He was the subject of a documentary released in 2000 called Benjamin Smoke directed by Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen, filming for which took 10 years.
Benjamin lived for many years in Cabbagetown, a neighborhood in Atlanta, an "unsafe" area peopled with hustlers and eccentrics. There, he occasionally dressed up as a drag queen from a young age. When he was just nine years old he would appear in public wearing woman’s clothing, "with a towel on my head like Whoopi (Goldberg), going to the Waffle House in a dress". In New York he found work at the famed club CBGB's, which he described as "the filthiest place I ever was". He earned $20 a day, his duties consisted of sweeping up broken glass left by performers and audiences the evening prior.
Benjamin was a known character in the underground scene in 1980s Atlanta and participated in a number of Atlanta music experiments such as Easturn Stars, Monroe is Naked Again, Freedom Puff, Blade Emotion, and the Opal Foxx Quartet (which often had up to 12 members). His bands played in such venues as 688, Celebrity Club, Pillowtex, Destroy All Music Festival, among others. For the band, Smoke donned the stage name "Miss Opal Foxx". During this time his vocals received media attention and Tom Waits comparisons arose. His voice has since been described as "resembling the roar of a wounded lion". After some of the musicians of the group died, the band Smoke was conceived in 1992 with members Bill Taft, Brian Halloran, and Todd Butler. Coleman Lewis and Tim Campion later joined the band, followed by Will Fratesi. Smoke was renowned for his on-stage banter, never shying away from provoking his viewers, "for a faggot, do I have a rockin' band or what?"
Benjamin was addicted to the drug speed and he also had AIDS, though he claimed "HIV is not a death sentence". AIDS brought him closer to his estranged mother, though he eventually lost his life due to Hepatitis C.
Benjamin Smoke (2003)
Actors: Benjamin Dickerson, Tim Campion, Brian Halloran, Coleman Lewis, Bill Taft
Directors: Jem Cohen, Peter Sillen
Writers: Jem Cohen, Peter Sillen
Producers: Noah Cowan
DVD Release Date: January 21, 2003
Run Time: 72 minutes
Amazon: Benjamin Smoke
Filmmakers Jem Cohen ("Fugazi:Instrument") and Peter Sillen ("Speed Racer: Welcome to World of Vic Chesnutt") made BENJAMIN SMOKE over the course of ten years. It follows the crooked path of "Benjamin" (no last name), an underground musician, speed-freak, occasional drag-queen, and all-around renegade living in the hidden Georgia neighborhood called "Cabbagetown," and playing in an indescribable band called Smoke. The film includes a special appearance by Patti Smith and photographs by Michael Ackerman.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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