It seemed as if it would be easy, fun even: Flip through 30 years of Metro Times issues and come up with 30 stories to excerpt that tell the paper's story. Not necessarily the 30 biggest prize winners. Not necessarily the 30 that had the most impact. Not necessarily the best written. Just 30 that give the paper's range and major themes, 30 stories spread fairly evenly across the three decades that we've been making noise in this city.
The reading part was fun, especially the pre-1997, pre-Web stories that could only be found in bound copies in our "morgue." But when the fun ended, my list of candidates was well over 100 articles long, which meant painful choices. Is there room for Chris Tysh's 1981 ode to undergarments? What about pieces citing such progressive heroes as U.S. Rep. George Crockett, Kenneth Cockrel and Maryann Mahaffey (the latter having donned a Super Man costume for a photo shoot)? What about pieces on Gov. John Engler's slashing and burning of government, from arts to mental health? How about more profiles of visual artists? Or jazz and blues artists? More from the Archer years? Film writing? More investigations into pollution and corruption, poverty and bad cops? What you have before you is an imperfect, perhaps a tad arbitrary, attempt to give a range of the years and range of topics. If the reading is one-tenth as satisfying as the searching, I'll be happy.
I wasn't with Metro Times in the early years, but I met the founders — Ron Williams and Laura Markham — early on, knew several of the early staffers and contributors and got to know lots of the others over the years. So even before I arrived here in 1997, I knew a good bit of the lore, and over the years I've picked up plenty more. There were tales of the initial (second-hand!) cardboard desks and the laughable start-up kitty of $5,000; there was the idea that the paper would be Rolling Stone's cultural sense crossed with Chicago lefty paper In These Times' politics. But in my recent research I was struck by some of the less obvious things that the early staff were up against.
The forerunner to today's Night and Day was called What's Happening, and its name was a sort of stance: Wasn't an events calendar for a dead Detroit an oxymoron? So when the first flyer arrived in the mail, it got taped the wall, co-founder Laura Markham wrote. "Then there was another flyer and another and another. Within the first months, the wall — this huge wall — was completely covered with flyers, from art exhibits to music to political events. ... They came out in the pages of the calendar, but here was this wall that was really like a kaleidoscope of all the things happening in Detroit. ... In this city, which we were told was dead, there were courageous people out there struggling to make things happen. Here was living proof of it on this wall, this ever-changing wall of events."
And we like to think that having the MT to reflect that kind of courage has inspired more of it over the years.
Of course, in 2010, that wall of flyers is reflected not just in the pages of the printed calendar: it's online as well, usable and accessible in ways that no one imagined in 1980. Likewise, the entire mission of the paper continues today both in print and online: We're here to hit hard with news, and treat culture and the arts just as seriously, to deliver the the facts and keep hope and imagination alive. We're here to practice a journalism of advocacy and service, that hits the truth even when it rankles, even when it hurts. We're here to speak to metropolitan Detroit as a region. And if the idea that city and suburbs are inextricably linked is in some ways stronger than when the paper began, the struggles to advance the notion and act on it continue. And if we can't have some fun in the process, it won't matter at all. So we keep trying to do just that.
Push Comes to Shove
by Michael Betzold
The confrontation between the Coleman Young administration and the community known as Poletown — inconventiently atop land that the administration saw as vital for a new General Motors plant and jobs for the city — resonated for years. It was an issue that MT reporters followed passionately.
They broke their backs making cars for Packard on the Boulevard, for Chrysler at Dodge Main, for the old Hupp Motor Company on Mount Elliott.
With pennies saved from their scrawny paychecks they barely met mortgage payments on their frame houses, but they kept their yards clean and their homes painted.
They watched in horror as their community was torn in two by the Ford Freeway so that fatter fellow Detroiters could drive the cars they had built away from the city, leaving it barren and desolate.
Still they fought for survival, kept alive their neighborhood and traditions, and dreamed of revitalization.
Now they are simply in the way.
Their valued homes and small businesses will be leveled by edict of the world's largest corporation — so that it can build a new plant and manufacture more cars.
They are the people of Poletown — residents of a neighborhood about to be forever wiped off the landscape of Detroit so that General Motors' $40 billion retooling project can proceed, helping the giant automaker modernize and automate its production facilities.
Iggy Picks Up the Garbage
by Mark J. Norton
Writer Mark J. Norton penned this Iggy Pop sizzler when Metro Times was still finding its legs, and as solo Pop was still finding his. Norton was the only writer then to right-size Pop — the not-yet-fabled man who basically started punk rock, but who had fallen to earth, long after the colossal commercial failure of the Stooges. By telling of the singer's stilted transition into the "mainstream," and of the Stooges mass influence, this piece was as important a
story on a culture-shifting
rock star as any written
The legend of former Ann Arborite James Osterberg has endured many years, mostly due to people like myself who witnessed the Ig through most of his phases. We counted ourselves among the musical elite, cognizant of the fact that most people in the biz had written him off as just another self-destructive clown who didn't waste his time — he wasted yours. But we knew better. His true spirit was something we cherished and fed upon. When we needed that indestructible rush of self-nihilism in safe, vicarious fashion, we called on Iggy Pop to satisfy that urge. And he did.
All things considered, Iggy was probably the most influential figure on the new wave scene. Groups utilized the groundwork that the Stooges laid down almost a decade before. It's all there on vinyl, the living proof of the Pop's influence can be heard in the work of the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Vibrators, the Stranglers, the Damned, the Dead Boys and every lousy group from El Lay who are too numerous to mention and scores of groups across the country will cheerfully admit that they lifted ideas from our hometown heroes. It's like Iggy and the Stooges are public domain, which maybe they should be ...
But every time I hear the Pistols or the Clash or the Damned I get this incredible sensation that all these English bozos owe Iggy and the boys a hell of a lot more than the lip service they spout every now and then in Brit periodicals. It just doesn't seem to be fair.
A Day in the Life
by Michael Moore
Before he turned to film, Michael Moore was a crusading journalist in these parts with his papers The Flint Voice, The Michigan Voice and a number of pieces in the early days of Metro Times. In this one, he considers the case of one of Michigan's progressive political heroes, the late Zolton Ferency.
Zolton Ferency, you could say, has been given a bum rap. Nobody, it seems, likes a loser. And Zolton Ferency has lost (for governor in 1966) and lost (for governor in 1970) and lost (for state Supreme Court in 1978). The press makes him seem like some flake whose only job is to run for office every four years. The Democrats treat him like a prodigal distant cousin who they wish wouldn't come home. Big Business fears him, Big Labor can't control him. The Right red-baits him and the Left says he sold out.
But people like him. Those who've met him say he's friendly, witty, intelligent, impassioned, honest and full of good idea. They also say he can't win, so why throw your vote away?
"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," Ferency laments. "Our consultants tell us that if everyone who says, 'I like Zolton, but he can't win' would just vote for me, I would win."
It's an image problem, and Ferency isn't long on image. While the Pretty Faces mug their favorite Robert Redford pose on the TV screen, he's talking about public control of utilities, worker takeover of abandoned factories, a public bank, a graduated income tax, shutting down nuclear power plants and creating a one-house legislature. But the press won't take him seriously and, instead of being seen as the most creative, intelligent and straightforward candidate in the Aug. 10 Democratic primary, he is being summarily dismissed as so much political deadwood in favor of a virtual unknown from Oakland County who has been bankrolled by everyone from Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca ("If you can find a better governor, buy him!") to fellow Democratic socialist Congressman John Conyers ("I like Zolton, but Blanchard is electable").
Old gray lady vs. valley girl
By Jeanie Wylie
Watching and commenting on the mainstream media has been part of the alternative press mission from the outset. MT wrote in depth about the maneuvers that led to the merger — technically a Joint Operating Agreement between the Detroit News and Free Press — which went into effect in 1989, as well as about the strike at the dailies that began in 1995 and at numerous other points. (When the Freep killed a scathing review of Mitch Albom's Five People Your Meet in Heaven, the MT carried the piece.) The late Jeanie Wylie wrote about the strategies circa 1983 — the Free Press alone was losing $8 million a year — in an old-fashioned newspaper war with neither an end nor a truce in sight.
Unlike 98 percent of American cities, Detroit is lucky enough to have two daily newspapers. The choice has long been the liberal, friendly Free Press versus the stodgy, reactionary News. In recent years, however, the personalities of the papers have changed. Readers who retain longstanding loyalties might be surprised to find the old reputations no longer fit the dailies.
Many progressive Detroiters long ago wrote off the News because of its right-wing editorials. But some of these readers are annoyed with recent changes in the Free Press which emphasize a snazzy look over substance. ...
The new Free Press game plan is to capitalize on its image as "the morning friendly." Executive editor Dave Lawrence explains that "a paper can be a good friend — a good friend will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. But it will be fair and compassionate." Lawrence added that the Free Press is deliberately "fun to read, better presented, and not afraid to have a laugh or a cry."
This translates into letters from the editor on the front page, heart-warming or agonizing human-interest stories and cute headlines that often include question marks or exclamation points. On the day that Reagan was elected and the Iran hostage crisis ended, the Free Press headline exclaimed "What a Day!" Since then, the Free Press has run six-column banner headlines for the deaths of Jack Dempsey and Grace Kelly, as well as an early edition headline that read: "Pope a big hit in Poland."
While the Free Press has gone to fluff, the "old, gray lady" News has cleaned up its news writing, improved its local coverage and found a direction independent of its editorials. Management at the News voiced a commitment to old-time journalism and hard news reporting. ...
It is anyone's guess how long Knight Ridder and the Evening News Association will be willing to subsidize their Detroit Properties. Each stands to double its circulation and to at least double its ad revenue if it outlasts the other. Both chains profess unflagging loyalty to their papers, saying that their other assets offset their Detroit losses and keep their stockholders satisfied. It would be suicide to say otherwise.
The Secret Belle Isle Casino Gambling Plan
by Rosanne Less and Ron Williams
Detroiters look at Belle Isle and its potential and ask what it could become for the public. Some folks have looked at the island park and approached it rather differently. Investigative reporter Rosanne Less and editor Ron Williams broke the news on one set of those plans.
The Metro Times has learned of the existence of a confidential document which details a proposal to transform the city-owned island park of Belle Isle into an international resort and conference center which would feature casino hotel gambling.
While rumors have persisted for years concerning the Belle Isle casino gambling plans, the verification of the document — which calls for development both on and off the island that could eventually total $3-$5 billion in new investment in Detroit — indicates that research and planning is much further along than previously believed.
It has also been learned that a secret group of Detroit-area business and civic figures — prominent among them Detroit Realtor Patrick J. Meehan — has been working on an economic development plan which has as its starting point the legalization of gambling in the city of Detroit.
Two other Detroit businessmen, John A. Wise of the law firm Dykhouse and Wise and Joseph J. O'Connor, president of Downtown Bakery Corp., which owns several C'est Si Bon bakeries downtown, are also believed to be key figures in this group which, according to sources, has funded and produced the confidential proposal and other studies that go far beyond it.
Meehan, in an interview with the Metro Times, claims to own 100 percent of the shares of Belle Isle International, a company he says he formed specifically to prepare and advocate plans for Detroit casino gambling on the public park.
Knowledge of and familiarity with the secret document is widespread within the highest levels of the planning and development departments of the city. Corinne Gilb, director of the city's planning department, when questioned about the plan, asked the Metro Times, "Has that been released by the mayor yet?"...
Gone like a cool breeze (but he,ll be back like the Boblo Boat)
By Jim Gustafson
Love-loving the city or love-hating the city or hate-loving the city but not often hate-hating the city ... we've published a lot about folks' relationship with the D ... even years before anyone called it "the D." Those would include this speed-rant adieu from the late local poet Jim Gustafson.
I left Detroit forever in 1967, '69, '71,'75,'78,'79,'82,'84,'86 and once so far here in 1987. I'm going, going gone for sure, and as soon as I get my foot loose from the hellhounds's mouth and the razor wire untangled from my ragged-ass coat, I'm history repeating itself personified. I'll be gone like a cool breeze. But I'll be back ... like the Boblo boat.
I've left this town for every conceivable reason except to join the circus. Never needed to join the circus because I've gone through life with a micropainted wagon implanted just behind my right ear. And when I hear the calliopes as I'm driving past the airport, or start talking a lot about "working without a net," I know that it's just about time to hit the road. To look over yonder mountain to see what I can see.
Restlessness was considered a virtue when this boy was coming of age. To me, one of the great things about the American Dream was that you could dream it on so many different pillows. Freedom is not a thing to be squandered. One of the best reasons to go is simply because you can. Or so the mythology of the '60s told me. Look, I say in the response to this demon mythology, I wasn't even born until two years after that Kerouac fellow was headed west! Leave me alone! I just want a VCR ... not a VW bus! I want to sleep 10,000 consecutive nights in the same bed! With the same nicely broken-in pillow.
Fat chance. Get your toothbrush and get out of here.
Yikes, oh, crazy yikes! I don't know that I want to go! Too bad, you're going anyway.
So it's crazy onwardism time again.
By Morris Gleicher
Morris Gleicher, a longtime political consultant who became a Metro Times investor, adviser and columnist, is credited with being instrumental in helping the paper survive the rough early years. As a columnist he was both informed and connected, providing keen insights and the occasional scoop (including U.S. Rep George Crockett's 1990 resignation decision).
This 1991 piece about the incinerator is just one of many about the controversial facility that has appeared in the paper over the decades. We began covering the issue in the 1980s and have kept at it since. In 2008, we began producing a series of stories — recognized with awards from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, the Michigan Sierra Club and others — detailing the continued efforts of environmentalists to get the city to quit burning its trash.
Detroit City Council's recent decision to sell the city's incinerator, made under mayoral pressure, may yield Detroit Edison bigger profits, the citizenry higher electric bills and Phillip Morris a whopping tax credit of hundreds of millions of dollars. ...
Critics of the deal say the Public Lighting Department will now require larger subsidies to keep streetlights and sewerage stations running. City Council members, trapped by the immediate need for cash to relieve an $88 million budget deficit, said they felt blackmailed. Edison says that it is serving the city's needs and will buy incinerator steam even though cheaper sources are available.
"It's too much like the Chrysler $42 million blowout," says Council President Maryann Mahaffey, who opposed the deal. "Again we have a monstrously complex package, abruptly presented to Council with no substantiating data — and we're told to act immediately to avoid imminent bankruptcy. That's no way to run a city."
The rap underground
By Rayfield Waller
Writer Rayfield Waller captured the essence and life of trailblazing rapper Esham, as well as Detroit's quickly growing and evolving rap scene. He explains with eagle-eyed clarity how Esham's status had grown out of east side house parties and rental halls to a word-of-mouth king of the underground, all before Eminem even rhymed.
Ask 24-year-old James Smith, producer for local rap artist Esham, about the growing hip hop club scene in Detroit. Ask him about the hotly contested, competitive nature of the DJs, MCs, and producers, some of whom declare the superiority of their own clubs, their own territories, styles and haunts, and he will dismiss the question. "I'm not concerned with territory," he says. "Our music is not for Detroit—it's for the world: We do stuff that everybody in the world can understand, we're understood in Japan. This east side/west side/downtown club thing...we don't think in terms of that."
Smith is co-founder of Real Life Productions, a street level, homegrown record label and production company. Smith's brother and co-founder of the label is known as "Esham." Esham is fast becoming one of the more popular icons of the Detroit hip hop underground after releasing three self-written, self-produced and self-distributed albums. Sitting in the studios of "The Disk" on 9 Mile Rd., where Esham is mastering his next CD, the brothers hipped me to the 411 on local hip hop.
They commented on things I had learned during a week of research, club-hopping, cruising and after-hours party crashing across Detroit. The dizzying proliferation of styles and genres (house, techno, rave, O.G., old style, acid rap, industrial, etc.); the conflicts and controversies (the 'gangsta' style, radio's abandonment of black music, clubs competing for patrons, and the 'criminal' rep of the rap underground); the class structure of the metro Detroit scene (the poor, working-class underground of the east side where rave, the 'Miami Sound' and underground hardcore are ascendant; the Downtown clubs where whites from Royal Oak and Farmington mix with hip hop bohos from Mack Ave. and buppies from Southfield to dance to bomb squad mixes).
Word of mouth is all Real Life Productions began with. Word of mouth is what rap music itself began with. And Esham, the commensurate Detroit rapper, is a legend in the streets, the rental halls and after-hours underground and house parties of Detroit's east side.
The Power of Micropoint
by Lorenzo Baj
The writer said that he first came across the term "micropointillism" in 1988 in an exhibit at the now (sadly) defunct Michigan Gallery. The style was "homey and sleek at the same time" and a far cry from the fashionable representational art big New York gallery names like Eric Fishcl and David Salle with their "debauched suburbanites" and the like. No, these Detroit micropointillists were more about a sense of refinement, interiority and exploration. Stephen Goodfellow and Lowell Boileau, still prominent, were discussed at length:
A voluble, well-read, widely traveled man, with an abiding interest in cosmology and astrophysics, Goodfellow doesn't hesitate to put micropointillists at the peak of a tradition, and himself as a kind of reviver-figure of an indigenous attitude in American painting. Goodfellow sees all his work as continuing an American tradition of social satire and figurative work that began disappearing sometime in the 1930s. The "Deposition" is a somewhat ironic example, as it's one of the canonical subjects of European art. But Goodfellow's Christ is reduced in size and prominence, "democratized" as it were, and a modern American urban skyline forms an unmistakable backdrop. The whole picture has a regional feel, particularly as its pictorial content echoes ever so obliquely, the work of Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera.
"Until Hitler rose to power and European artists fled the Axis countries, American art developed at its own pace," he says. "Then the scene was internationalized. Before and after the war the influx of European artists and dealers buried the American aesthetic. Our job is to restore it. I'm English by birth but I feel no patriotism in this sense at all."
Boileau, a much more restrained personality, seconds such emotions. "When the American bourgeoisie wanted to internationalize, we ended up with a Museum of Modern Art filled with European painting." That's why the light in Boileau's works reminds one of the American Hudson River School of the 19th century, of Martin Johnson Heade, Albert Bierstadt and Frederick Church. "Those artists had pomp and nationalism," he admits, "but as far as vision they were impeccable. Good painting is good painting, whether done for Church or State."
Aw Shucks: Goober & the Peas
By Thom Jurek
Here we see how absurdists Goober and the Peas created a musical marketing plan based on "historical caricature" and irony, one that transcended and embraced "pop" music in equal measure and had earned them a commendable cult following way beyond the 313. The story's foretelling in many ways: We first learn here of John Gillis (aka Jack White), and band leader Dan Miller went on to Two-Star Tabernacle and Blanche and to play Cash sideman Luther Perkins alongside Joaquin Phoenix in 2005's Walk the Line. And it foreshadows how the White Stripes created their own colorful "alt" brand.
The art critic Peter Schejeldahl once described an exhibit of Andy Warhol's paintings in this way: "It had the old sixties virtue ... of a big, splashy stylistic idea, brought about in a big, splashy, completely self-confident manner ... right on the pulse of certain changes in the culture."
That same quote could be used to describe the achievements of various rock and roll performers such as Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Little Richard, Alice Cooper, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mar, T.Rex, Slade, Roxy Music, Earth, Wind and Fire, Mott the Hoople, the New York Dolls, Parliament-Funkadelic, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and many others. It could also be used, without a stretch, when speaking about Royal Oak's Goober and the Peas.
Yes. Goober and the Peas. Goober and the Peas have created an image straight out of the Warholian Pop Art marketing handbook. It takes many elements of American popular mythology — the Grand Ole Opry, cowboys in outrageously ugly clothes, snake oil salesmen, the two faces of Hank Williams (super courteous and down home, but with an extraordinary penchant for drugs, booze, guitars and funky Cadillacs) — and wraps them up in a seemingly absurd but remarkably poignant manner.
It brings up many questions about the roots of Detroit's (and the metro area's) population and throws them out to their live audiences with plenty of hay and wry humor that most folks just plain don't get. It takes historical caricature, folklore human oddity and humor, and filters them through a distinctly Detroit brand of rock and roll music.
The Truth About Jack Kevorkian
By Jack Lessenberry
We followed Jack Kevorkian when he was one of the most controversial figures in America. And we followed him through the 1998 assisted suicide on 60 Minutes that finally landed him in prison. And we followed his resurgence in a made-for-TV movie with Al Pacino playing him earlier this year. But this is an account of the period when he was going against the establishment — and winning.
Jack Kevorkian frowns slightly, alone at the defense's table for a rare moment while the lawyers for both sides huddle with the judge. It is Thursday, Sept. 9.
All day long his attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, has been relatively — and, as it turned out, wrongly — confident that he is going to win this day, that District Court Judge Willie G. Lipscomb Jr. will toss Michigan's assisted suicide ban into the ashcan of unconstitutionality.
But only about an hour before the ruling, the man who has stirred more controversy than perhaps anyone in the history of modern medicine isn't so sure.
"What do you think?" someone asks him. "If you win today, is it over? Have you finally won for good?"
"I don't know," Dr. Kevorkian says. "I don't think so."
Then he looks up, alert brown eyes flashing.
"But I'll tell you this. If nobody supported me, I'd still do this, even if they burned me at the stake. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't."
Ready to die
Two hours later, after the judge has praised Jack Kevorkian's courage and said he had done "a great service to the medical community" for raising the issue, he orders him bound over for trial in Recorder's Court for assisting in the August 4 suicide of Thomas W. Hyde Jr.
But anyone who hoped that the certainty of a trial would cow Jack Kevorkian quickly found out how wrong they were. For on the very night Judge Lipscomb ruled he had to stand trial, Jack Kevorkian went to the Redford Township home of Donald O'Keefe, a 73-year-old tool-and-die worker suffering from cancer, and stood by as O'Keefe inhaled carbon monoxide and became the 18th person to commit suicide in his presence, and with his assistance, since 1990.
Should Kevorkian be tried and convicted of assisting in the Hyde suicide—and he doesn't dispute that he did exactly what he is being charged with — he could face four years in jail. But if it comes to that, he intends to do no time; instead, he says, he will systematically starve his sparse frame to death.
"Not because I want to be a martyr; I don't. But I don't choose to live in a society that's still in the Dark Ages, and I will look down on all of you and end it all," he said back in August, when he knew he was going to be charged.
Behind enemy lines with the granola commandos
By Monte Paulsen
To publicize the little-known threat of pollution from hazardous waste burned in cement kilns, Greenpeace environmentalists scaled the 250-foot kiln at Huron Portland Cement Company in Alpena. To get the story, MT investigative reporter Monte Paulsen tagged along for the dead-of-night operation. His cover story weaved together tense action, the mechanics of cement making and the legal loopholes allowing the hazardous waste incineration.
Thunder Bay was silent that morning — except, of course, for the familiar rumbling of the giant Lafarge cement plant in Alpena — and desolate too, except for the white minivan parked near its northern shore. Inside the van, all that could be heard was the heavy breathing of the Greenpeace warriors who had come to raid the plant.
"Beth to Carlos. Come in. Over."
The van's driver responded. "Carlos here. Go ahead. Over."
"This place is really dead. Are you ready? Over."
The driver looked around at the men and women crouched in the van. They wore loose, dark clothes and held blackened rucksacks filled with everything from climbing gear and custom radios to Baldy eagle and Woodsy the Owl costumes. They nodded.
"Yeah. We're ready," said the driver.
"Well, birds, I say we do it," crackled the radio.
The van rolled up the narrow gravel road with its lights off. The climbers rechecked their
shoelaces and climbing harnesses. Then, barely visible in the moonlight, something appeared directly in front of them.
"Deer!" someone yelled. It was 10 feet in front of the van.
The driver hit the brakes. The deer leapt into the bushes. The people resumed breathing.
"It's OK. It's OK," said the man clutching a Smokey the Bear costume, as much to himself as anyone else. "It's a good omen."
The van crested the hill and sped toward the well-lit plant. Its wheels spun in the loose gravel as the van pulled a quick U-turn and slid to a stop alongside a chain-link fence.
The sliding door flew open with a whoosh.
Bitter cold air rushed in as the Greenpeace commandos scrambled out, leapt the fence and
charged toward the giant, ever-rumbling ovens that release more than a half-million pounds of potentially toxic waste every year.
By Beth Hawkins
"Barley six months after its inception, the Michigan Militia Corps has caught on like a brush fire. Organizers say they have no idea how many people have taken the paramilitary oath, but they say brigades have formed in 63 of the state's 83 counties," MT investigative reporter and later managing editor Beth Hawkins wrote at a time when few Americans had paid attention to the movement, and six months before the Oklahoma City bombing when the movement would come under national scrutiny. Militia ties to the bombing would ultimately prove slight, but the rhetoric of the armed movement overlapped disturbingly with the handful of individuals who took the words into action.
A sign alongside Highway 31 just outside Pellston describes the village as the icebox of the nation. A blink-and-you-miss-it town with a population of 580, the weather used to be pretty much the only news here. Then one Saturday in May, the Michigan Militia Corps came to town. Three dozen men in full battle regalia, their faces smeared with camouflage paint, set up in the village park a few yards from a kids' basketball game. Led by Baptist preacher Norman Olson and his deacon, Ray Southwell, they brought semi-automatics and posted armed sentries.
The group deliberately chose to meet in the park as a way to "go public" and draw attention, according to Southwell. They hoped to use the resulting publicity to spread their message: that the U.S. government is plotting to strip Americans of their weapons in preparation for martial law and the installation of a socialist one-world government.
"People say, 'Why the camouflage and the guns?'" explains Southwell. "And I say, 'Without the camouflage and the guns, no one would pay attention.'"
If holding paramilitary exercises in a playground was a publicity ploy, it worked. The militia's first public meeting left Pellston residents frightened and angry – but not about the possibility that the feds will subvert democracy.
"When Rev. Olson called me, I thought he wanted to use the park for a church picnic," says village President Mary Hessel. "They asked to use the pavilion but they didn't say they were going to come with guns, with their faces blacked out in camouflage."
Hessel told Olson the group was welcome to meet in the park, but asked that they leave the guns at home next time.
To the leaders of the militia, her request was the first shot in a battle they're likening to Lexington and Concord. Militia leader Olson says village officials are "fearful peasants" who would rather trash the Constitution's Second and 10th amendments than stand up for liberty.
Hessel says the unofficial militia should know better than to hold paramilitary exercises in a park frequented by families with small children. Sooner or later someone is likely to get hurt, she says.
Pellston, both sides warn, could become the next Waco.
The History of Techno
By Hobey Echlin
In the late '90s, we commissioned local experts to give us Detroit-centric histories of the blues (Keith Owens), jazz (Herb Boyd) and rock (Ben Edmonds). Stretching across three issues each, they hold up as good reading still. But the first and most provocative of these was Hobey Echlin's history of techno. While MT had put techno on the cover before, in 1995 a minority of Detroiters had more than cursory knowledge of techno in the present — let alone a sense of it as a music that already had a past.
It's 4 a.m. at Ministry of Sound. The 2,000 or so dancers have waited two hours to get into this sweatbox shrine, one of England's — and the world's — biggest nightclubs.
Derrick May, who's been flown in hours earlier from Detroit Metro Airport, is an hour into his set, and the place is kicking. May works the crowd with his cross-fading mastery, shifting seamlessly from his high school buddy Kevin Saunderson's synthesizer-colored techno 1989 favorite, "Self Evidence," to a just-pressed acetate of a tribal house music track delivered that night by a London DJ.
The crowd doesn't recognize the cut, but they're already into it. So when May shifts into Detroiter Carl Craig's soaring, thumping anthem, "Throw," there are raucous cheers of approval amid the fog, minimal lighting and the club's booming sound system bass.
The club will keep going until 10 a.m., but by then, May will be on a flight home to Detroit. There, the biggest thing he's got to deal with is holding tryouts for the semi-pro baseball team he and Saunderson are putting together for another season of play; they'll build their extensive record release schedules and DJ dates around regular season games. At least in baseball, they can win at home.
Because even as May, Saunderson, Craig and other Detroit techno artists have revolutionized world dance music with their original, totally electronic music — made in tiny home studios and released through their own Detroit-based labels — their names remain largely obscure at home. They are recognized in the otherwise Detroit Rock City by only a handful of club scenesters and DJs for whom techno is as exciting as it is in Europe.
But with lucrative overseas contracts, running their own record labels and DJing gigs, the sting of hometown obscurity is lessened, but by no means erased. For now, at least, their only local hits are in the batting cages.
Condemned by some as unlistenably esoteric electronic music, praised by others for its digital-age sophistication, techno's quiet emergence out of Detroit's black dance culture in the late 1980s has made it more than just a footnote to music history.
Of human bondage
By Lisa Cramton-Wexton
What kind of a place is MT? The kind of place where an editor might hand you The Leather Notebooks, an anthology of gay male S&M advice, to help research a story.
It's a hot, sticky Saturday night at Club X, the weekly 89X-sponsored party at the State Theatre. After the long wait in line and the inspection process at the front door, I step into the State's cavernous lobby and immediately notice that there's much more black leather and goth makeup in attendance tonight.
Retro night? A Bauhaus appreciation party? A Todd's reunion, maybe?
Nope. Tonight's "Club X-Rated," a semi-annual Club X party sponsored by Noir Leather and featuring fashion shows of the punk rock/fetishist boutique's latest clothes. These people have laid down $5 to see leggy models parade across the stage in leather bikinis, rubber teddies and assorted bondage gear. The ads tout it as "a sensuous excursion into the dark side," but judging from the size of the crowd and the ambience inside the club, it's more like "S&M-Goes-to-the-Mall" night.
I approach a group of clean-cut, well-dressed guys.
"What's that?" they immediately want to know, eyeing my tape recorder. I explain that I'm working on a story on S&M and fetish culture entering the mainstream and ask them what they think of "Club X-Rated."
"I love it! I come here for the beautiful women," one howls. This causes about 30 seconds of Beavis and Butthead snorting, as the others slap each others' backs in agreement.
"But you're in line for the paid lashings," I point out. In the lobby are booths at which apparent dominatrices whip fully clothed club patrons across the back and buttocks with a riding crop for $2.
"Why?" I pressed. "Are you all into S&M?" They all laugh.
"Well, put it this way," the loudest leers, his gold chains glinting. "If I am going to get hit, I wanna get hit by a beautiful woman, you know what I mean?'
No, I didn't, and evidently neither did he. S&M is not about using a spanking as a way to get next to a beautiful woman. "Real" S&M is deeper, and often more disturbing.
Smart Talk: The Jeromes sip Mensa tea
Written by Jerome Przybylski
Illustrated by Jerome Ferretti
For quite a few years, the hardest assignments went to the team of Jerome Przybylski and Jerome Ferretti — the Jeromes, we called them. Their trip to a Mensa convention was the classic of their genre. "I'm tired of feeling dumb in a petty way. I want to feel dumb in a grandiose way," Przybylski wrote in anticipation.
We passed through the front doors of the Van Dyke Hotel and walked down a dark corridor.
"This'll be the end of us," Ferretti whispered. "These people have studied all the acts. Picasso and Braque. Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Beavis and Butthead. They're gonna eat our livers. We're outta our league. We shoulda taken the demolition derby assignment."
I contemplated the potency pill. There should be something a tired ol' butcher's son can take 15 minutes before attending a Mensa convention to relieve anxiety and boost performance. To raise his IQ.
"Ferretti," I said, "my barber recommends two aspirin and a Coca-Cola to get a man jump-started. Whaddya think?"
But it was too late. We were met by a lofty blonde. The Queen Eagle of Mensa. She escorted us to a cove where other Mensa-birds nested. All female. All with blinding brass auras. Ferretti and I trembled. A coupla brainless jokers brought to the ace bosom of Mensa. It tests one's nerve.
by Desiree Cooper
In September 1998, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr released his report on President Bill Clinton's dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. There'd never been a report to Congress quite like it. Sample passage: "While the President continued talking on the phone (Ms. Lewinsky understood that the caller was a member of Congress or a senator), she performed oral sex on him." But what would, say, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Bukowski or Ishmael Reed do with such material. We Starred in the style of all of them, but it's the Dr. Seuss parody that still prompts a phone inquiry from time to time.
Bill Clinton: That Starr-I-are! That Starr-I-are! I do not like that Starr-I-are!
Kenneth Starr: Would you, did you tell a lie, and put your hand past Monica's thigh?
Clinton: I would not, could not tell a lie, not when moral stakes are high. Define your terms, dear Starr-I-Are. Is sex first base or just how far? Words are not words. They're not what they seem. They say what they aren't. They aren't what they mean.
Starr: Would you, did you in a hurry, lunch with Monica, fool Ms. Currie?
Clinton: I did not, would not, waste the pizza. We ate after she beat my meatza.
Starr: Would you, did you, with a fox?
Clinton: She's not a fox, she's kind of plump. I would not, did not slap her rump.
Starr: Would you, could you in your bed?
Clinton: I do not like it in a bed. I like it 'neath my desk instead. I do not like her up on top. I would not let her hop on pop.
Starr: Could you, did you on the phone?
Clinton: I do not like it on the phone, unless I'm sure I'm all alone. I did not touch her bouncing hair. I did not pinch her derriere. I stole her heart, but I'm no crook. I gave her Whitman's poetry book.
Starr: Would you, did you with cigar?
Clinton: I did not, could not with cigar. That's her idea; she went too far. She did not kiss just here or there. She tried to kiss me everywhere.
Starr: Would you, could you on the moon?
Clinton: I would not, could not, not on Venus. But whenever she wants, she can blow my ...
Starr: That will be all, I have my case.
Clinton: You will not get me, Starr-I-Are. Did I mention Hillary's car?
Under the gun
By Ann Mullen
This story was one of a number in MT and other area publications — The Michigan Citizen was an important part of this early on, with the city's dailies weighing in decisively later — looking at the troubling number of incidents in which Detroit Police officers shot — and often killed — citizens. The stories and lawsuits preceded the U.S. Justice Department probe, which found serious problems in Detroit Police practices, leading to a consent decree for corrective measures (including at the Detroit Police lockup, also a subject of a prior MT cover story).
On an October evening in 1998, an off-duty Detroit police officer pumped at least three .40-caliber bullets into Johnny Crenshaw.
That much is certain.
What remains a matter of much dispute is exactly how Crenshaw's attempts to get cash that night in a rundown neighborhood ended with him slumped on the pavement of a bank parking lot, blood oozing from bullet holes in his hand, neck, side and chest.
It could be that Crenshaw, a 46-year-old factory laborer, made the near-fatal mistake of trying to rob the cop and another off-duty police officer while they were trying to make a withdrawal from a drive-up ATM on Detroit's west side.
That is what Officer Jerold Blanding, who did the shooting, says he thought was happening that night.
The other explanation is that Crenshaw's only mistake was to open the wrong car door after making a withdrawal of his own, and that a panicked police officer began blasting away at an innocent man.
If that version is to be believed — and there are both witnesses and evidence that support it — then the key question becomes what, if any, action should be taken against the officer in such a case?
There are several possibilities.
Following a complete and thorough investigation, the department might rule that Blanding — now 30, and a six-year veteran of the force at the time of the incident — reasonably feared for his life, fired at a suspected fleeing felon and that the shooting was justified. Or, he could be found in violation of department policy and reprimanded, suspended or demoted. He could even be fired. The prosecutor's office, after reviewing the department investigation, has the option to press criminal charges and, if convicted, he could end up behind bars.
Or he might work for a department that looks the other way when one of its officers shoots an unarmed citizen, a department that slacks off when investigating one of its own and then fights any subsequent efforts by others to uncover the facts.
Is that the kind of Police Department Detroit has?
Chief Benny Napoleon, who was at the scene, according to a report of a police officer who responded to the shooting, won't say.
The sweet twist of success
By Melissa Giannini
Late '90s music editor Chris Handyside couldn't remember whether the White Stripes first appeared in MT in a record review, or whether it was in a short blurb-plus-picture — a 'photocap' in MT lingo — that he wrote after Jack and Meg came by the offices to drop off a flier for a show at the Gold Dollar. They got the cover treatment a few years later, following high-profile opening gigs touring with Sleater-Kinney and Pavement.
Sitting on a couch inside Jack's cozy southwest Detroit living room, talking to the counterpoint of a friend's parakeet flittering about a hanging cage and an ice cream truck circling to squeals of neighborhood children, it's easy to forget just how much nationwide anticipation surrounds the June 25 release of White Blood Cells, the duo's third full-length on Sympathy for the Record Industry.
The band has filled top-notch venues across the country over the course of two years. Two shows had to be booked at New York's Bowery Ballroom on one headlining tour. And just two weeks ago, they "practically sold out" the Fillmore East. "That was a pretty big deal for us," Jack enthuses. "They decorated the whole place with red-and-white decorations. It was just like, 'Man, that's a really big way away from where we first started.' To play a place that big and that historic."
At home, White Stripes are content to stay where they're comfortable, even though the band may have outgrown its usual stomping grounds. The last three Magic Stick shows have sold out, so instead of one big show, the duo decided to book three shows in a row in some of its favorite area venues to celebrate the release of White Blood Cells. The first show with The Rockateens and Ko and the Knockouts is on June 7 at Gold Dollar. The second, with Greg Oblivion and Blanche, takes place June 8 at Magic Bag. And the third, with the Go and the Insomniacs is June 9 at Magic Stick.
"Since it's the third album, we're going to have three shows in Detroit," Jack explains. "It was actually our booking agent's idea. He called the places up. They thought it was a great idea. I thought they weren't gonna go for it, but they did. It seems like a pretty ballsy move for a local band to do that. No one's ever done that before, I don't think, a local band. I don't even think any national bands played here three days in a row. Or at least it's been a while. That used to happen in the old days, like at Bookies and stuff. I just thought it was a cool idea. We'll see if it works."
Slum village square
By Khary Kimani Turner
Slum Village is the one Detroit act this side of Em' who should've ruled the hip-hop earth. They didn't of course, but not without trying and suffering. In a second Slum story to earn MT's cover, writer Khary Kimani Turner details the group's career hiccups and major-label snafus — with rising superstar J Dilla (RIP) and Amp Fiddler in their ranks — upon the release of their 2004 album Detroit Deli. The story's a weighty time piece too; it shows exactly where Motor City hip hop stood in the mid-aughts.
The diminutive offices of Barak Records in Southfield teem with chipper people. It's hard to tell who is employed and who is visiting, since everyone is greeted with a hug or handshake. Even the employees seem to be just hanging out.
The Barak "lounge" is the locus of pseudo-social activity. It's furnished with two love seats, a mounted television and a vintage Pac-Man tabletop arcade game that, for now, is just a place on which to set the more contemporary Playstation 2, along with an assortment of video games and DVDs.
"We just finished a mailing. What are we going to do with all those boxes?" asks Barak publicist and product manager Biba Adams, one of the few employees who's in a serious mood. She is slightly vexed; her relief at having completed one mass mailing is tempered by the arrival of an additional shipment of promotional materials, in boxes that stand 4 feet high.
Just past the promotional shipment, which blocks the entrance to Barak (Hebrew for "blessed"), is the vocal booth for the company's in-house recording studio. Seated inside are the company's prize breadwinners, rappers R.L. "T3" Altman and Jason "Elzhi" Powers, the constituent parts of Slum Village. They sit on either side of musician Amp Fiddler, the man who gave them their first recording opportunity.
These are good times — maybe the best of times — for all three men. Barak, in a joint venture with Capitol Records, will release Slum Village's third national album, Detroit Deli (A Taste of Detroit), on June 29. Fiddler's second solo album, Waltz of a Ghetto Fly, is an overseas smash. He has just returned from a European tour, and talks about how good it felt seeing his promotional poster in London train stations. The Slum Villagers and Fiddler grew up together, in the historic Conant Gardens section of Detroit. East Side, Nevada and 7 Mile area, it's a tough, impoverished neighborhood that bears the typical pockmarks of Detroit's lower- and middle-class aesthetics.
Today, T3 and Elzhi are stars taking a moment to reminisce about Fiddler's contribution to their rising celebrity.
"We did our first album in Amp's basement," says T3, referring to the place Fiddler used to call "Camp Amp."
"Amp first showed Jay Dee [an inaugural member of Slum Village and a legendary local producer] how to work the MP [MPC 3000 drum machine]. And he was the first guy to show me falafel. I was like, 'What the hell is this?' We did the whole first album sitting with him."
"Yup," Fiddler recalls, laughing. "I always knew we'd make it jump off. I told 'em, 'Come do your demos, whatever. Whatever it takes to get on.'"
The kiss, the wall & other true tales
By W. Kim Heron
The historian Kevin Boyle discussed with us some popular myths about Detroit for a story on a cohort of young scholars re-examining the city's history: "The popular story" — that Detroit was undone by riot, misrule and the '70s oil crisis' blow to the auto industry — "serves an obvious political purpose: black rioters and bad luck caused the city's decline; whites bear no responsibility for its problems. Historians' accounts ... have moved in precisely the opposite direction, insisting that the roots of Motown's continuing crisis must be traced not to the terrible events of 1967 but to white Detroiters and the institutions they controlled."
Our story on Boyle's cohort began with the story of a Dodge Main wildcat strike and the man at the center of it. Then it continued north.
Several miles north of James Major's old neighborhood, residents are well aware of the history in their midst. They see it daily: a concrete wall, nearly a foot thick and 5-feet-plus tall that runs through back yards for three blocks near Eight Mile and Wyoming. Out walking his dogs, Glenn Wilson, 47, eyes the wall where it runs along the Alfonso Webb Playground and recalls that being big and adept enough to boost up and walk atop the wall has for decades been a childhood rite of passage here.
"It was like a grown-up stage to be able to walk that wall. Anybody couldn't walk that wall; you had to have some skills," says Wilson.
But growing up in the '50s, everyone here knew the meaning of the wall: to divide the races, whites on one side, blacks on the other. The neighborhood is entirely African-American on both sides of the wall today, Wilson's family having been pioneers integrating the white side. A boxing instructor at nearby Johnson Recreation Center, Wilson says he tells youngsters the wall symbolizes something that's wrong: "Human beings, we're supposed to get along."
Outside the immediate neighborhood, the story of the wall had been largely forgotten in Detroit and remained virtually unknown beyond the city. That is, until it came back into light as part of Thomas Sugrue's 1996 book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. If the chronicling of recent Detroit history constitutes a movement, a new school of city historians, Sugrue, now a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, is its central figure — its "pater familias," said one fellow historian — and Origins is its central book.
A tale of two hospitals
By Curt Guyette
Over the years MT has taken pride in exposing misdeeds committed by all sorts of characters, from mendacious politicians, greedy slumlords and corporate polluters to con men, crooked businesspeople, shady nonprofits and more. In January 2003, News Editor Curt Guyette adhered to this tradition by producing an award-winning two-part series detailing the lucrative role Dr. Soon K. Kim played in the demise of two area facilities — Aurora mental hospital and Greater Detroit Hospital. Authorities eventually caught up with Kim last year when the doctor agreed to settle a lawsuit by paying the state $350,000 for Michigan's public health code and privacy laws after it was discovered confidential medical records were being burned at his farm in Washtenaw County. This excerpt comes from Part I:
According to our analysis, a web of for-profit companies affiliated with Kim collected at least $23 million from the [Aurora mental] hospital in a span of four years. That windfall came at a heavy cost, say critics, who point to government reports that show patients at Aurora suffered from inadequate care while an undermanned staff struggled to do its job. An attorney for Kim disputes our financial analysis, saying the figure "sounds inflated." The doctor defends his business dealings, saying his for-profit companies provided services at or below market rates, and that an independent board running the nonprofit hospital approved the contracts. ...
But critics of Kim claim Aurora struggled under an additional burden.
"Dr. Kim milked Aurora for all he could," says Mel Ravitz, a former Detroit city councilman who served on the Aurora board for more than a year before resigning in protest. "What happened there is scandalous."
Dearth and taxes
by Lisa M. Collins
Talk about making an immediate impact! In August 2003 Lisa M. Collins revealed — in an award-winning story — that the city of Detroit's dysfunctional property tax-collection system was costing the city $60 million a year in lost revenue. Exposed for having one of the lowest tax collection rates in the nation, the city, within weeks of the story being published, handed collections over to the county, netting a $64 million windfall for Detroit in the first year.
Allen Shiffman sits at his favorite deli and riffles through tax receipts. City of Detroit records indicate the 61-year-old Southfield Township resident is among the city's top property-tax deadbeats, owing more than $1 million on nearly 300 rental houses.
Problem is, Shiffman doesn't own those houses. He's got documents to prove it.
"The tax rolls are wrong," says Shiffman, who insists he pays taxes on hundreds of houses, though not always in a timely fashion, while throwing away reams of tax bills the city sends him for parcels he doesn't own.
Shiffman's role as an erroneous target of city tax collectors is illustrative of a city tax system in shambles. Every year, Detroit collects 87 percent of its property taxes on average — one of the lowest collection rates among large cities in the United States. Most cities collect 98 percent.
Detroit estimates it loses $60 million in uncollected property taxes every year, with more than $1 billion lost in the past 20 years, according to a Metro Times review of documents and interviews with city, county and state officials. Records indicate that one-third of all properties in the city are tax delinquent, and more than $165 million is owed.
Yet in many cases, city officials have no idea who owns — or owes — what. Records are shoddy and rife with inaccuracies.
Tressed to kill
By Sarah Klein
We'd been writing blurbs about Hair Wars since local DJ Hump the Grinder started his events in the 1980s. This 2004 look at the phenomenon remains one of MT's most-read online stories.
A tall, striking young black man strides downstage, his broad shoulders wrangled in by designer couture, a red glow cast on his chiseled face from the colorful stage lights. As rapid-fire beats thump, an army of scantily clad seductresses files in behind, their hair sculpted into purple swirls, fuchsia spirals, turquoise tendrils.
The group strikes a poignant, frozen pose as the beat stops and silence hangs in the air — suddenly, with a blur of movement, they fly into a tightly choreographed dance routine as the music strikes up again in a furious pulse. Onlookers applaud and roar with excitement.
This isn't a concert, or the filming of a music video.
It's a hair show. Sorry, the hair show: Hair Wars.
One of the biggest black hair shows in the country, Hair Wars is a Detroit-born, national touring, three-hours-plus extravaganza of blooming, towering, blinking, spinning, smoking, cartoon-like hair creations. The purveyors of these gravity-defying 'dos achieve rock-star levels of fame in Detroit and beyond. They're not hair stylists, hairdressers, hair designers or even hair artistes. These are hair entertainers. And they reign supreme in the Motor City, the hair capital of the world.
What's the point of a new museum in Detroit?
By Rebecca Mazzei
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit first told us via Martin Creed's neon installation, "Everything is going to be alright." Then it was "Nothing is going to be alright." Which is it? Well, it does seem that things are working out alright. Luis Croquer, MOCAD's curator, was recently awarded a 2010 Warhol Foundation curatorial fellowship. Nonetheless, there were hard questions to be asked and journalistic contextualizing to do when this important new institution was about to open its doors.
The museum's first major publicity campaign is branded by an arrow, but it might as well be a question mark. There are ambitious plans for their future, including idealistic conversations about artists meeting in the café at midnight. But can a new art museum in Detroit make it? Never mind that we're about 20 years behind the curve, that even such nonmajor cities as Ridgefield, Conn., and Cleveland have had great success with contemporary art museums — what could one do to our city and for our art scene? Will the museum spur development to make Midtown — with such a milquetoast name — a destination spot for hip out-of-towners as well as locals? And what about the art itself: Will it be edgy and engaging? Will it be controversial?
The biggest question is posed by an anonymous commentator on a Detroit arts blog: "Are we to believe that the museum is a panacea; a savior of our fledgling artistic community that will finally put Detroit on the map for contemporary art? I for one am skeptical."
And can all this happen in a city — and a region — that's reeling economically?
Jesus of suburbia
By Brian Smith
Brian Smith's reflective account of his friendship with late Doug Hopkins of the Gin Blossoms continues to bring thankful e-mail notes from fans who feel they understand more about the troubled songwriter who ended his life in suicide. The story was recognized in competitions of the Michigan Press Association and the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Late November. Maybe. No, wait. Early December. Hungover. Gray rainy light in the window. The phone rang. It was that voice.
"This is it," he mumbled.
"This is it," he repeated. His tone was deep and sour, the usual; but different. Hushed and cryptic this time, burnt as almonds, and it wasn't just the hangover. Shit, we were hungover every day. That was a worry. This time his voice had the absolute absence of God. Any god. Blank. And I could barely hear him; that was the weirdest thing.
"I'm gonna off myself."
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