn all that awkward striving into humor if not progress. And look at us today. We have come a long way from the days of Dennis Washburn and Bunny, though you can not always tell it in the pages of the Birmingham Weekly today. And now we have got what passes for our restaurant review, Now Eat This, in Spanish. Bobby is probably rolling over in his grave (with laughter).
Palo Pallas was one of Bobby´s favorites who often appeared, along with her artwork, in the pages of Fun & Stuff. She stopped showing in Birmingham after Bobby´s death, and now we are pleased to bring her back bigger and better than this community-consciousness project ever could before--as she will be showing in our very own art gallery starting at the end of August. The image you see on this page, in fact, is the Spirit of Bobby that she channeled into her artwork. More of that in Instudio.
And we´d be pleased to hear from others who remember Fun & Stuff and Bobby, including the editor who claims to have seen Bobby´s ghost at the office in Pepper Place, and allegedly knows where the Spirit of Bobby sculpture that was in the office is today. And Bobby and/or his spirit is alleged to have played some tricks in the meantime.
We are also putting some of the old Fun & Stuffs online.
It will remind you of the days when words typed into computers appeared in white print on the screen (talk about ghosts! and without a choice of fonts!) and will raise the question--were those the good old days when Frank Stitt was a vagabond Berkely grad about to start his first restaurant in a neglected old building that had to be gutted, just to give one sign of the times.
But first let me give you a quick lesson how the name of the paper changed in the first place. One day Bobby was busy running around town in an old Mercedes diesel with a cracked block and a leaking radiator he bought from one of his friends, making fun and stuff happen everywhere he went between stops to raise the hood and add more water. But one Fourth of July weekend he went to the beach and couldn´t even get wet because of stormy weather. Before packing up and heading home at the end of the long dry weekend, he decided to just get in the water once before he left and was pulled out of this world by an undertow.
So to make a long story short I ran the paper for my brother´s estate for two years with no pay and no thanks except from my dog until Creative Loafing came over from Atlanta and bought it so my brother´s boys could get some money from it. Meanwhile Tina Savas had decided to do things right and started the Birmingham Weekly. And since it seemed like a dumb idea from a business standpoint- -no matter how much the public enjoys the competition and a ready supply of bird cage liner and excuses for procrastination while studying at O´Henry´s for an exam- -Creative Loafing decided to merge Fun & Stuff with the Birmingham Weekly. How Tina´s interest in the Weekly got away and I ended up with the whole thing back in my hands as steward of the spirit of both papers is a bizarre history for another day.
But I have tried to continue Bobby´s spirit though, to paraphrase Lloyd Benson, I´m no Bobby Humphreys (even I couldn´t have handled that!), and Tina put things on the right track with the best motives, so it was hard to mess up. Whatever their other issues, shell games or wives who were phantom employees, a lot of people contributed much in the meantime to make the Weekly the best-known and most-read paper in town. The only publication with higher audited readership in fact was what used to be the daily paper.
Now, in the changing world of print media we are emphasizing online interaction and sponsoring events (we even make it possible for you to see some of the highest quality art in Birmingham outside the Museum--and some of the art I have brought back from my travels to Vietnam and Cuba can be found there too--and now we are bringing you local artist come home again, Palo Pallas, from the Fun & Stuff days). We are also going back in time by publishing books and actually printing copies you can hold in your hand, so go figure. In whatever direction time takes us, we are trying to keep the heart the same, similar to Palo´s Reading Chairs.
And the clue is in the original name. The good will and name recognition of the Birmingham Weekly has a lot of value. But the values of this enterprise go back to Fun & Stuff, no doubt. Does anyone think we should change the name back? I doubt that, too. But it is always good to remember your roots, and Bobby´s Fun & Stuff is an important family branch, along with its Savas cousins. It all begins and ends with a serious sense of wonder at the universe, trying to remember a larger unknown purpose in the world of routine errands and grocery clerks and trying to stay ahead of the leak in the radiator. But the absurdity of the things we put in place of our higher purpose is downright humorous at times. It´s all part of the fun (which is why Bobby kept a copy of Fielding´s Tom Jones by his bed) and in the end it´s why we enjoy what we´ve read. Everything else is the other stuff even after we´re dead.