My friend and I have fun comparing notes on the bizarre Google searches that bring new readers to our blogs. One reader recently found me by searching for Rolin [sic] Joel, whom I had listed as one of the baroque characters of my Southern past. That seems as good a reason as any to delve into my memories of him.

Joel on the move.

Rolin Joel is, by his own description, a World Champion Roller Skater. I first met Joel in the mid-90s through my friend Amy, a freelance writer who wrote a feature on him for some obscure hipster magazine. Shortly after the article came out, Joel enjoyed a brief fame, and Amy emceed a performance of his at the 40 Watt Club. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was envisioning something, well, award-winning. Joel came out in a vintage 70s costume–tight, flared satin trousers, sequined shirt–and cut some pretty basic moves to a soundtrack of Grandmaster Flash as the college kids cheered him on. Like the rest of the audience, I thought the whole thing was kind of ironic and jokey, until Amy introduced us after the performance.

Up close, I could tell that he was, in small-town Southern parlance, a little touched. He wasn’t slow, exactly, but there was definitely something simple and childlike in his manner (despite his approximate age of 40) and in his deadly serious pursuit of his craft. As far as I know, he still lives with his elderly father, who is also his manager and shows up to Joel’s performances in a costume that matches his son’s (just picture that getup on an 80-year-old man).


After that evening, I lost track of him for several years, until the ex and I opened up our store in downtown Athens. We rented stalls to a variety of vendors, including dealers of old records. I was working there one Saturday afternoon when I heard the tinny blare of Grandmaster Flash coming from the sidewalk. In came Joel, wearing an exact replica of Michael Jackson’s Thriller-era red leather and chain-mail outfit and wheeling an old bike with a tape deck and speakers duct-taped to the frame. He looked me in the eye and asked what would become his regular Saturday question: “You have any Grandmaster Flash or Sugar Hill Gang records?” I pointed him to the record bins, and about an hour later he came to the register with a stack of old funk and hip-hop records. He came in every week with his query and often bought the same records over and over. I tried to point out to him when he had already purchased a certain album, but he didn’t care; he just wanted as many copies as possible. He clearly loved hanging out in the store, and the ex and I grew fond of him.

One of my last memories of Joel is of his birthday party (age not disclosed), about 4 years ago. It was held at a park outside of downtown Athens; Joel had laid out birthday cake and chips and dip under the pavilion; his father, dozing in the shade, wore a flashy vintage outfit identical to his son’s. Joel started his portable record player, and as the 70s funk started, he launched into his routine, sweating and wearing a look of intense concentration just as he had the first time I had seen him nearly 10 years before.

(photos courtesy of Carrieoke’s Knitting Blog)