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An Artistic Rumpus in the Krog Street Tunnel

The Carapace group is celebrating two years of gathering at Manuel's to share stories and companionship.

By Randy Osborne

Brian Bannon is nervous.

Near the back wall in Manuel’s Tavern, Bannon paces. He seems to be thinking hard. He is sweating a little, too.

“I’ve been performing for a long time,” he will say later. “It’s always been painful, but I guess I’ve gotten used to the pain.” And then he will laugh – a sort of mad cackle that subsides in a raspy hiss.

To hear Bannon's Krog Tunnel tale, play the video that accompanies this article.

But for now, Bannon is pacing, as names are drawn from a hat by the jovial host of Carapace, the free monthly , where ordinary people tell true personal stories on a pre-chosen theme, without notes.

At last, Bannon’s name is called. He strides to the front. Tall, with wire-rimmed eyeglasses, neatly cropped hair and angular features, he looks like he might be an engineer. Or a composer of music.

Bannon, of Inman Park, tells a story about the Krog Street Tunnel, the railroad underpass off Dekalb Ave., between his neighborhood and Cabbagetown. In the tunnel, Bannon and his friend Bill have lately begun performing shows with music, poetry and prose. Bill plays cornet, Brian plays alto sax.

Their purpose in the project is to honor the graffiti-coated Krog Tunnel landmark, which becomes a century old this year (or 99 years, depending on which record you believe). Bannon, in his Carapace tale, tells how the two performers unexpectedly faced off against a passerby, who is less than enthusiastic about what they’re up to.

In the story, Bannon’s voice is light, breathy, with a vague lisp. He speaks as if playing sentences in distinct, individual passages of music. He could be hanging them on a wall, one by one, like paintings.

Later, he talks more about the Krog project, which marked its first show on New Year’s Eve. “It was just me and Bill,” he says. “A poet we knew came by earlier in the evening and read some poems we couldn’t hear. We were actually in the tunnel.”  

Future events are taking place away from the noise of the cars which often honk as they pass through. The next Krog show is Feb. 29.

“We’re going to stand on the benches on the Cabbagetown side, which has more of an auditorium feel,” Bannon says. “We’re learning as we go.” Audiences are still catching on. The largest so far, Bannon says, has been “three people. But they really liked it.”

Bannon, 41, grew up in Sauk Prairie, Wis., the youngest and “quietest,” he says, of four siblings, and attended the University of Georgia, studying music theory, and followed with a stint in Michigan, learning about music history.

“I’ve lived in the South as long as I’ve lived in the North, but I still feel like an outsider,” he says. For shy Bannon, the feeling is not related only to geography. “I don’t like big crowds and parties,” he says. “I like people, but just one at a time.” He pauses. “I used to date a misanthrope. We got along [at first], because she was alone a lot, too. I like people but I’m afraid of them. She hated people.”

As a child, Bannon was “withdrawn and observing, soaking up everything for an unfinished novel one day,” he says. He loved music, but writing cast a spell that was just as strong. At some point, they came together.

“I approach words, I think, for the sounds of them,” he says. “I listen to a lot of audio books; I think I’m wired for sound more than text on the page, although I do read.” His day job as a courier lets him listen for hours to classical music, and audio books.

Some may recognize Bannon from Creative Loafing’s fiction-contest winners’ party last year in the Highland Ballroom, where he read from his short story, “How Superconfederate Smashed into the Side of Big Rock Mountain and Became Petrified.” It’s a zany mix of Southern mythologies. The story won second place.

While motoring around town, as a way of thinking more about the story that would become “Superconfederate,” Bannon listened to a Yale course on Reconstruction. He found a LibriVox recording of Leander Stillwell’s The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865. “I like doing research,” he says.

History - that’s where the Krog Street Tunnel project comes in. “The Titanic sank in April, so we’re going to do a Titanic show,” Bannon says. “There was an Atlanta writer on the Titanic. We’re going to try to find some of his writings and read them out.”

For a while, Bannon experimented with stand-up comedy at in Little Five Points, but the Krog Street Tunnel project and Carapace storytelling have his attention these days, along with a play that he hopes to write this year.

Already, he has put together a collection of “some Krog Tunnel pieces and pictures and things,” Bannon says. “I made one copy,” he laughs. “The idea is, I’ll expand it later. I want it to be sort of like Leaves of Grass, where I keep updating it,” he adds, with no apparent irony. Walt Whitman’s famous poetry collection took his whole life. Why not?

Ask his favorite composer, and Bannon’s quick answer will tell you plenty about him.

“I like Aaron Copland, his high-minded populism,” he says. Copland, in symphonies, opera and ballet, was known for “taking the American vernacular and using it the same way European composers would,” Bannon points out. He pauses again. “Copland wanted to be a serious artist,” he says, “and he wanted people to like the music.”

The next Carapace storytelling gathering is 7:30 tonight at Manuel's. The theme is "Faults & Flaws."

Mr. Osborne is the director of Carapace.

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