Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Detroit Rock City
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Detroit Rock City

Robert Downes - October 12th, 2006
If you’re a baby boomer who grew up listening to the sound of Detroit’s fabulous rock bands of the late ‘60s, you’re sure to enjoy the drive down memory lane with “Grit, Noise and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
Recently issued in paperback by author and Royal Oak native David A. Carson (University of Michigan Press, $17.95), the book begins with blues pioneer John Lee Hooker arriving in Detroit in 1943 and chronicles the birth of the city’s blues scene along with the rise of Motown.
But those chapters are just the appetizer for the main course involving the cornucopia of gritty, blue collar rock starting in the mid-’60s that put Detroit on par with the rock scenes of San Francisco and London.
Yet, therein lies a tragic tale. Although Detroit’s homegrown bands such as The Rationals, SRC, The Amboy Dukes and the Detroit Wheels often blew more famous visiting bands off the stage, unfortunately, most of the Motor City’s bands never made the mark they deserved on the national scene.
“Grit, Noise and Revolution” chronicles the rise and fall of Detroit’s rock scene and its genesis in a network of teen clubs ranging from the Hideouts in the Detroit suburbs to the Ponytail in Harbor Springs.

The importance of the Grande Ballroom gets special treatment. The Grande was established by junior high school English teacher and visionary disc jockey Russ Gibb, who was influenced by a visit to the Fillmore West rock palace in San Francisco. Located in a slum neighborhood on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, the Grande served as an incubator for many Detroit bands who warmed up for acts such as The Who, Cream, The Doors, Pink Floyd and scores of others. Originally a big band hall built in 1930 with a floating wooden dance floor, the Grande eventually degenerated into a virtual drug market with gross bathrooms that was ultimately deemed too shabby even for its audience of long-haired teen “freaks.”
But it was here that legends were made, such as the MC5, who served as The Grande’s house band. Much of Carson’s book involves the rise and fall of the MC5, who had the potential to be “the greatest rock band in the world,” with countless true-believer fans. One of rock’s greatest live albums was recorded at the Grande over a two-show period in October, 1968, with the MC5’s rallying cry to “Kick out the jams....!”
Unfortunately, the MC5 became entangled in the anarchist politics of John Sinclair’s Trans-Love Energies collective of artists, which morphed into the politically-naive White Panther Party. The party platform advocated sex in the streets, drug use and rock & roll as tools to revolutionize the world. That approach proved to be a roadmap for failure, and after Sinclair was shipped off to prison for marijuana possession, the MC5 found themselves rudderless and drifting into heavy drug use. Their second album, produced by rock critic John Landau, was a thinly recorded bomb.

Carson’s book also details the rise of the hippie culture of Plum Street in Detroit in tandem with the music scene. Here are sketches of John Sinclair, Russ Gibb, and promotors such as Jeep Holland, Terry Knight and Berry Gordy, among many others.
Although the MC5 gets well-deserved treatment as the centerpiece of the book, Carson also tells the story of bands such as Frijid Pink, SRC, Bob Seger’s bands, Third Power, Savage Grace, Iggy and the Stooges, The Frost, Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, Del Shannon, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Alice Cooper and Grand Funk Railroad. Plus, Carson offers an epilogue to describe what happened to the bands after Detroit’s heyday.
There’s much more in the book: the importance of WABX-FM in launching “underground” radio and creating the template for album-length rock; the role of the “Fifth Estate” underground newspaper and “Creem” magazine; the dastardly dealings of music promoters; the 1967 riot in Detroit and the ‘68 riot at the Democratic Convention in Chicago; Michigan rock festivals and more. Carson’s short-and-sweet approach gives you a global view of the times and its main players without overwhelming you with information. Indeed, many of his subjects are worthy of entire books in themselves.

Ultimately, Detroit’s rock scene seems to have been hamstrung by its midwestern location, which was far removed from the media currents of the east and west coasts.
Often, as in the case of Bob Seger’s regional hit, “Heavy Music,” a band from Detroit would have a smash single in Michigan, but extremely poor distribution of its albums across the country. The MC5 (among other bands) went on tour to promote its album only to learn that record stores in cities such as San Francisco didn’t have it in their racks.
Some bands, such as Grand Funk Railroad and Frijid Pink, took their shows on the road nationally and came back to Detroit as stars while the likes of the MC5 and the Stooges were dumbfounded by their success, Carson writes. On the other hand, Alice Cooper arrived in Detroit as a virtual refugee from the west coast and was received with open arms by a Motor City audience who instantly “got” what he was trying to do with shock-rock theater long before the likes of Kiss or Marilyn Manson. His breakout hit, “Eighteen,” made Cooper a national star.

So what killed Detroit, Rock City?
Several factors: In the early ‘70s, the drinking age in Michigan was temporarily lowered to 18, resulting in the death of many teen clubs that couldn’t compete with bars. In turn, bars wanted dance music, rather than the art rock of groups such as SRC.
The impact of hard drugs also took its toll, as some musicians and their fans went from using pot and LSD to heavier drugs, including shooting heroin and smoking dope laden with horse tranquilizers.
The corporate influence on music also did its part to kill Detroit’s scene, Carson notes. Promoters of powerhouse groups from outside the area opted out of hiring Detroit bands to warm up their tours. And the free-form radio experiment of WABX fell by the wayside as FM radio developed its corporate playlist approach that cut out local talents.
Drugs, alcohol, corporatism, greed -- all played a hand in killing the scene as venues such as the Grande and the Eastown shut down and bands such as the MC5 fell apart. The golden age of Detroit rock flowered and died in a period from 1965-1972.
“I guess you could look at the MC5 at that point as an allegory for what was happening in Detroit,” says MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer towards the end of the book. “It went from being a boomtown to guns, heroin, and murder. An urban nightmare.”
But still, a great read. And if you happen to have been a part of that scene as a teenage fan, “Grit, Noise and Revolution” is impossible to put down.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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