2.) Detroit vs. Everybody
Detroit, MI 5/31/18
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“Detroit looks like nowhere else. Detroit looks like motherfuckin Detroit. As it should.” - Anthony Bourdain
I want Detroit to win. Sports, economically, culturally, itself, whatever. Detroit vs. everybody. Perhaps no other city has embodied the rise and fall and the shifting economic, cultural and racial trends and relationships that have shaped the United States over the last two centuries.
Founded as Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit (Day Twah?) by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701 it was nabbed by the British in 1760 then handed over to the U.S. in 1796. A little less than a month before it was to become the capital of the Michigan Territory it burned to the goddamn ground. They rebuilt. In the 1800’s they shipped a bunch of shit and built a bunch of shit. Then in 1910 it really started to pop off. Ford opened up a plant.
In the first thirty years of the 20th century over a million people moved there. A lot of people came from Europe and the South. You can still find great Polish food in Hamtramk. In World War II they really kicked it up making stuff to kill people overseas.
In this time there were several massive labor and racial equality movements that still shape the city’s culture. It runs through her veins, and you could feel it when you’re inside.
Now for some more relevance, the population of the city dropped by almost a million people between the 1950’s and now. That’s a lot of empty bars and churches. That’s a lot of cheap houses and expensive infrastructure with no money to maintain it. One could write a book (and many have) about the economic and and social ups and downs of Detroit, but I’m just going to share my experience. I write punk rock songs. If you’re looking for further reading I’m told by someone I trust with my life to check out anything by Charlie LeDuff.
When we first started coming to Detroit around 2009 during the Great Recession, it was like stepping into a dystopian sci-fi movie. Not an action thriller, a good one like Children of Men. I vividly remember pulling off of the highway and seeing a beautiful green mansion with a massive yard and ornate metal and wooden trim framed by a large tree and equally impressive mansions on either side. What set it apart though were the plywood-covered windows and busted front porch. I think someone spray painted “STOP” in red spray paint across one of the pieces of wood. That was several thousand beers ago so please forgive me if that’s an embellishment.
Everything just looked so broken. It was drab and unsettling. The stories we heard from residents and other bands did nothing but drive the sad story home. Legend has it a friend’s band was pulled over by the police at a redlight and told “Stop at the red light, look both ways, then go. Don’t stop at the stop signs” for their safety. Stories of canceled municipal services resulting in piles of trash as well as packs of wild dogs stigmatized the city. Restaurants and office buildings downtown were manned twenty-four seven by private security officers with modified shoulder strapped pistols. The first friend we stayed with had cardboard cutouts of people in the windows to deter home invaders. Shit was grim. Once Bob Barnett of Captain We're Sinking was taking a picture of a liquor store. A man walked over and flashed a badge, made him pull out his phone and delete the picture. Plain clothes cop caught coming out of the party store.
This time around it was very different. It’s been getting brighter and friendlier every year that we come back. There is a lot to discuss about race and class and the changing American urban landscape. Trust me, I’ve visited most American major cities every 8 or 9 months for the last nine years. Rock clubs and dive bars have often been at the tip of the spear of the “revitalization” of neighborhoods and downtowns across the country. In several cities these these places are being threatened and moved and closed, an ironic loop of rich people in condos complaining about the noise and clientele that made the fucking condos appealing in the first place. I would love to write more about this and I will in the future — we’re getting off track here though.
This was the first day of the Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls tour. We’re out with Lucero and The Homeless Gospel Choir as well. The venue was The Fillmore in Detroit. It’s an old theater from the twenties directly across from The Tigers Stadium. It was absolutely beautiful and the staff were wonderful. There’s always a special kind of warmth playing in an old theater like that. Makes what you’re doing feel a little more significant and high-brow. There is a sincerity and authenticity to the whole thing.
I took off from the venue with my camera and started to shoot the downtown. The architecture is gorgeous. On this day there were people everywhere doing what they do. I stopped to talk to a guy at a Flamingo Vintage pop-up shop which was in line with a bunch of other pop-up shops in a square. Most of them sold shirts and hats with the proudest of Detroit sentiments. “Detroit or gtfo”, “The D”, and my personal favorite: “Detroit vs. Everybody”. He was an older punk. He told me, “Crazy how the neighborhood has changed,” and to check out El Club down in Mexicantown. I hope I make it there someday. Oh, he also reminded me to “keep an eye on your stuff”.
Highlight of the day for me was running into an older lady named Carolyn by the circular Michigan Labor Legacy Monument. She walked up and asked me about Jesus. She was quite disarming and we had a lovely conversation about life and death as well as God and the varying interpretations of the Bible. I gotta mention that I’m actually writing this inside of a church surrounded completely by Christian books and trinkets. The closest coffee shop was “Holy Grounds”. You got me St. David’s Episcopal Church of Austin TX.
I’ve found there are a few types of religious missionary-ish people that approach you in public. These can be young adults from nice backgrounds who are expected to reach out; think Mormon door-knockers and Southern folding-table-let’s-talk-about Jesus. There are also ex drug-addicts and victims of trauma that are usually a little wide-eyed and very much into dogmatic inarguable truths that have been helped out with a new start by some kind of religious organization and are now trying to do the same. Then you’ve got the angry proscilitizors. Some are angry white men yelling about gays and jews and bizarre literal interpretations of scripture down in the south. Some are angry black men yelling about whites and jews and bizarre literal interpretations of scripture like the guys in center city Philadelphia. It seems that some people push their religious beliefs to reaffirm their own faith.
Thing is, if you were so sure that you had the keys to peace and love on earth and in the afterlife wouldn’t you want to share it with as many people as possible? That’s a beautiful thing to me, founded in love. Problem is it can pave a road to literal fucking hell for everyone in the society. Just look at the 20th century.
This woman I met however told me she likes to walk, and on her walks she talks to people because we can often go our whole day without thinking of our own mortality and the afterlife. If she can show one person her truth then she has done a good thing. I’m not going to argue with the first part. You can really put your day into perspective when you realize it could very well be your last.
We came out the other side in agreement about one very important thing, we had a lovely conversation with a stranger, made a new friend for the day, and were much better for it.