Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rock-afire Explosion Palimpsest

Yesterday I had the random and unusual pleasure of touring the factory of Creative Engineering, a warehouse owned by Aaron Fechter, the genius behind Rock-afire Explosion. Yes, that's right. The life-sized, animatronic robot band from Showbiz Pizza, "where a kid can be a kid." I celebrated my ninth birthday at Showbiz. It was a particularly lucrative year for my family, so they splurged for the occasion. What a step up from MacDonald's!

I am not terribly nostalgic about the experience, but I do remember the first moment of the show. It was pure drama. The curtain pulled open and revealed these animals in outfits, jerking to life, eyes rolling and winking, heads bobbing. I was terrified and delighted at the same time (a state I still want theatre to evoke in me.) The show was a mini rock concert, and it rocked my mini socks off. The band played a short set of cover- songs of the golden oldies I associated with my mother's childhood- beachy songs of summer. I was doubly impressed that they knew it was my birthday and ended the set with a Birthday Song- just for me! Showbiz was so very cool. Although I thoroughly enjoyed myself that day and a few precious other occasions, when it went out of business I didn't cry for it, nor did I ever go Chuck E Cheez (who absorbed the franchise's 200 or so restaurants.) I wasn't abstaining out of staunch loyalty, but I believe it was just too fancy for my family. And roller-skating parties were really more in vogue.

But as for the Showbiz Palimpsest.

I didn't know what to expect. My friend Thomas, a local Urban Sketcher, saw from Facebook that the Rock-afire band was on my mind. I had just finished a documentary on Aaron and his fans, and naturally, updated my Facebook status. The warehouse and offices of Creative Engineering are in downtown Orlando, and Thomas has been doing a series of sketches of Aaron at work. After a few messages back and forth, I somehow weaseled my way into one of these visits. Of course, I wanted to tour an infamous robot factory—especially one that hadn't been in a fully functioning state for fifteen or so years and was rumored to be in a state of disarray of apocalyptic proportions. The documentary captured bits of the ruin with its occasional casual pan over the masks melting from the years of no air-conditioning, piles of unfinished projects, all the while Aaron energetically responded to his interviewer, at ease and at home in the residue of his life's dreams and work. I was greeted with the same energy and was struck right away by his openness. Aaron said he only had the time for the "abridged" tour, but still led me through his factory for two hours and spent great care to elaborate on every detail. I learned that he owned the building and every item in it. I learned that Aaron’s version of happiness includes having a dog, a meaningful relationship with his girlfriend, and a factory full of his past, current and future creativity. I really like Aaron. I am in awe of his talent, his attention to details, his tireless optimism about new beginnings, but mostly of his love for the work. Aaron's success lies in his present activities, not those of the past. He is dreaming now. I truly believe he will be successful in his current endeavors, because his constant articulations of them are bound to will them into existence. I believe that.

I have to admit the factory was spooky. There are ghosts there. Each room has multiple generations of inventions, mostly versions of animatronics with recurring identities from room to room. I could feel the hard stare of their bulging plastic eyeballs. The building and all of its stuff resonated with the creative history of the past, but also reverberated with possibility of something ahead. There is potential energy there.

I hardly know the legacy of Creative Engineering, but I get the feeling it was a big deal. It was a big deal to Aaron. My ninth birthday party certainly was a big deal to me—and as I stood in the dank of the factory basement, following Aaron's flashlight as it moved across the artifacts that slept there, I felt something like déjà vu. I had done this before, in some year of my life--kind of. I felt the tingle of almost remembering and dove deep into the mound of a party palimpsest, holding my breath as I went through the years of birthdays, mine and others', report card days with unfulfilled bribes, gifts I wanted, gifts I hated and felt ashamed about later. I felt again the longing for things, longing for something else, the next thing. In my mind, I mined through the bits of stuff that signified I existed, proof that I had come from some place and was going to some place and my journey was tangible. I existed. I exist. I hope to exist again.

Aaron keeps himself very busy nowadays by making things. Or rather, remaking things. One of his latest ventures is taking special requests for songs and posting them on you-tube. Rock-afire Explosion has risen again and they have adapted to the times. I squealed like a nine- year old birthday girl when I discovered "Tunnels" by Arcade Fire. It is one of my favorite songs. 

Please enjoy the "Tunnels" palimpsest. 


  1. Fantastic post. Deeply resonant. Inspiring!

  2. This is a fabulous post. It just brought back some great memories for me too. Your writing style is quite great.

  3. Ahhh...Showbiz Pizza! Thanks for this reminder. I have mixed childhood emotions about it also and especially about the band Rock-afire Explosion that used to scare my little brother and gave me the creeps, too. The video is so much fun to watch.