Under the neon 

We solicited a handful of area musical "names" to scribble out some honest commentary on the current state of Detroit music. Because our own humid, hungover and cigarette-fouled breath can get mighty weary, we were keen to use outside voices. And besides, these cats know what's up, from the neon flicker down to the gutter. Some have been beating these same corners and streets for ages.

Not everyone we asked agreed to contribute — mumbles of "conflict of interest" or some such — and a few others agreed, but failed to turn anything in. Such is life. But those who did come through offered up ripe insights.

 

Doc Chill

He began as teen rapper on Detroit's west side, predating the Hip-Hop Shop, Kid Rock and Em' by years. His contemporaries were Kaos & Mystro, Boss, Detroit's Most Wanted and a few other heavy-hitters. Those were the '80s, and Detroit rap was a no-man's land cut off from the rest of the country because of finances and Detroit's inherent, island-like quality. Chill's been close to stardom, he's seen homelessness. Now he's sick of local faux gangstas and is starting a new anti-violence campaign called "I am the Blame ... And I Apologize" He has a sketch comedy show called SwitchPlay TV that airs on the Colours TV network. His new album drops in January. On Nov. 23, he and his crew are feeding the homeless at the Greater St. Matthew Church, 396 Labelle St., Highland Park; 313-867-9789. Go to one-touch-online.com for more Chill info.

 

Why do we suffer? Detroit's hip-hop scene is extremely alive. However, we are suffering. Since I can remember, the Detroit music scene was always hot. At times we become our worst enemies. It's business ethics that keeps us back. The second you decide to be an artist, producer or label, the research should start. Learn the fundamentals of the music business.

First, set your budget; stay within your means. Marketing is the bloodline to any business, so find a reputable marketing company to come aboard to be a part of your team. Stop running to the radio stations! They are in business to sell ads. They are not in the music business. Learn about BDS; BDS is the monitoring system used to detect your music. You can find more information about BDS by going to www.bdsonline.com. Also, ask yourself, are you a registered writer with any performance rights organization such as BMI or ASCAP? I can say that maybe only 1 percent of Detroit's hip-hop scene has their songs registered. And then there's Nielsen SoundScan, which monitors how many physical pieces of product are sold. This is one way the major labels find out who and what is selling.

We suffer in Detroit due to lack of knowledge. We have lost the fundamentals of the game.

 

Gene Corduroy

Gene Corduroy has an interesting view of the Detroit scene, as he's both the lead guitarist for the decidedly un-rock 'n' roll local combo PAS/CAL (or, at least "rock" as it's occasionally classified around here) and a fairly new transplant to New York City. For clarification, in PAS/CAL he's the one with the quiet demeanor and fantastic taste in instrumentation. Here he muses on the nature of rock, and just where PAS/CAL's festive, event-worthy and sometimes catered shows fit in.

 

In 2004, days after finishing my last bits of guitar on our second EP, Oh Honey, We're Ridiculous, I moved to New York City's Lower East Side. I lived across the street from the Mercury Lounge, minutes from the Bowery Ballroom, around the corner from CBGB. It's what you might call a rock 'n' roll neighborhood — kind of. The experience of going to a show in NYC is somewhat subdued. I've never figured it out. Are musicians intimidated by performing in the media capital of the country? Are crowds too cool or too shy to display enthusiasm during a set? You get cold stares for dancing, for speaking between songs, for appearing to have fun. I know I'm generalizing here — but there is a noticeable difference from home.

This distance from Detroit's music scene gave me new perspective on what it means to be a musician in Detroit, and how my band fits in. From the very beginning, we've always considered a PAS/CAL show to be an event. It is not merely a night to watch us play the songs. It is a night for the crowd and band alike, friends and fans, scenesters and naysayers, the young and the not so young. Get on stage with us (but please watch my pedals), clap along, laugh at our stupid antics, chat over homemade cookies at the merch table. If it's Christmastime, perhaps you receive a gift of a Value Village holiday sweater. Last December, at a Lager House show, we even had a buffet complete with eggnog, hors d'oeuvres and tons of holiday decor. Perhaps that's not "rock." But then maybe Caz clubs you with the mic stand during LTD's drum solos — and who does drum solos anymore? Now that's rock 'n' roll. Sorry about the clubbing, by the way.

 

Jere Stormer

Jere Stormer is, he says, mostly known for his "songs: topical, if not tropical; humorous, if not peculiar." That's pretty accurate. What's more, the man can find his way around a library as much as he can any bar. (Stormer even won a few lit awards for his poems back in college.) The lifelong musician and Detroit native lived through '70s punk and '80's metal to settle into a relatively quiet home in (avant) local folk. Stormer continues to make records and tours frequently around the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes States.

 

Easy Listening it's not. The Detroit scene is about Hard Listening. I mean Titanium-Hard. Always been that way. Focused. Intense. Leave the comedy to Soupy ... Let's start in the 1930s: Cutting contests at the Graystone that made the cats on the coasts afraid to come back. Hard. Paradise Valley getting ploughed over by I-75. Hard. Be-boppers leaving town to be appreciated. Hard. Moving up in time: The competition to create the perfect pop song in the snakepit. Hard. MC5, and running from tear-gas. Hard. Iggy's chest. Hard. Cybotron to Eminem to the White Stripes — They love us everywhere. It's like Woody said: "Hard Travellin'"

I've been a part of a few scenes in this town; from the first wave of Bookie's bands to hair bands to not-so hair bands. Now I'm considered a "folkie" and my scene is ultra-vibrant, but so what. It doesn't stand a chance of breaking out — it can't spread because it's too hard to get around in this town. And then you have to park!

Like everyone else holding down this fort, I am tired of musicians leaving to make someone else's scene. Until folks from Bloomfield can get to Jefferson-Chalmers, and folks from Green Acres can get to Northville; our city is never really going to grow a scene. Scenes are intrinsically a "walking distance" phenomenon. You can get to Greenwich Village as long as you can make it to the subway stop. You can get to Old Town if you can get to the south side. Beale Street ... Austin ... Toronto ... Everybody can walk everywhere ...

Cities have scenes because they maintain dependable public transportation. The day Detroit gets a good rail or bus system that unites the Urbs with the Burbs will be the day multi-scenes will spontaneously birth themselves. Hard Labor.

 

Mike Mouyianis

This guy Mike Mouyianis has done time in Detroit rock 'n' roll trenches for years. Hell, he's a curmudgeonly POW. He endured the Chinese water-torture that is tour managing a rock band (the Suicide Machines). He owns the Motor City-inspired apparel and accessory company, Detroit Hardware. He's part owner of Small's bar in Hamtramck, and he's this close to telling you what's really on his mind. Suffice it to say, he's seen a lot. And that band of yours? Well, uh ... he's underwhelmed.

 

What does it say when every time I have a big event to book, my first thought is always of bands no longer together or in semi-retirement? It's not that there aren't any good bands in Detroit; it's just that all the decent ones are either on tour or playing here three times a week. Or it's probably because every jackass with a liquor license is booking bands. It seems like everybody's a big promoter now — all they need is a fucking microphone and 15 feet of space and, bam, there's a venue. Whatever.

I don't begrudge anybody, band or bar, for making a buck, but gimme a break. If you're a local band and worried that I'm talking about you, then, fuck yes, I am! If it sounds like I'm mad or bitching, too bad. I'm just sick of too many bands at the end of a sorry night telling me that they don't understand what went wrong. "Sorry dude, we did 200 people last night." No shit, idiot, I can't imagine why you stiffed tonight.

Or maybe it's because the only promo you did was sending bulletins out on fucking MySpace! Every moron with a computer and a guitar thinks sending out Internet messages is promoting their gig. Whatever happened to fliers? Is it so hard? You're out drinking all over town, how much effort does it take to use that same MySpace machine to create a flier? Look, it's not like I hate everybody and every place, but there are too many pretenders and not enough contenders.

I'm not talking about everyone here. The ones that I am know who you are, and the ones I'm not, you know too. As for the "state of the scene" here — too much bad hair, too many white belts and not enough substance.

If every band cared more about songwriting and less about their Salvation Army T-shirts and tight black jeans, there would be more of a scene. Until that happens, bad bands will continue to play bad bars and make nobody any money. Everybody needs to wake the fuck up.

By the way, come to my bar and drink, I'm not getting any younger.

 

Don Mayberry

Bassist Don Mayberry recently returned to Detroit after living a lifelong dream, a two-week stint with the Count Basie Orchestra. His new album, Kaleidoscope, is to be released shortly on the Alembic Arts label. He's the group leader, Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 8.p.m. for the Jazz Forum concert series at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, 17150 Maumee St., Grosse Pointe.

 

We stand on the threshold of unlimited possibilities, of bright new challenges and dark dreams. We will have triumphs and failures. There will be times of shining creative steps as well as times of mundane mud-slogging. As a practitioner of the arts, you have a vision of a world of your own making. Ideally you seek to share this vision. You are already addicted to the beautiful potential of your heart's desire; of what use are illicit drugs or mind-altering substances? I know the road ahead is rough, dotted with pitfalls, insecurity and hard work, but what is your alternative? For what will you forfeit your dream? Who or what will replace its value in your heart? How will you live if your dream's light gives way to despair's darkness?

There is no such thing as an overnight success. Real success comes over many years in very small increments. It numbers among its attributes compassion, wisdom, knowledge, growth, and expansion. Real success promotes truth and inspires decency.

The arts speak the unspeakable. You are blessed to have talent; cherish, nourish, guard and protect it. Talent is rare and its true appreciation is even rarer.

Do not become dismayed. Work, study, learn. Reach for that which is out of reach. Hope and pray. The future is not predictable; still, we can prepare for tomorrow. Follow your dream.

 

Troy Gregory

Troy Gregory is one of those music lifers who just might know how to play the catalog of every band in town. Well, at least the ones that matter. But besides having been around —way around — the former Witches frontman, occasional solo troubadour, current Dirtbombs guitarist and ringleader of his Stepsisters is also one of the Motor City's finest songwriters. He'll smoke and drink you into a corner talking about everything from Noam Chomsky to the Monkees.

 

I have enjoyed many musical performances in this city, as well as been mortified by zillions of empty gestures. Come and gone this fink club; that horrid band reunites, kills each other, disappears, who cares? Boring vapid media hedging on the sure-bet for future cool and the once-adorned in hyperbole is now dreadful. But this coolness, for some reason, will usually apply only because you can impress folks outside of the state of Michigan rather than entertain the people who could possibly glimpse you changing your tire or mopping up vomit at a local rat hole. Radio, radio — it still seems to have no clue, and wants nothing to do with what's going down around the corner. The audience doesn't have enough gas money to get there, pay admission or get a drink. Many are just dead tired after work, or are sick of dealing with people all day. You understand this, especially if you work in food service or retail. Humans can be troublesome. Even sans witness, some trees still toss poison apples. Whether the world is listening or not (including Detroit; if you are so inclined you can go and search it out, and I guarantee you'll hear people making some sort of world-class racket at some dive anywhere every night.) No matter what sounds please or irritate you, know that there is some poor jerk schlepping their accoutrements in the rotten slush to pull that shit off for real. That is, if you really want it.

 

Kelly Brown

She's been championing Detroit music for years, whether from her erstwhile jock posts at 89X or WRIF, or from the first couple rows at area shows. She can now be heard on WIOT 1047 in Toledo, where she commutes from the Detroit area, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 

I thought the days of the passionate musician and the passionate music fan were over. The Feisty Cadavers is no more, Speedball shows are a rarity, Sean is no longer the lead singer of Colic, Forge broke up, and Lili's 21 is looooooooooooong gone. I mean Dave Cocagne is playing classical music and Vinnie's wearin' a cowboy hat! ... What!

But I love the Hard Lessons. I love watching them, and I love watching the crowd watch them. And I've come to realize that the Motor City is in a transition, my transition. Everyone has their favorites, and no band stays together forever. So let's fondly remember the days of Jimmy Doom spitting red-faced into the mic, then let it go, and bring those beautiful musical memories into the present.

The way I figure is, as long as Vinnie Dombrowski, John Speck and Chuck Burns are behind the mic, Electric 6 and the Detroit Cobras are still on tour and such new bands as the Silent Years and the Hard Lessons are keeping the Detroit scene fresh and alive — the Motor City will continue to rock on. Detroit's people will continue to rock on.

Brian Smith is features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to bsmith@metrotimes.com

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