The band's name was the greatest uni-word translation of pubescent sexuality ever, its singer was an out-of-the-closet (long before it was trendy) U.K. punk rock "star" whose songs rose from a grim Manchester basement to American TV ads pimping Toyota ("What Do I Get") and — gasp! — AARP ("Everybody's Happy Nowadays"). You'll recall how hugely influential the band was, from Nirvana to Green Day, etc. — and that theirs is an unlikely story of an unlikely band whose unlikely singsong tunes were always smarter than they came off, and teen sexual torment never sounded (or will ever sound) so loud, fast and sugary, and so honest. (There's a reason "Orgasm Addict" — a 33-year-old song — still rears on a million pubertal playlists.) Here, from his Toronto hotel room, Buzzcocks cherub–cheeked singer-songwriter Pete Shelley gets five questions dirty about Buzzcocks and its current North American tour (on which the band plays its first or second albums whole).
1. Metro Times: What album absolutely caused a major shift in your life?
Pete Shelley: The first actual album I owned was Sgt Pepper's. So I suppose that was the pivotal one. But it was the Beatles, Kinks and Stones, and long list of others in the mid-to-late '60s and then into the '70s with T. Rex and David Bowie. And if we're dropping names, there was the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, which got me into punk.
2. MT: What's it like to play your whole first album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen, as an elder statesmen?
Shelley: It's remarkably good [laughs]! In some ways, we've been blessed with more than our share of good tunes.
3. MT: What's the story behind "What Do I Get," perhaps the greatest pop song to rise from punk rock. It has been good to you over the years — covered by many, appeared in films and, oddly, on an American TV ad for a Toyota SUV. I thought if any songwriter deserves a hefty royalty payday it's Pete Shelly. When you wrote it, were you sitting around your bedroom at your parent's house, strumming on an acoustic guitar?
Shelley: No, no. I was in a windowless basement flat [laughs]. I was 21, living on my own. But, it was something I did for myself; that was the real secret of it.
When the song was in the Toyota ad, at least it wasn't Phil Collins! It seems there was a generational tide that came along among those who were growing up hearing the Buzzcocks and then became of age when they were in positions to decide the tracks (for TV spots).
But it was like most paydays; it didn't take long for the money to get spent.
4. MT: During the band's early Manchester days, were you aware there was a scene bubbling up in London with the Sex Pistols and Damned?
Shelley: No. The first we heard of it was when we read a review of a Pistols gig at the Marquee club in London. And it said they did a Stooges song. And because me and Howard [Devoto], the Buzzcocks' singer on its 1976 EP, Spiral Scratch, enjoyed the Stooges, we went that evening to London and tried to find if this band, the Sex Pistols, were playing anywhere. We met up with them and saw them for the next two nights. In conversation, we said "Oh, do you ever fancy playing up north?" And they were interested so we said, "Why don't we just hire a hall and put on a gig?" And that's what we did — July 20th, 1976, at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester.
5. MT: What other Detroit music besides the Stooges did you like growing up?
Shelley: Well, I suppose the MC5 counts [laughs]! Yeah ... I mean I was always interested in music that made a statement by appearing to be dumb and noisy. When I was growing up, people were listening to progressive rock. I wanted anything that had an attitude to it. I liked it because it annoyed the hell out of my friends and that made me feel good. Motown was on the radio. And earlier, like '68 or '69, I had friends who listened to Motown. I'd hear it at parties. We'd sit around and drink cider [laughs].
Saturday, May 22, at St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-MELT, 8 p.m.
Paul Revere & the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay
The Complete Columbia Singles
It has to be those silly Revolutionary War outfits. That's the only conceivable reason why, especially in retrospect, Paul Revere & the Raiders haven't been accorded the respect they deserve as a terrific rock 'n' roll band. Not that we care that much about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But these guys have unjustifiably never even been nominated.
And yet, they were one of the prototypical great '60s garage rock groups, at the forefront of the much-lauded mid-'60s Northwest "punk/garage" scene — the first single on this new anthology, in fact, is their rendition of "Louie, Louie," which every band from that area seemed to have in their repertoire at the time; there's also a version of "Louie, Louie" composer Richard Berry's "Have Love, Will Travel," immortalized by Seattleites the Sonics. And then Columbia hooked the group up with staff producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day's son who'd later produce the Byrds' greatest hits (and even later was Charles Manson's primary intended victim/adversary)... and from 1965 into the beginning of the following decade, the rest was pop-rock glory and history. The Raiders were one of the bigger American units in the face of the British Invasion — their name was more than coincidental in this context — teen magazine heroes who could deliver the rock onstage, as their concerts and numerous TV appearances (including hosting Dick Clark's daily teen variety show, Where the Action Is) proved. But those damn suits ... !
The band was full of colorful characters, including organist Revere leading two different lineups that featured cool guys (and excellent musicians) with names like Smitty and Fang. Freddy Weller, a member of the second version of the band, would later become a country music star. But the real secret weapon was always heartthrob Lindsay's lead vocals, a blend of punk ("Steppin' Out" is a growlin' vocal lesson in the form) and melodic, hook-driven pop that took hits like "Kicks," "Just Like Me," "Hungry" and "Good Thing" to the top of the charts. "Him or Me — What's It Gonna Be?" later superbly covered by the Flamin' Groovies during the height of '70s punk, was a sonic roar that sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time.
This three-disc set includes the A and B-sides of every Raiders 45 released by CBS from '63 (pre-Beatles) through 1975, although the hits dried up following 1971's No. 1 smash, "Indian Reservation." (Lindsay would later score two solo hits of his own, including the well-known "Arizona," which, alas, wasn't about immigration idiocy.) Not that the records lost anything in quality during the '70s, as the band covered obscurities by the likes of Jimmy Webb and Dylan alongside their own original compositions. There's maybe a little bit too much here for casual fans but archivists and completists will surely adore this collection.
Just how little respect this band continues to receive in retrospect is also illustrated by Lindsay's upcoming local appearance on the "Happy Together" tour being listed as "& Others" (as opposed to his name) under the headliners in newspaper ads for the show. Lindsay only tours every so often — to "keep in touch with the fans and let them know I'm well," he said onstage 20 years ago, also on a bill with Turtles and Zappa frontmen (and T. Rex and Springsteen background vocalist), the great Flo & Eddie. We're betting money, though, that he's only improved with time.
Mark Lindsay plays Sunday, May 30, at DTE Energy Music Theatre, 7774 Sashabaw Rd., Clarkston; 248-377-0100. With Flo & Eddie, Micky Dolenz, the Grass Roots featuring Rob Grill, and the Buckinghams.
Editor's note: This is the first in an ongoing series of columns by various local "music nerd" celebs.
There is a dialogue-free scene in the Woody Allen comedy Bananas, in which Allen's nebbish browses a store's adult magazine rack, trying desperately to be as nonchalant as possible but seeming all the more conspicuous and perverted with every nervous gesture. That a grandmotherly customer glares with disgust only ups the comic ante; yet what makes the scene so funny is its accompanying music, a bouncy, optimistic ditty written by Marvin Hamlisch that absurdly ties it all together with just the right "who me?" innocence.
Steven Soderbergh has seen Bananas and loves the music. I know this because the director of The Informant! says as much in the liner notes for his 2009 film's original soundtrack:
"... I watched Woody Allen's Bananas with the hope it would provide 90 minutes of much-needed escape. As the opening credits sprayed
across the screen, I was reminded of my longtime love of Marvin Hamlisch's spectacular score. I wondered to myself: When was the last time someone wrote a score like that? Then, reading my mind, my producer/AD Gregory Jacobs spoke from his position on the second couch. He was watching the movie too. He said, 'We should get Marvin for The Informant!' In response I could only say: Absolutely!"
I couldn't agree more with Soderbergh and Jacobs. Marvin Hamlisch's Bananas score from 40 years ago is sublimely awesome and unjustly forgotten. Just like the director, I found myself with some downtime one sleepy day a few years back and watched the movie. Within minutes, I was hooking up my Sony CD recorder directly to my cable box's audio outputs, thumb hovering over the RECORD button. The tune that plays while Allen's character skulks near the nudie mags is now on my iPod, where it resides under the made-up title of "Browsing Porn." After typing in Hamlisch's name as the artist, my iPod screen now unfortunately reads: "Browsing Porn/Marvin Hamlisch."
A decade earlier, I used my Sony MiniDisc recorder (remember those?) to lift a musical interlude from a VHS copy of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. It's a bit of polyester-draped wah-wah funk that didn't make it onto the soundtrack and is nothing more than walking music, playing as Robert Forster's bailbondsman strolls into a mall and then out again carrying a shopping bag full of cash. But I knew instantly it was a sharp slice of cool and, yes, it now can be found on my iPod under the made-up title of "Jackie Brown's Groove."
There are so many more. The music from the trailer for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me? The music that didn't make it onto even the deluxe version of the soundtrack back in 1999? Five years it took me to find it, but I finally did on a compilation called Pink Panther's Penthouse Party. The song is called "Bachelor Pad," by Fantastic Plastic Machine. It is hypnotically repetitive and sticks like Super Glue to your synapses.
Obviously, I have a problem.
For as long as I can remember, I have been an unapologetic fan of movie scores, TV show themes, commercial music beds, Muzak elevator music, and anything you can fit under an umbrella with the word "incidental" stamped on it. Recently, I've realized I have a disproportionate number of soundtracks from Soderbergh's films, including Out of Sight and the Ocean's Eleven franchise (I really like the retro stylings of David Holmes, his frequent composer). So you can imagine what a thrill it was reading that the director had the same reaction to Hamlisch's Bananas music that I did. Someone else is a music nerd like me — awesome!
As a young kid, I was into my grandparents' LP collection and I watched their TV shows as raptly as Jim Carrey's twisted character in The Cable Guy. Get Smart, The Munsters, Green Acres, The Streets of San Francisco. But my real plunge into esoterica was reserved for game show music. I remember wishing I could have an album of all the music they use on The Price Is Right. What kid born in 1970 doesn't know the thrill of watching Match Game '78 with grandma and waiting for that suspense music that plays while Charles Nelson Reilly writes down his saucy quips and Gene Rayburn leers with his ridiculous long microphone over some buxom young contestant? Maybe that's what started it all: laughing with my grandparents at these half-drunk B-listers who seemed to be having so much dangerous fun up there on the RCA, in color.
So now I actually own the soundtrack for The Informant! — having ordered it from Amazon even as the end credits were still rolling on my TV. The movie itself, a quirkfest about true corporate crime starring Matt Damon, is slyly enjoyable but isn't among Soderbergh's very best. The soundtrack, though, is an instant classic that doesn't contain a single Top 40 hit. In fact, save for one song (a stellar up-tempo swinger called "Trust Me"), the whole thing's instrumental.
The soundtrack seriously sounds like Hamlisch wrote it in his heyday and then sealed it in Saran Wrap and Tupperware in his pantry, where it stayed until the right film came along. Hamlisch told The Wall Street Journal last fall that the themes from Mannix and Hawaii Five-O were inspirations — cues this music geek could hear plain as day, even before knowing it for sure. When I listen to The Informant!, here's what I hear: John Barry's James Bond music from the Roger Moore era (Hamlisch himself did the score for The Spy Who Loved Me); '70s TV cop show themes in general, but especially The Streets of San Francisco; Lawrence Welk's "Bubbles in the Wine" — even slices of Herb Alpert's instrumental cheddar from Alpert's Going Places album. Track 10 ("Sellout") starts with 30 seconds of twangy Agent 007-ish guitar licks over a bossa nova beat, then becomes an up-tempo version of the theme to Soap (yes, the old ABC sitcom!). It suddenly stops, then, at the 1:30 mark, tears off into territory reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin's urgent score for Dirty Harry. I broke out in joyous laughter on first listen, recalling Matt Damon with his preposterous hairdo and even more ridiculous mustache on The Informant!'s poster.
In the same way Soderbergh sticks a winking exclamation mark on The Informant!, Hamlisch loads up an arsenal of musical exclamations: Bongos! Wocka-wocka guitar! Quacking kazoos! Whistling! The resulting sound is the perfect complement to Damon's bipolar anti-hero, a real-life corporate whistleblower-criminal named Mark Whitacre, who's as oblivious to his deepening legal quagmire as Hamlisch's feather-light score is to the multimillion-dollar scandal at the movie's core.
Track 2 ("Meet Mark") would be right at home in a 1962 classroom film called Suburbs of the Future!, if such a thing existed. You can close your eyes and imagine a hearty-voiced narrator enthusing, "Here we find Jimmy's neighbor, Mr. Jones, cutting his lawn — look how green it is!" It's the music of an idealized fantasy world, the one Damon-as-Whitacre creates for himself with a garage full of exotic cars, a horse stable and trips abroad — all on the company's dime.
But, for me, the highlight of the soundtrack is Track 4 — "The Raid" —a one-off on the aforementioned Bananas tune. I'll continue calling it "Browsing Porn" until someone (Mr. Hamlisch?) informs me that its real title is something else entirely. Whereas "Browsing Porn" plays against the implied sleaze of girlie mags to hilarious effect, so too does "The Raid" play against the shady goings-on at Archer Daniels Midland, where Whitacre acted as both federal informant and embezzler ("The Raid" would also be at home on a Chuck Barris game show; that Whitacre, as played by Damon, seems just as delusional and greedy as your average game show contestant only heightens the effect).
All of which is not to say Hamlisch is being unoriginal; rather, the way he draws upon multiple musical influences — his own catalogue included — is an absolute stroke of genius that underlines Whitacre's mentally fractured cat-and-mouse game. If you want something done right — as Soderbergh did — you call the man who did it himself.
Bravo to both Marvin Hamlisch and Steven Soderbergh. My iPod thanks you.
Jason Carr is an Emmy- and Associated Press award-winning anchor/reporter on FOX 2 who is known for using esoteric music in his stories. If you, too, are a music geek, he also highly recommends "Music For TV Dinners" from Scamp Records.
Detroit Rock 'N' Roll Began Here!
Ace (U.K. import)
Distinguished by the twin tenor sax work of leader George Katsakis and Ken Anderson, the Royaltones specialized in tight, hard-driving instrumentals a la Johnny & the Hurricanes that were designed to wear the shine off teenage dance floors.
Formed in 1957, the Royaltones came straight outta Garden City — and the quintet's first recording ("Poor Boy," a 2 minute, 16 second masterpiece of percussive piano, stinging lead guitar and high-larious "laughing" saxophone recorded at Detroit's United Sound) rocketed to No. 17 on the national charts in 1958, which earned them an appearance on Dick Clark's national Beech-Nut-sponsored TV show. The B-side ("Wail," a guitar-driven, boogie shuffle) is just as rockin' and just as revered by fans of the form.
Incidentally, Katsakis made his recording debut on Detroit rockabilly legend Jack Scott's double-sided smash ("Leroy" b/w "My True Love") and played on most of his early hits. Equally impressive is that the Royaltones also served as the backing band on fellow Michigander Del Shannon's "Little Town Flirt," "Handy Man," and "Keep Searchin'."
But the Royaltones themselves were no one-hit wonders. With Karl Kaminski now on guitar, the original lineup of Katsakis, Anderson and brothers Mike and Greg Popoff on keyboards and drums, respectively, rode the relentlessly locomotive "Flamingo Express" to No. 82 in 1961.
Nowadays, these discs are known as "tittyshakers" — owing to their evoking the soundtrack for vintage strip joints. And the Royaltones cut more than a mouthful of 'em before — after a head-spinning round of lineup and label changes (and four singles issued under nine different titles!) — they disbanded in '64. And all of them are collected on this import CD:
"Little Bo," a showcase for then-drummer Bo Savitch (who, interestingly, would leave the 'Tones to join the aforementioned Johnny & the Hurricanes); "Holy Smokes," sporting soulful guitar from future Motown sessionaire Dennis Coffey (later of "Scorpio" fame, and, speaking of Motown, another future Funk Brother, Bob Babbitt, played bass on many of the Royaltones' records and was part of their last incarnation); and the moody ballad "Our Faded Love," which climbed to No. 103 in '64 (and — with lyrics added by DJ-turned-game show host Wink Martindale! — wound up as a Bobby Rydell B-side). Those are the top tassel-twirlers on hand here ... although their rocked-up arrangement of "Scotland the Brave," issued first as "Butterscotch," then as "Scotch 'N' Soda," is guaranteed to blow a breeze up your kilt, if you're man enough to wear one.
Featuring detailed liner notes and fantastic photos and sweet sound, this is one of those rare records that actually lives up to its title. Unsung heroes, for sure. After all, they were an instrumental band. ...
If you're a fan of Michigan hip hop, you'll know of OneBeLo. The Pontiac native has been a fixture in local music for more than a decade, has been featured in these pages, and is one of underground hip hop's most beloved figures nationwide. Whether it's from his material as a solo artist or his days in Binary Star, OneBeLo makes his living as a thinking man's emcee; his lyrics jump from the spiritual to the street to the boom-bap at any given moment. Lo has never been afraid to reinvent himself, and that takes certain self-belief and confidence.
Since last September, Lo has been playing shows with members of the all-female band Yin and performing under the DoubleLo7 name. Aside from the, um, clever concept with a catchy moniker, Lo says he's really looking to hit audiences from a different angle, with something new. That, and he travels the country with a van full of lovely musician women who play everything from guitar, bass and drums to keys, flute and turntable.
The bulk of songs are OneBeLo classics set to live music, but realistically, it's the visual and aural dynamic of having a crew of righteous women alongside him that makes the group pop.
After a well-received show at this year's South by Southwest, Lo took the band on the road, earning the kind of crowd reactions that he has never experienced.
OneBeLo talks about the group:
"Would I take off on the road with an all-male band if they were tight? ... yes," he says. "But would the perception be the same? Of course not. I've rocked with various bands over the years ... but with an all-female band we're hitting different kinds of nerves. The reactions are different; ain't nobody gotta be all sexy with it, they're just being real musicians, I'm spitting real shit."
What's it's like touring with a van full of women?
"I would have to say it was one of the most rewarding trips I've ever been on," he continues. "It's not about being in the car with women, it's about these women in particular. We driving through the mountains and we're all meditating, and everyone sees it as a spiritual trip. With dudes, we might be banging some music instead. But on this trip, we'll be reading Quran, we're listening to The Art of War on tape, reading hadiths, or [Malcolm Gladwell's] Outliers, and it's completely different than any touring I've ever done. It's a learning experience."
Considering Doublelo7 is now back in Detroit, performing as part of this weekend's Hip-Hop Congress, it's a good time to hit Lo up for his own Motor City 5.
1. Who is the best musician to come out of Pontiac?
OneBeLo: I would have to say Keith "Bubby" Webb. Bubb makes beats, he can play keyboards, he can play drums, he plays in jazz bands, church choirs, the whole nine. I'd say either him or Melanie Rutherford. She's a singer-songwriter, she was on Black Milk and Pharoah Monch's album and she's amazing.
2. Where is your favorite place to eat in the D before or after a show?
OneBeLo: I fuck with Oslos. The sushi is real dope and the Thai food is dope. I'm a snob when it comes to both sushi and Thai food so they really must be doing something right over there for me to give 'em the thumbs up.
3. Who's the most underrated emcee in Detroit hip-hop in your opinion?
OneBeLo: I'd say Miz Korona.
4. What's your favorite local blog in Detroit?
OneBeLo: I don't know nothing about the internet. I don't even know what blogs are in Detroit. I need to start checking 'em out though. I just let people tell me what's going on and then I keep it moving.
5. What's your favorite memory of performing at St. Andrew's?
OneBeLo: I would say freestyling behind St. Andrew's back in the day when [House] Shoes used to spin, back before cats really blew up. You could see Baatin, Elzhi, Cool E, Phat Kat, young dudes like Black Milk was probably still in middle school or something. Paradime was still skinny. Back when everyone had locks. Hardcore Detroit would come out and represent. It was just ill shit. Nothing compares to it.
DoubleLo7 performs with Jay Electronica, Slum Village, 5ELA, and Ro Spit at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 26 as part of the 9th Annual Hip-hop Congress National Conference. St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-8137; $15 advance, $20 at the door.
Asian carp arrived in Detroit.
No, it didn't invade through the Great Lakes into our local waterways, as some scientists fear it will in the next 10 years. Instead, it landed via shipping truck on my front porch, cleaned, smoked, wrapped and ready to be plucked from its bones and spread onto crackers at a backyard barbecue.
And we ate it, though that itself is not a story. My dinner group was not the first to consume the carp that's better known for its invasion of the Mississippi River and its tributaries — and the disaster it could create in the Great Lakes — than for its culinary value as a main course.
No, for years now in central Illinois, enterprising cooks have breaded it, deep-fried it and ground it into "fishburger." A few Chicago chefs have created signature dishes using it, and the fish, actually, is a rare but sought-after delicacy in Asia, having been overfished from its native waters.
It's also in demand in Eastern Europe, specifically among Jewish communities, because of its suitability for gefilte fish, the poached patties that are a traditional part of that culture's cuisine. An Illinois fish merchant sold 20 million pounds of it last year, but we'll get to him in a minute.
The real news here is that the carp is, well, really good.
Yes, that big-headed, bulgy-eyed fish that leaps out of the water and injures boaters is fit for human consumption. Not only that, but as it's caught in the wild, many diners believe it's better for you than farm-raised fish. And if you can get by the bones and the big bloody vein? Well, it's pretty good, if a bit bland.
Slather on some hot sauce, spread it on a salty cracker, mix it up with some mayo, seasoning and lemon, and you won't believe it's the same fish you've read about as a scourge or seen in YouTube videos leaping out of the rivers.
"All that's wrong with this fish is its name and the association that has," said Andy Groh, who hosted our carp feast in his Grosse Pointe Park backyard.
True. The "invasive species" label doesn't work well at enticing diners, and the carp's appearance — bulging eyes, bloody flesh and bull heads — doesn't exactly promote its presentation on your plate.
But few fish outside of contrived aquariums are exactly pretty, and, as a Chicago Tribune food critic pointed out, no market existed for "slimehead" until it was renamed "orange roughy" nor did "Patagonian toothfish" take off until it was called "Chilean sea bass."
As we picked appetizer bites off the smoked body at our party, one of our guests wrinkled his nose.
"I don't eat bottom feeders," he said. But he did try it. "I still don't like it. I don't like where it came from. I don't eat bottom feeders."
Turns out his assumptions were wrong. The Asian carp actually feed on microscopic plants and animals — not other fish — moving freely in the water instead of on the muck and debris on the river bottoms like common carp or even the popular catfish.
That makes carp meat better-tasting and relatively low in contaminants compared to catfish and common carp from the same waters, studies have shown.
True, the fish's anatomy works against its acceptance in American markets, where bony fish are not embraced. The spine and thick bloodline make prepping the carp a chore and reduce the relative yield of edible meat. In simple terms: They're high-maintenance to prep. When we pulled the five pounds of smoked fish out of the bag, we also pulled a thick skeleton and some dark meat that, well, went to the neighborhood alley cats.
Our relative affection for the fish was predicted by Kevin Irons. He's an ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey at the Illinois River Biological Station, and he sent me the fish after I asked where we could get some.
"You'll like it," he promised me before it got here. "It really is quite good."
Irons has been studying and working to prevent the spread of the carp for more than a decade. He's eaten Asian carp at least a dozen times. "I wonder sometimes why I don't eat it more," he says.
Irons served it to the chamber of commerce in the central Illinois town of Havana years ago. Although the diners were accustomed to eating such river fish as buffalo and big-mouth bass, "The consensus was they preferred the carp to the stuff they were familiar with eating," Irons says.
He admits the Illinois crowds have had to overcome the fish's appearance too. "They kind of gag and say, 'I'm not eating that.' But then they taste it and I don't hear any complaints at all," he says.
Irons isn't saying that the fish's possible entrance into the Great Lakes will be anything less than the disaster Michigan thinks it is. But as a person familiar with central Illinois, where the fish have replaced most other species, he thinks finding a market to recoup costs of harvesting the carp is a small silver lining.
"Because they're here, the solution is to reduce their numbers. I don't see a silver bullet to reduce them except for large-scale commercial fishing," Irons says. "I don't want to see a sustained population, but if we reduce their numbers, they affect other species less. That would also help the Great Lakes issue. Fewer fish on the Illinois River would mean it would be less of concern that they'd get into Lake Michigan. It can't be the only solution, but it would be a release valve."
Of course, for any such product, there needs to be a market and demand. And while Schafer Fisheries, located in northwest Illinois on the Mississippi River, is exporting much of that 20 million pounds to six countries, owner Mike Schafer says the American demand isn't there yet.
He's talking to some fast food chains about using Asian carp for fish tacos, and he keeps his wholesale prices of the fish relatively low. "It's very reasonable because we're trying to promote it," he says.
He's also made the fish into jerky and processed it into a stick like a Slim Jim. National media have started picking up on the story, and Schafer has served carp to news crews from the networks. "They're really impressed with how it tastes," he says.
So the big question is, can we get Asian carp in Detroit? I asked my favorite fishmonger, Diane Finken, owner of Blue Bay Fish in Grosse Pointe Woods. "I haven't had anyone ask for it," she told me. "But if people do, I'll get it."
My inquiry was overheard by another customer who raised his eyebrows and asked, "What are you talking about?" When I explained I'd eaten the carp and was going to write about the novelty of it, he laughed.
Having lived in Europe, he said he had all sorts of "delicacies" there — such as sea urchin — that wouldn't fly, swim or land on an American table.
Maybe the carp will, we decided.
I wrote my first review for Metro Times in March 1982 during the Reagan recession, when I praised the Cook's Shop in Windsor for its budget-balancing brochettes. I have been writing reviews on and off over three decades. During that period, legendary and not-so-legendary Detroit restaurants and culinary fads have come and gone, but it is still possible to find first-rate meals turned out in an unusually wide variety of ethnic kitchens — including American — at prices that are more reasonable than those that prevail in our putative centers of gastronomy on the coasts. We in flyover country are usually latecomers to the newest trends. For example, back in the late '60s it took several years for Szechuan fare to make its appearance here alongside almond chicken; in much the same way, more recently, it took a few years for fish tacos to migrate from the Pacific and beet salad from Manhattan.
But we have always been a center for bargain-basement dining. In terms of inflation, $1 in 1980 is the equivalent of $2.50 today. Easily beating the inflation rate is the venerable Cadieux Café, the premier and likely only bastion of feather bowling in the United States, which charged $8.50 for a tureen of mussels in 1982 and only $17.95 today. Or how about the Polish Yacht Club (aka the Ivanhoe) whose signature mess of perch went for $7.25 in the early '80s and is now $14? And Moti Mahal's tandoori chicken, which fetched $6.50 25 years ago and is now just $13.95.
On the other hand, wine prices have more than kept pace with inflation. When Lorraine Platman's wonderful "World Beat" Sweet Lorraine's opened in 1984, most of the wine was in the $7-$13 category; now rock bottom for her is around $25, and the modest if "legendary" Bagger Dave's ("Est. 2006") with its estimable sliders, charged $6-$7 for a small house pour of Little Penguin last week. Parenthetically, my first MT paycheck in 1982 was for $35, which is one of the reasons I kept my day job.
My day job, teaching at Wayne State University, brought me into contact with many current and former students working as servers. One night, at Yvonne Gill's Tweeny's in Birmingham, a server, after reminding me that she was in my American History class, growled that I gave her an E, and then turned on her heel to return to the kitchen where she did who knows what with my order. Fortunately, I handed out few D's or E's over the years.
When I took up this post, trips to Windsor for Asian and Italian food were de rigueur, with Wong's in particular a favorite of Detroiters. Raymond Wong has moved on several times over the years, with his latest posting at the Shanghai Café Midtown, while Detroiters flock to the Golden Harvest, Mon Jin Lau and Hong Hua on this side of the river, avoiding the post-9/11 border-crossing hassles and no longer especially favorable exchange rate. And with that bastion of Turkish cuisine, the Mason-Girardot Manor, now shuttered, there are even fewer reasons, alas, to cross the river, even though the best view of downtown Detroit is from Windsor's Dieppe Park, and "our" colorful Little Italy is on Erie Street.
In the early '80s, here and elsewhere, chefs started to become outsized figures on the restaurant scene. The Golden Mushroom's Milos Cihelka was the doyenne and mentor of many of today's celebrated chefs. Jimmy Schmidt was recognized at Detroit's nationally venerated London Chop House, which closed in 1991. He went on to run the path-breaking Tres Vite, and then another of our most celebrated restaurants, the Rattlesnake Club. Soon foodies began to follow the peripatetic Keith Famie (a TV Survivor) and Brian Polcyn, among others, to their several enterprises over the years — Famie to Chez Raphael, Les Auteurs, Durango and Forté; and Polcyn to Chimayo, Pike Street, Acadia, Forest Grill and Cinco Lagos.
And now thanks to cable, celebrity chefs-owners-authors Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali (who summers in Northport) are bigger than their restaurants. Our own John Sommerville of the classy Lark was recently a Top Chef contestant. There was a time, when I first started reviewing, that owners — such as Les Gruber of the London Chop House and Joe Muer of his eponymous seafood emporium on Gratiot — were the stars, but that era is gone, except perhaps for Jim and Mary Lark.
Another dramatic change has been the morphing of culinary wastelands into dining destinations. In the '80s, sleepy Royal Oak began to draw the attention of gourmands and gourmets alike, and was followed a decade later by prosaic Ferndale. Now we find it worth the journey, as the Guide Michelin would say, to travel from all over the metroplex to Clawson, Grosse Pointe and Dearborn for our equivalent of a starred meal.
And while Dearborn was always host to family-run Middle Eastern places, most Detroiters in the '80s went downtown to the Sheik for their fattoush fix. Now we can find authentic Mediterranean food in Ferndale at Assaggi and Anita's, in Sterling Heights at Ike's and La Saj, in Clinton Township at Brigette's, and in Troy at the Lebanese Grill, to name a few places that make Detroit a national center for shawarma and kibbeh, even after the demise of the empire of La Shish.
We were also the center for muskrat. During the Hoover Depression, a local priest declared that muskrat, which was cheap and plentiful, was a fish that could be eaten during Lent. Downriver, Kola's Kitchen served the aquatic rodent multiple ways, with the whole baked muskrat looking like its close relative, a rat. Of all the places I took my favorite dining partner over the years, this was the one that caused us the most disharmony, as I encouraged her to savor her critter bits submerged in a stew.
Like most of my reviews, I found good things to say about Kola's, but I usually never gave a restaurant a perfect score. When I reviewed the charming Bagley Café, a Spanish outpost in Mexicantown, I noted that the gazpacho soup was "shockingly bland." The next time I returned, the owner must have pierced my anonymity, since he followed us out the door, good naturedly, I hoped, repeating the critical words about his cold tomato-based broth. The Bagley's owners, the gregarious guitar-playing Juan and the more grounded Eva Llobel, later moved to an obscure east side location where they tried to make a go of it with Casa de España. They were progressive Detroiters who always supported the right causes in local and national politics. Just before Juan died in an unfortunate accident, we were surprised to discover that they left Spain not as refugees from the Franco dictatorship but from its democratic successor, because they did not want to raise their many children in a society with such permissive social values.
It was always sad to see restaurant closings, particularly those with character, such as Cardinali's, which served its wine in coffee cups, Aliette's, the best French bistro in a city that curiously continues to eschew its founders' cuisine, the majestic Royal Eagle in Indian Village, the upscale Van Dyke Place, with its less expensive cousin, Cuisine de Pays, and in Greektown, the century-old New Hellas and the unique Cyprus Taverna. Missed as well is Pontiac's WE, one of our first Vietnamese restaurants. This one was special, as Mr. Han — the incorruptible, ascetic former tax minister of South Vietnam, who in an aborted coup d'etat almost overthrew his authoritarian regime — ran his business as a co-op.
On the other hand, in the city, the wondrous Whitney, which opened in 1986, is still wowing locals and visitors; Traffic Jam & Snug, established in 1965, maintains one of the most creative menus in town; and the centenarian Roma Café anchors Eastern Market. Among other places more than two decades old in the suburbs are the dependable Salvatore Scallopini's several branches, as well as Boodles and Paul's Chop House, both of which flaunt retro-flamboyant tableside preparations. There is also the Clawson Steak House, for such roadhouse fare as frog legs and a lively dance floor full of mature graduates of Arthur Murray University — who think they can dance.
Space limits my ability to mention the many other contributors to our gustatory wellbeing over the years, such as Avalon International Breads, Loui's for "Detroit-style" pizza, sommeliers like Madeline Triffon, her boss Matt Prentice, and the ever-gracious food critic Molly Abraham.
Here we are in the Bush recession, having come full circle since the early '80s. Despite the dismal economy, you can still find local restaurateurs and their professional staffs responding to our cravings — whether we are looking for prime rib and lobster or bureks and pierogi.
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