Who the fuck is SelfSays? 

Ever since Myriha Burton chopped her shoulder-length hair— to a Me'Shell Ndegeocello cropped coif — people tell her she looks like a poet. Well, that is what she does. See, this 18-year-old Cass Tech senior shows the kind of resolve common among world-class poetry competitors, a ghetto-bred poise and tenacity that pushes her through the finish line and onward and upward. (Come to find out Burton's a citywide champ in the 100 meter dash too.)

When it comes to competing in SLAM poetry, she has to remind herself to slow down, which is not her strong suit.  

Only two months after penning "Flashback," Burton's first poem, the young writer found herself on stage at the eminent Apollo Theater in Harlem, reciting it once more. That wasn't even two years ago. She's since traded in her kicks for pens and local tracks for the stages across the country. Burton doesn't have a part-time job — she's brutally honest about not looking for one any time soon. Instead, she picks up money by winning slams with poems that bear harsh personal truths. She's not some slacker (she has earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Wisconsin), nor is she a cheap word hustler. Burton spends spare time with various literary arts incubators, like CityWide Poets, an offshoot of InsideOut Literary Arts Project and Teen Hype, which educates middle and high school kids on relationships, pregnancy, drugs and violence by way of theater, poetry and music. She's a good kid — just don't call her one.


Metro Times:
You're staring at the last-half of your senior year of high school, so how are you going about balancing your school workload with this budding poetry career?

Myriha Burton: School's always come first, but lately poetry has taken its place. I don't know if that's a good thing.

MT: You're pretty serious about education.  

Burton: I was going to Cass Tech, and then went to Crockett, but I transferred back to Cass this year because I felt like I wasn't getting the kind of education that was really going to prepare me for what I might see in college. School also works its way into poetry — like, I'll take terminology we just learned in a lesson plan and use it in a new poem. Teachers sometimes give extra credit if I can work a poem into a theme they give me or something. At Crockett, kids in the hallways called me "Poem."

MT: So what does autumn 2010 look like?

Burton: There's a program at the University of Wisconsin called FirstWave — it's a culmination of break dancing, rapping, singing, and being a poet. Basically, it's a full-ride and as long as you stay in the program, you can study whatever you want. I'm not sure what I'm going to major in, but I need a backup plan, just in case, you know? I might minor in creative writing.

MT: Madison, Wis., is a beautiful town.

Burton: A cold town!

MT: For better or worse, it's far from Detroit.

Burton: I need to go away, but at some point I want to come back. I want to see stuff. In Detroit, you're limited to what's really out there. I've learned there's a lot of power in words, but there's a lot more to learn, you know?

MT: You've got the "power in words" part down.

Burton: [laughs] I'm doing alright. I just want to move into the grown stuff. Everyone looks at me as "Myriha the youth poet." That needs to change. 

MT: Why?

Burton: Well, InsideOut's Citywide Poets, and Brave New Voices are youth poetry organizations that I take part in. So …

MT: So there's the catch. What's Brave New Voices all about?

Burton: It's the International Youth Poetry SLAM. We were sent to DC in '08, we went to Chicago this year and next year is Los Angeles. LA! I can't pass up on that. It's also about the atmosphere there, the whole experience. It's all love, man. There's poetry going on all week long, people wander around with saxophones and guitars and just break out in song, someone will start harmonizing on some melody that, like, just came out of nowhere.

MT: Sounds divine.

Burton: But you gotta remember, at the end of the day, it's a competition. You know what you're getting yourself into. I embrace it. Everything is strategy. You have to take the crowd. Sometimes you have to go with the vibe in the room, sometimes you want to be the one who shifts it in a whole different direction. When it comes time for the slam to start, I'm not silly Myriha anymore, I'm quiet, I'm looking around the room and studying the audience, locking down which poem will affect the room.

MT: So you're all about the competition?

Burton: Before poetry kind of took over, I played basketball and was on the track team. Now it's all poetry. SLAM satisfies my competitive streak — I'm itching for competition.

MT: What do you have to remind yourself not to do up on stage?

Burton: Always keep it honest. If there's one thing I hate, it's an overly dramatic performance. Some of the people who go up there, they cry every time they're on stage. Every single time, every single poem. We know you're fakin' it. Never fake cry, never fake an emotion.

MT: Solid advice. 

Buton: Versiz (Jamaal May) told me that — he's the coach of the Detroit youth slam team.

MT: As well as a Grand SLAM champ and one of the city's most notorious poets. Who else do you look up to?

Burton: I'm always trying to get pointers from Versiz, but, man, there's also T. Miller, Cassie Poe and Blair. There's more too. Detroit has some serious poets.

MT: Now that you've been exposed to poets from other regions, what sets Detroit's poets apart?

Burton: As far as style? Not sure. I think, as far as SLAM goes, cats in Detroit can really write. That's where we excel. A lot of people are good at writing and a lot of people are good at performing, but not everyone can do both. For whatever reason, I think we have more who can.

MT: You're pretty upbeat and have a good sense of humor — your poems show a much more serious side.

Burton: Man, I'm one of the silliest people you'll probably ever meet — easygoing and all of that. I think that a lot of times, unless you really sit down with someone and get to know them on a deeper level, you'll never have a clue of what that person's really been through. Poetry is how I converse like that. But at the same time, though, I write about the abusive relationship my sister's in, and that my father passed away the day before my birthday, I never put myself out front as the subject. I think I'm still waiting to write that poem.

MT: How do you go about separating the personal, emotional weight of the subject from the performance?

Burton: I have a knack for committing things to memory — I do it so well that I don't even have to think about what I'm saying, like "what line comes next?" Sometimes I'm thinking about that lady in the front row who looks like someone famous or something, or I'm thinking about what I have to do the next morning. Sometimes though, when I do lock in on what I'm saying and not so much on how I'm saying it, the performance comes from an emotionally raw place. But I hate crying. Where I'm from, you don't really cry, you know what I'm saying?

MT: How has your family reacted to your life as a poet?

Burton: There was this show called History of the Word with Saul Williams at Music Hall about two years ago. That's when I wrote the first poem, "Flashback," which I hate now, it's garbage.

MT: Artists always hate their early work but think their next piece is a masterpiece. 

Burton: Yeah, I still like it to some degree, but compared to how far I've come since, it's garbage. So, yeah, this lady saw me perform it and asked if I would be interested in coming out to New York for a show at the Apollo. That was something else — we stayed in Time's Square, we saw Hairspray on Broadway. Once my family saw that I could really go places with this — literally — they've been cool with it.

MT: If you could go back two years when you were just getting started and give yourself some advice, what would you tell yourself?

Burton: I'd definitely tell myself to slow down, try not to act nervous, and try not to sound like I'm rapping. I'd also have to tell myself to avoid faulty concepts, like writing all of those "wake up, black people" poems. I hate that stuff now, you know? I mean, it's not like there's some messages we should be sending, because we should, but it got to the point where, like, every SLAM was full of those "wake up black people" poems. That got really boring. I want to be different; I think every poet should want to.

MT: I saw a video of you and another up-and-coming Detroit poet, Reonna Barnes, performing a piece together, "Two Mommies." Same-sex child rearing is a unique topic for any poet, but especially so coming from a couple high school kids from Detroit. Would that poem be received differently at a SLAM than it would at your high school's auditorium?

Burton: A good number of poets are homosexual, and every other SLAM poet out there has a gay poem or two, so they usually love it before it's even over. At Cass Tech, some people wouldn't get it — others might. But, to be honest, what other people think is very unimportant to me. I know that sounds harsh. I value my family, and my mother is very important to me, and I care what she thinks, but there are just not too many other people who I care what they think. Even though I'm very sociable, I only have two real friends. I care about what they think.

MT: Do you erect a barrier?

Burton: I'm going to be real — I'm from the hood. A lot of people in the hood get drunk all day, they're high smokin' weed all day, people sell drugs. I don't want to be associated with any of that, you know? The hood plays against you, it sets traps for you. There's nothing for me there — poetry keeps me out.

MT: So the hood has put a bit of an edge on you. It's that same edge that has fueled some of this country's best art. Whole movements, like hip hop — a close cousin of SLAM — have come out of it. Would you say hip hop plays into your poetry?

Burton: It's definitely there, if you're looking for it. In the early stuff, you don't even have to look for it. The more I write, the less concerned I am about rhythm and rhyme. Like hip hop though, I'm starting to see more SLAM poems about SLAM poetry.

MT: Rappers, in my experience, aren't exactly keen on creative criticism.

Burton: If it's something that Nandi Comer or Versiz have to say, I'm listening. In fact, I'll listen to all criticism. I might not take it all, but I'll listen to everything. I'm not trying to act like I got this all figured out.

MT: What have you figured out?

Burton: That I want to — and have to — get out of this youth poetry box I'm in. Take Brave New Voices. It's supposed to be about poetry and spoken word, but it's really a performance competition. The more you do on stage, the more points you get. You're on for three minutes and ten seconds and if you rap, dance or sing you're going to get more points.  I mean, you don't even really have to be saying shit in your poem — it's all about being entertained. That's not me — I've figured out that I'm a poet. 

Myriha Burton performs Saturday, Jan. 2 at 1515 Broadway, 313- 965-1515.

1:30 p.m.

We're headed east on West Grand Boulevard, passing by Hitsville, USA, a living relic of better days. Looking farther down the boulevard, there's the deserted Lee Plaza apartment building. Not a single pane of glass remains. It looks like a nightly news scene from Kosovo in the '90s. Together, these two buildings give a crude summary of the city's history. Poet Ken Meisel hangs a right on Rosa Parks Boulevard. We're just blocks from our destination: the corner of 12th Street (now Rosa Parks) and Clairmount. It's the spot where, on July 23, 1967, Detroit police raided a blind pig, subsequently sparking the city's fourth and most devastating riot.

Meisel, 51, takes his time behind the wheel, mulling over the realities of "white flight" before and after the riot. In the early '70s, Detroit was one of many cities that implemented radical busing systems, taking black kids from inner-city schools and busing them into predominantly blue-collar, white ones, such as Redford High School, where Meisel went to school with kids bused in from around Mackenzie, Cooley and Cody high schools. "You could feel the change and the panic inside the neighborhood. It was weird — predatory almost," Meisel says. Excluding his parents, he says that "black is bad" became a mantra in his neighborhood. 

In '79, Meisel moved to Detroit; first to Hamtramck, then to the Cass Corridor. His father had been an accomplished multi-instrumental jazz musician in the 1930s and played in Paradise Valley with the likes of Les Brown. His father's nighttime stories of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom enchanted Meisel so much that, throughout college, Meisel jogged around the cracked-out Cass Corridor, Brush Park and Brewster Projects neighborhoods, where he made frequent visits to the oldest buildings he could find, investigating the memories of their oldest tenants and patrons, gleaning stories from generations-old barber shops and dive-bar boozers. 

Meisel spent the better part of the '80s collecting old Detroit stories from aging characters. Through collective memory mapping, he wanted to discover what Detroit was in order to make sense of what it had become. It took time. He ended up working those meditations into a collection of poems published late last year as Beautiful Rust

Last weekend Meisel showed off his Detroit, and told us about it.


11:15 a.m. — The Rinaldo Arms Manor at 27 E. Willis St., east of Woodward Avenue. Meisel lived here 1980-'87: "My neighbors were doctoral trainees working at Detroit Receiving Hospital and old-time denizens; they were fifty- and sixtysomething plumbers, old alcoholic women, substance-abusing derelicts and Asian immigrants. The building was a sadder place — the roach problem was stunning. My window looked southbound. The last two buildings on the left were halfway houses for just-released schizophrenics. This was in the era of Governor Engler, who was releasing tons of mentally ill people from long-term institutional care into the streets. You'd see them sitting on that upper-level porch. Invariably, they'd make their way down to street level, invariably they'd start drinking and, invariably, there'd be a fight. They were functionally harmless; they were just drunk and off their meds."

Meisel describes a scene from January 1981. In horrific irony, a junkie froze to death against the fence of the Willis Heating Plant: "It was not called Midtown, it was called the Cass Corridor — art plus junkie plus post-apocalyptic ruin. There was no coffee shop, no lofts, no charming little places like there are now."

Noon — Driving toward Brush Park, he talks of where he started writing: "I started writing in college in the late '70s and kind of freaked out, quit and got a degree in psych. I was living in Hamtramck above a Yugoslavian couple who didn't speak any English. Hamtramck was fundamentally different than it is now. Shit, it was a volatile, weird place. I was living there and I was writing this short story and it was shit — full of melodrama and crap. So I kinda sat there looking at myself. I was drinking bad whiskey and writing bullshit short stories. I said, 'I'm done.' And I was — I deep-sixed on creative writing till '93 or '94, when, while reading Pablo Neruda and some other Spanish poets, the writer in me was agitated."


12:15 p.m. — On the corner of Erskine and Brush, where Keith Emmerich shot the photo for the back cover of Meisel's book, Beautiful Rust. "I love this place — the ruin is beautiful. My wife has less tolerance, but I find all of it to be stunning. Here's where we took the photo. What I love about this building, the Aurora Apartments, is that you don't know if it's occupied. It's symbolistic of the city that way, yet it's still a beautiful example of the remnants of old, Victorian Detroit."


12:30 — Continuing south on Brush, staring at the Comerica Park and Ford Field arenas: "Those were not there. What was there was fucking beautiful, those old dilapidated homes. On St. Antoine stood the old 606 Horseshoe Lounge, which in its day was one of the great old jazz and blues clubs of the city — Billie Holiday played there. There were still some whorehouses down here and my brother and I would drive down in his Volkswagen with a plan to go in and explore the beat-up, boarded up 606, but we'd end up chickening out and just talk to the hookers. It was still a riot, they didn't give a fuck whether they got paid — they just wanted to shoot the shit. Old-time Detroit still existed in the late '70s and early '80s. You could still get a little taste — through these old restaurants and jazz clubs, most of which were boarded up but a couple of which still functioned on some level — of Paradise Valley."


12:40 — Cruising behind the Brewster Projects between I-75 and Brush Park: "I used to jog back here. There was always an uneasy feeling because you couldn't gauge the danger. There was huge drug activity back here in the '80s, and crack really started to take effect. During the day, though, you could still feel the flirt of danger, and though the streets felt unpredictable, it was an interesting place to come and witness a failing city firsthand."


12:50 — We're east on the desolate Sproat Street just off of Park Avenue, sandwiched between two vacant monoliths. Smoke wafts from a shadowy window on the first floor: "What you got there is a little winter morning fire going on, trying to stay warm. I find this whole neighborhood fascinating. As a writer, I'm filled with excitement to be in a neighborhood whose buildings have such implicit secrecy as to what's going on within. I write about this hotel, placing myself in it as an addict — there are so many addicts in there. I'm not an addict and I've never been an addict, but I'm curious as to what their lives are like here. These people are part of the cell structure of Detroit and they have stories and most of these people are willing to talk to you if you approach them. Really, they're forgettable people. I mean, who really gives a shit about them? Take this guy right here — wait, it's a woman. Shit, look at her, she's ruined. But she's important in that she's part of the city. "


1:00 p.m. — The bustling corner of Cass Avenue and Willis Street: "I don't think anyone can rightfully predict what will eventually happen to Detroit. I think Detroit is just passing through an inevitable self-created cycle of death and change. Who knows what's next? As a poet, I'm unwilling to weigh in on either a personal loyalty or a disloyalty to this place. My job, as someone bearing witness to the beauty and rust here, is to make a description of the conflict at play here in the city, whether or not we're in a true apotheosis and a creative rebirth here — like we all hope we are — or whether we're just nosing into yet another false cycle of hope and promise that will come to naught. It's hard to say. And it's an easy topic to be fooled by and to be foolish about. It's the fable of Detroit. I'm just another symptom and example of the self-perpetuating narrative, I'm just another example of the fable of Detroit. I'm not immune."

How Many Licks? (or, How to Estimate Damn Near Everything)
by Aaron Santos, Ph.D.
Running Press; 175 pp.

In your entire life, how many times will you poop? And if you collected it all, how much would it weigh? Would it all fit in a train car? What about an Olympic-size swimming pool? I think about this shit all the time. Are you haunted by these questions too? If so, contact the author, physicist Aaron Santos at aaron@aaronsantos.com. Or stalk him — his website says he's a U-M post-doctoral researcher. Santos, a master of the Fermi method of approximations, is the go-to dude for rounding off, approximating and sizing up just about everything. —Travis R. Wright


The Alphabet of Manliness
Maddox
Citadel Press; 204 pp. 

Author Maddox comes off like some self-conscious Idahoan who strolls around in cut-off fatigue shorts sporting a total Chuck Norris for guys like Dane Cook, Gene Simmons and Stone Cold Steve Austin. A is for Ass Kicking, C is for Copping a Feel, G is for Gas, L is for Lumberjack and N  … go figure … is for Norris, Chuck. So Maddox is a bit of a douche, but he's funny enough to indulge while that Pad Thai takes its toll on your sphincter.

How manly is this catalogue of testosterone? "So manly," writes Maddox, "that it needs to be shaved." —TRW


The Quotable Douchebag: A Treasury of Spectacularly Stupid Remarks
Compiled by Margret McGuire
Quirk; 144 pp.

Look at that guy on the cover then look at yourself. Back at that guy. Now at yourself again. One more time. Are you a douche bag? Have you ever said, "Osama Bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I'm going through?" R. Kelly has, and he's a douche bag. Try this one on: "Facts are stupid things." Credit that one to O.D. (that's original douche bag) Ronald Reagan. And let's not forget fat old Rush Limbaugh: "Slavery built the south. I'm not saying we should bring it back; I'm just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark." Complete and total douche. Women can be douche bags too. Take Paris Hilton, who said, "I love being all natural." Or better yet, Ann Coulter: The government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised sport." A d'bag teabag! —TRW


Music Listography: Your Life in (play) Lists
by Lisa Nola
Chronicle Books; 159 pp.

Forget your coffee and crossword. Grab a writing utensil, a can of Ozium, some two-ply, your iPod, a freshly rolled doob and get ready for some extracurricular, totally craptacular time spent. Rad illustrative work from Michael Gillette makes Music Listography only that much more shitastic. What songs do you want played at your funeral? Best cover songs? Favorite concerts captured on film? List a song that reminds you of each lover you've had; list the albums you'd bring on a spaceship if you were leaving planet Earth; list your favorite one-hit wonders; the moments in music you'll never forget. You get the point. —TRW


Bent Objects: The Secret Life of Everyday Things
by Terry Border
Running Press; 144 pp.

Sometimes you just have to get lost and stare at something. You want image, you want to think about that image, and you can't reach The New Yorker. Compact and conceptually entertaining, Bent Objects is a world created by Indiana-based photographer and artist Terry Border. Border's blog got the artist a book deal, and it's no waste of paper. The wiry, wacky creatures — made attaching wire-appendages to pin cushions, cereal flakes, Cheetos and prescription bottles — have enough wit to make the photos captivating, and introduce you to a new way of looking at the ordinary (which is the underlying theme here) ... for at least a few minutes. —TRW


Country Music Fun Time Activity Book
by Aye Jay
ECW Press; 47 pp. 
Alright, I'm not exactly sure how this works, but if you can read on the can, you should be able to color to some degree too. That's what the Country Music Fun Time Activity Book is all about. And why not color Kenny Rogers, or work on the epic "Help Brooks find Dunn" maze, or sketch Dolly Parton, from the neck down, use the grid to draw Loretta Lynn, or find out how many words you can make out of Hank Williams Jr. You can even free hand Billy Ray's mullet and take crayons to Toby Keith (red, white and blue crayon only). Don't forget to flush. —TRW


Assholeology: The Science Behind Getting Your Way — and Getting Away With It
by Steven B. Green, Dennis LaValle and Chris Illuminati
Adams Media; 208 pp.
In our greedy "hey, look-at-me" world, where those who win are most often the self-pimping, undeserving assholes, it was time someone dropped a one-stop, Ari Gold-quoting how-to tome on how to be the perfect, own-it-all asshole. In page after bowel-pinching page of droll infotainment, learn the difference between the douche bag and the asshole and why the latter's a compliment, and if you follow all the assholian prompts you will win the girl, the job, the life, the world, and be disliked by a vast majority of people with whom you come in contact. Written in witty and clear  testosterone-y prose by a stand-up comic, an acting coach and a writer — all of them self-described "a**holes" — many lines blur into irony, and instructions are often braindead practical, such as always tip well, never brag of clever Twitter quips, be sure to evolve intellectually and don't play bar games (pool, darts, etc.). —BS

 

Penis Pokey Activity Book 
by Christopher Behrens
Quirk Books

As we all are aware, the standard by which we judge our sexual mores gets lower and more frat-guyish each year — in direct proportion to the quality of free porn streams available — so it stands to reason that this rigid "activity book" would, in it's own, neo-Luddite way, skewer that very idea. 

Evolved from 2006's Penis Pokey, this weighty hardboard offers poppy colors, images you can enhance with the enclosed erasable marker, and shows that regardless of circumstances (flying saucers, sausage factories, two-headed dragons, dancing snakes), there's always room for peni (insertion holes included). There's nothing triple X here, just frolicsome Freudian and Jungian goofs in cartoon double entendres for kids of nearly any size. —Brian Smith

Before getting into the charred thickets of east Detroit, you'll pass the old train yard. In certain areas you'll see stray dogs, vagabonds, curious shutterbugs, countless pounds of broken glass and gnarly graffiti art. It's been that way for decades. For taggers, burners and bombers with a blunt and a backpack full of Krylon, it's a free studio and vast gallery that operates, sans curator, in constant flux. Today, a decent stretch of the train yard, from the Detroit River north to Eastern Market, has been re-purposed as a well-lit greenway and bike path, with emergency phones and park benches. It's everything the city needs more of. And it's along this sliver of transit space that you can find some of the yard's best graffiti.

If Kobie "Rift" Solomon had his way, the most talented graffiti artists in the world would meet in Detroit and paint mega-murals down the whole yard. That's where they'd get started, anyway. Back in the day, you could catch Solomon down in the yard. Well, you probably couldn't catch him — but that's where you could see some of his work. Chances are, you have seen his paintings, whether on a rooftop or highway underpasses, at some point during his 15-year career. 

Having found a balance between nocturnal rebel works and those commissioned (for the city, and business and gallery shows), this 32-year-old's latest attempt to bring graffiti to living rooms comes through the release of My First Graffiti Coloring Book, a work that offers a hip-hop education by way of 26 different graffiti styles. Solomon, who was born and raised in the Detroit area, has much to say.


Metro Times:
Graffiti has, of course infected pop culture pretty well — is it still disrespected?

Kobie Solomon: There's a lot of people who don't appreciate it. Aside from some of the cultural biases those people have, if it was presented to them the right way, they could learn to love it for what it is. As early as the Middle Ages there were lettering masters found around the world; in China and Japan, masters of character work were revered in their society for keeping the written word alive. As an art form, it somewhat died out with the advent of technology, with computers and fonts and whatnot. But that's who I think graffiti artists really are — we're like the keepers of the script, the masters of the letter. 

MT: How did you discover it?

Solomon: I went to a suburban high school and a lot of kids were just puttin' up little scribble tags, so I kind of got into it from there. I got ahold of the first issue of 12 oz. Profit — it smacked me in the face. After that, I got ahold of Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chelfont. I found that in my high school library and when I flipped through the pages I was instantly blown away. Then I started dicking around with it because it was fun to get into trouble too. There's the whole adrenaline aspect of it. We were lighting up high schools, we lit up a entire newly built wall along a stretch of I-75 too. Man, we were killing it. The liaison officer at my high school was pretty much onto us. He had pictures of the stuff, but he didn't have pictures of anyone putting it up, he didn't have incriminating pictures, but he was getting serous about it. I've still never publicly said which name I was using because those cops probably still hate my guts. I cost that city too much money — even just my senior prank probably cost $3,000 to fix. By the time I moved down into the city in 1995, to go to CCS, I was pretty much addicted.

MT: Does that weigh on you now that you're older?

Solomon: No — not at all. I was younger and I was crazier. I was bonkers. It's called payin' your dues. I didn't go all-city with it and I didn't get up a lot in the hood, so a lot of people doubt my legitimacy because of the commercially commissioned stuff, like the piece I had at the Town Pump and the Corktown Mural I did for the city, but I paid my dues like everybody else, man: I've run from the cops, climbed on buildings and jumped off of them, hopped on moving trains, frozen my fingers painting in the winter. I don't regret any of it. 

MT: When the sun sets, does a part of you itch to go into the night with your paints?

Solomon: Oh, yeah — and there's the whole ritual to it. If you have a sketch, you grab it, but you might just be winging it, and that's cool too. Then you go out like a ninja. If you're a drinker, you get a little buzz on and bring a few with you; if you're a smoker, twist up a blunt, get baked, and bring some for the trip. Go through your paints and anticipate how many cans you're going to use. When you've been into it for a long time, you know exactly how many cans of paint you're going to need — that's your ammunition. ... If you don't want to get questioned with evidence all over your fingers, you get your gloves; if you don't like breathing the fumes, you get a mask. Throw it all in the backpack. 

MT: Being a graffiti artist has to be one of the most physically demanding forms of visual art.

Solomon: I know two graffiti artists in the city who are up everywhere — they're all-city. One of them I went to CCS with, the other one, I believe, was a student there too. Both of these individuals amaze me with the pieces that they get and where they get them. There've been times when I've seen something they've done that left me dumbstruck, like, "How the fuck did they get up there? How did they do that?" It's less about a person's size and strength and more about their desire to get their work out there. It just twists my head back, and I'm a break-dancer and a skateboarder. 

MT: Are you trying to finish a piece in one setting or do you have to come back to it for a few nights?

Solomon: It depends. If you're puttin' up full-blown burner — like a big, badass, multi-color piece — those usually require more than one session. 

MT: What's the difference between a burner and a bomber?

Solomon: Bombs are usually the illegal pieces, the big, multi-color blasts that make you wonder how the artist didn't get caught doing it. They're the bombs — it's like an explosion in your face. 

MT: So the bomb trumps the burner?

Solomon: It depends on the bomb and its placement and how dope the letters are, how dope the fill is. You can have a sick, sick, sick burner that took you forever and has three dimensions and wild-style letters, but if someone comes up behind you and does something that is technically close to yours but they put it on top of a building in the middle of a flat-faced wall 100 feet from the ground and 50 feet from the roof and there are no footholes — you got trumped! 

MT: Do graffiti battles still exist?

Solomon: Yeah, they still go on. Kids are getting their asses kicked, some have been stabbed. You know, there's a couple dumb-asses out there. ... I think it's just ridiculous. What's the point? There's a lot of talent here, some of these kids do incredible things with cans of spray paint, but there's isolation. It's how we operate. Even in our own city, the crews are isolated from each other — voluntarily or otherwise. 

MT: What's the answer?

Solomon: Primary Flight is the largest street-level art installation in the world. It's a unifier. The vast majority of the best graffiti artists on earth come together to do a whole neighborhood in Miami during Art Basel. It's the best of the best of the best and it's completely legal, sanctioned by the city with a corporate sponsor. We were given an area about the size of Hamtramck to work with and I only saw about 20 percent, if that, of the art completed the week we were there. CPOP is actually trying to get something like a Primary Detroit together. That would be huge for the city and for local artists. What the municipality has to understand is that if we brought in the world's best graffiti artists to put up bombs in designated areas, the art would stay up for a long, long time. They think it'll breed scribble tags and shit, but kids won't touch that art out of respect. Like anything, there's a code.

Q: I'm writing to you to settle a dispute between my husband and me. We have been married for six years. We're not terribly adventurous, but we're not totally vanilla, either. However, there is one issue that is driving me insane: My husband constantly pesters me to have anal sex. We have tried it in the past, and it is not my bag. I don't enjoy it at all. But my husband will not stop pestering me. He thinks if we just keep trying, eventually I'll come around to liking it. I'm pretty GGG, Dan, but this is one thing where I draw the line. He thinks I'm being unreasonable; I think he is. Do I need to give in, or does he need to get off my back? —Needing Expert Advice

A: I think we should all be — as I've written about 100,000 times — good (in bed), giving (of pleasure, of indulgences), and game (for very nearly anything), aka GGG. And I frequently like to remind married people — particularly, married people who value monogamy — that they willingly assumed sole responsibility for their spouses' sexual fulfillment.

That said, NEA, we are each entitled to our likes and dislikes.

But before I let you off the anal hook: I'm assuming that your emphasis — "not my bag," "don't enjoy it at all" — means that you find anal penetration to be a physical trial or an emotional torment. "I could take it or leave it" or "There's nothing in that for me" or "That leaves me cold" are not good enough reasons to refuse to occasionally indulge your spouse in whatever it is that gets him off. While it would be wonderful if every couple's sex life consisted entirely of acts that both partners found equally thrilling — so egalitarian! So fairzees! — a fulfilling sex life is too important, particularly for monogamous couples, to trust in coincidence alone.

OK, NEA, getting back to your ass: You tried it, you didn't like it, and you don't have to keep doing it. And, yes, your husband should stop pestering you about it, NEA, but you do have to let him grieve — grieve for the ass he isn't going to get from you and, if you're monogamous, grieve for the ass he isn't going to get anywhere else.

And speaking of anal. ...

Nancy Elliott, a state representative in New Hampshire, wants to ban same-sex marriage in that state — where it's been legal for less than three months — and here's her reasoning: "We're talking about taking the penis of one man and putting it in the rectum of another man and wiggling it around in excrement. And you have to think ... would I allow that to be done to me?"

Where to begin? How about here. ...

If you're wiggling your penis around in excrement when you're having anal sex, Rep. Elliott, you're doing it wrong. You would think this would be obvious even to people who've never had anal sex, but apparently not. So let me break it down for you, Rep. Elliott: You don't have anal sex with an ass full of shit for the same reason you don't have oral sex with a mouth full of food. It's messy and no one wants a mess. (Except for the people who do want a mess, of course, but they're a blessed rarity.) An empty, douched and lubed anal cavity isn't that much dirtier than an empty, flossed and brushed oral cavity.

I will concede that excrement is for anal what Rep. Elliott is for the New Hampshire state Legislature: a PR disaster. But excrement-free anal sex is easy. Make sure there's some fiber in your diet, be regular, and only go for it when you're empty — no anal during your butt menses! — and you'll never get excrement on a single wigglin' dick.

And now a question for you, Rep. Elliott: Are you really sure you want to make it illegal for buttfuckers to get married?

"According to a 2005 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," a commenter whom I'm going to quote at length (hey, Baconcat!) wrote on a blog in reaction to Elliott's remarks, "40 percent of men and 35 percent of women between 25 and 44 had engaged in heterosexual anal sex. Some studies put the incidence of anal sex in the heterosexual population as low as 24 percent and some as high as 56 percent. Averaging those numbers, let's say 38.8 percent of heterosexuals engage in anal sex. Ninety-six percent of Americans are straight. There are 190,000,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 in the United States, so that means 70,771,200 adults are engaging in heterosexual anal sex. Four percent of the adult population is gay, or 7,600,000 people. Roughly half — 3,800,000 — are gay males. Polls indicate that between 55 and 80 percent of gay males participate in anal sex. Taking the average — 67.5 percent — that means the number of gay men having anal sex comes to 2,565,000."

Math is hard, Rep. Elliott, but see if you can't wiggle this into your cranial cavity: 70,771,200 is more — a whole lot more — than 2,565,000. Anal sex in America is primarily a heterosexual pursuit. So if you really want to protect the sacred sanctity of marriage from the unholy taint of penises wiggling in rectums, Rep. Elliott, you need to ban straight marriage first. (We needn't protect marriage from lesbians, of course, because lesbians don't have anuses.)


Q:
I am a 26-year-old female who likes anal sex. The problem is my boyfriend's dick is too big. It's about nine inches long, but the real issue is girth. I enjoyed anal sex with a previous partner, but my BF and I have done it only once. It was fairly unpleasant, even though we used copious amounts of lube. Are there ways to make anal sex possible for us? —Achingly Needs Anal Love

A: Stop trying to wiggle that monster into your rectum, ANAL, and focus instead on fingers and toys and orgasms for you, cheeky-fucking for the boyfriend. (Think titty-fucking, but using your ass cheeks instead of your tits.) Have lots of orgasms with toys of various sizes in your ass. Then every once in a while — when you're feeling it, when your ass feels like it's ready, when you're not having your butt menses — ease the boyfriend in. He should stay absolutely still while you get yourself off with your hands or a vibrator. The next time you're feeling it, put him in and let him move around just a little while you get yourself off.

The goal here — and it's a long-term goal — is to make anal sex as pleasurable for you as it is, or will be one day, for the boyfriend. Take your time, ANAL, don't rush things, and thanks for being one of the 70,771,200 straight people out there who prove every day that you can have anal sex and access to legal marriage too.


Q:
I am an 18-year-old female college freshman. My boyfriend is also 18. He recently confided in me that he wanted to wear my panties and a dress while I wore his boxers and fucked him in the ass with a dildo. I have been reading your column since I was 13. Had I never read your column, I might have assumed my boyfriend was gay or thought he was gross or thought I was gross for liking the idea. Instead, I helped pick out a dress I thought would look sweet on him, and we had a wonderful time. Thank you so much! —Loves Boys In Panties

A: No, thank you, LBIP, because every time a straight girl sticks something up a straight boy's ass, a bigoted state representative dies a little inside.

Well, it looks like we still have Sam Riddle to kick around. Somehow, the government case against the political operative (should that be former?) didn't impress one Angela Woods, the lone black juror hearing the Riddle trial. Since then, Riddle has sneaked off to Birmingham to meet girlfriend, former state representative and bribery defendant Mary Waters outside a movie theater. That was a probation violation since they were ordered not to see each other after a domestic dispute during which Riddle pulled a gun on Waters late last year. So the sideshow continued with Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Bill slapping a tether on Riddle so the authorities can keep track of him.

One thing I have to agree with Riddle about: Folks who pay bribes ought to get just as much grief about it as those who accept them (or the mules who carry the loot). I think Riddle is at least knee-deep in all this bribery muck, but, hey, he beat back the prosecution this round, fair and square. Woods rightly claims that she doesn't "owe an explanation about any of it" to the public or the press. But Riddle owes her for whatever respite, albeit short-lived, he may have before they drag him before another jury. I think it would be nice if Riddle wrote Woods a song. So I have taken the liberty to pen a few words on his behalf, to be sung to the tune of Train's "Hey Soul Sister" (hey, a tune that's all ukulele and percussion can't be all bad). I'm not saying there was anything romantic going on in the courtroom, but Riddle is known to be a ladies' man, and, hey, a guy can dream:

Hey, Soul Sista (No Apologies)

I looked at you.
When you looked back,
I knew you'd be true.
I knew I wouldn't forget you,
And you came to my rescue,
Just in time.

You set me free,
Hung up the jury,
That just filled my heart with glee.
They say that I took money,
But you saw right through that, honey,
Who's one of my kind.

Hey, soul sista,
I just wanna kiss ya
Share a cup of Joe.
Don't you know,
Got some cash to blow
That what you did just made me glow?
Hey, soul sista,
You know white mista
Wants to hang a black man
Tonight, hey, hey.

She copped a plea,
Monica Conyers had much deeper culpability,
She gave me the directions,
Then I'd meet her connection,
I can't deny.

This ain't no pun
Needs be I'll go underground
And take my gun,
I feel a bond with you
Like the charisma that I abused,
It led me to be accused
Of these many crimes.

Hey, soul sista,
Ain't it time I kissed ya? 
There's a place to go.
Don't you know,
That what you did just made me glow?
Hey, soul sista,
You know white mista
Wants to hang a black man.

Tonight, yelling, screaming, lots of fights,
The jury room was an awful fright,
Bug my phone and that's not right.
Facebook, Twitter, I make sure to be in touch.
I want to see you, but not for much,
So when I depart, please don't clutch,
I'm a silly a rabbit in his hutch.

Hey, soul sista,
Ain't it time I kissed ya? 
There's a place to go,
Don't you know
That what you did just made me glow?
Hey, soul sista,
You know white mista
Wants to hang a black man
Tonight.

Loony lucre:  When I saw the headline in the Sunday paper saying that the federal authorities had evidence that former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick took bribes, I figured they were either ready to indict or that charges were not forthcoming and someone just wanted to leak the evidence. As of Monday the news was that they are preparing felony charges against him. Last week the word was that Kilpatrick supporters were trying to raise money to make his $79,000 restitution payments to the city of Detroit (which he didn't make, putting him in violation of his probation). Now his behavior in the past year is starting to come into focus. A few local probation violations are small potatoes when you're staring down the barrel at federal charges. Maybe he's been saving his money for this one. At least the charges would indicate that he, or his father, have some cash stashed. Some of the hallmarks of his Wayne County Court appearance here were his arrogance and his attitude that he was above all this. Let's see if he acts the same way in federal court.  

But the priest do: I played banjo at a Mardi Gras party with Marion Hayden's Bourbon Street Band last week at St. Matthew's and St. Joseph's Episcopal Church on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. A little over a year ago, I was at the same church to be the Grand Marshall at the New Orleans-style funeral for pianist Kenn Cox. That service was one of the greatest church experiences I've ever had. It had to be, for the great jazz pianist that Kenn was. Last week's party was a much more festive occasion, although I function in much the same way when I Grand Marshall a Second Line of revelers when there has been no funeral. People just like to see me dance around with a festive umbrella and bring up fond memories of their vacations to the Big Easy.

Aside from the band's music, and the delicious gumbo and beans and rice served up, there were two striking things to me. One was that the gang at St. Matthew's had the cultural stuff down pat. The hall was well-decorated, many of them dressed the part, they knew the responses when I sang out the songs (like in " Iko, Iko" — when I say "hey, now," you say "hey, now"). Generally I have to exhort the partiers to Second Line. At St. Matthew's, they know how and when to Second Line. Rather than leading, I had to catch up to them. The other striking thing was the exuberance the priest, the Rev. Shannon MacVean Brown, threw into the festivities. She came dressed in a long white gown with a tiara (I called her the fairy-princess priestess), grabbed an umbrella, and danced like the rest of us. Near the end of the evening, when we played "Mama Don't Allow (No Trumpet Playing 'Round Here)," she yelled out, "But the priest do." Hmm ... sounds like my kind of church.

Most recent years I've also played a Mardi Gras party at St. Augustine and St. Monica Catholic Church on the east side. Sadly, due to economic problems, St. Augustine didn't have its party this year. In discussing that with some folks at St. Matthew's (who generally make it to both parties), they suggested that the two churches get together and throw one big party. Now that's what the spirit of ecumenicalism is all about! 

After the ratings glory from its Winter Olympics coverage ends next week — beating American Idol head-to-head on Wednesday Feb. 17, something no other network has been able to do for six years — NBC will come schussing out of the gate in March and head straight downhill.

The programming geniuses who thought Jay Leno in prime time was an inspired idea will come out of the Olympic break with Jerry Seinfeld as a marriage counselor (The Marriage Ref, premiering at 10 p.m. Thursday, March 4, after a "sneak preview" this Sunday following the games' closing ceremony); Phoebe Buffay's wacky look at the relatives of celebrities (Who Do You Think You Are?, executive-produced by Lisa Kudrow, bowing at 8 p.m. Friday, March 5); and a celebrity chef, Guy Fieri, as host of a prime-time game show (Minute to Win It, debuting at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 14). Who comes up with these ideas? Who approves them?

Then there's the gold standard of NBC's post-Olympics offerings, Parenthood, the one-hour drama from Oscar-winning executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer premiering at 10 p.m. next Tuesday. It boasts a sprawling ensemble cast with faces you're certain to recognize (Bonnie Bedelia, Craig T. Nelson, Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls, Erika Christensen), but faces a triple-whammy of drawbacks right out of the gate: Avoiding comparisons to Howard and Grazer's classic 1989 movie of the same name that had people like Steve Martin and Keanu Reeves in it, or the short-lived 1990 NBC spin-off series that followed it (starring Leonardo DiCaprio, for gosh sakes), and pulling viewers who already appear to be quite pleased with a multigenerational family show on another network, Modern Family, ABC's buzzy hit of the season. 

Grazer and Howard surely know drama, and as they proved with Arrested Development, they know their way around TV comedy too. But despite the passage of time and the talents involved, is any premise solid enough to be made into two separate TV series 20 years apart? Is Parenthood Exhibit A for the dearth of fresh ideas in Hollywood, or the level of NBC's desperation? Or both?

Since Leno's meltdown at 10 p.m. and return to The Tonight Show left them with no new series besides Parenthood and The Marriage Ref ready to plug into that hour and nothing immediately available in the development pipeline, NBC is being forced to scramble. Law & Order, the enduring original cops-and-court franchise that was the subject of cancellation discussions not long ago, instead returns for its landmark 20th season with a two-hour episode at 9 p.m. Monday before settling into its new time slot at 10 p.m. Mondays on March 8. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with the thorny contractual issues of its stars Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay settled for at least the next two years, moves to 10 p.m. Wednesdays next week, preceded by rerun SVU episodes at 9. They're also scheduling "encore episodes" of SVU at 10 p.m. Saturdays. Good thing that's such a luridly watchable show! And to think, they let a breakthrough police drama like Southland just walk away to TNT.

And what of Heroes, NBC's sci-fi superhero romp whose fortunes have undergone more ups and downs than RenCen elevators? A measly 4.4 million viewers tuned in earlier this month to learn the fates of Hiro, Claire and Sylar in what ostensibly could have been the series finale. Even Leno was doing better. But while the show's ratings have continually plummeted here, Heroes does exceptionally well overseas. If NBC does decide to let the show return for a fifth season, it may be only as an "event miniseries" or a limited run of episodes to tie up its loose ends. 

What's more, audiences have not warmed to either of the network's first-year medical dramas, the nurse-driven Mercy at 8 p.m. Wednesdays or the expensive-to-produce Trauma returning to the lineup at 9 p.m. Mondays on March 8. If ratings for both shows don't improve dramatically this spring, expect them to be flatlining by summer. NBC simply needs stronger returning programs to re-energize its flailing prime-time schedule. 

Note that one of NBC's most popular shows is called The Biggest Loser, airing at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and repeated at 8 p.m. Saturdays. There will be no comments here about irony.


And speaking of shows in trouble
: Could 24 be running out of time? It's possible. The pulse-pounding action hour remains one of FOX's franchise hits, but it's in its eighth season and star Kiefer Sutherland's contract runs out after this year. Jack Bauer don't come cheap. Producers could re-sign Sutherland at major bucks for one year -— a gamble for any series this long in the tooth — or end the show in May and let 24 migrate to a big-screen, Mission: Impossible-type movie franchise. Tick, tock, FOX.

Back in the late 1960s, China was undergoing the last terrible madness of the Mao era, the so-called "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution." The general idea was that pretty much everything civilization had accomplished needed to be destroyed.

Temples were looted. Accomplished persons were disgraced and humiliated; doctors, lawyers, professors were sent to the countryside to work in pig shit, for example. Thousands were murdered, lynched or committed suicide.

But what I remember most vividly about the insanity of that era were the "self-criticism" sessions in which prominent people were made to face the cameras and debase themselves by confessing to all sorts of imaginary crimes and, especially, moral failings. They would look down, often with placards around their necks, give their staged and memorized confessions in a monotone, as crowds jeered and the print and broadcast media denounced them as unworthy and insincere "parasites." I was a teenager at the time.

The forced confessions had a powerful impact on me, especially since I had just read George Orwell's 1984. How lucky we were, one of our teachers told us, that we lived in a nation where nothing like that could ever happen. 

I had my problems with our country, even then. But I couldn't have imagined that we would ever have an atmosphere where we required something like "self-criticism sessions," where prominent people beat themselves up for the cameras. Yet more and more we do demand this, all the time.

As witness Tiger Woods' "confession." The golfer did not have to wear a large-character poster around his neck. He was not beaten by jeering Red Guards with bamboo sticks, but by newspaper columnists and commentators instead.

True, he didn't have to swear allegiance to "Mao Tse-tung thought," as the Great Helmsman's name was spelled in those pre-Pinyin days. But Tiger did promise to be a better Buddhist. Afterward, we didn't send him to the countryside to clean up after animals, but back to therapy. (I'm not sure our way is more socially useful.)

What's different about our cult of forced celebrity humiliation and self-criticism is that it is hardly ever about politics or ideology. Nobody knows anything about Tiger Woods' politics, nor does anybody care what they are.

Nor do our self-criticism orgies usually involve fraudulent or criminal behavior. You didn't see much of a media frenzy demanding a nationally televised confession and act of phony contrition from Mark McGwire, who lied about using steroids to illicitly and artificially break some of baseball's greatest records.

No, with us, everything is all about sex.

Today, we are interested in cheap thrills and titillation, and that's all that matters. When that thug and career criminal Kwame Kilpatrick dragged his wife before the cameras to do what the Watergate boys called a "modified limited hangout," he did it not because of what his corruption had done to the city, but because he was caught screwing his chief of staff.

Kilpatrick's lying and perjury cost the desperately poor taxpayers of Detroit almost $9 million. But we are a race of hypocritical puritans, and what matters to us is sex.

Think about this: This nation now has a profound financial crisis, and an even greater crisis of political will. We desperately want and need health care reform, but we have a Congress unwilling to act — and a president who seems unable to rally the people behind him.

The media gives, under the banner of objectivity, vast space and time to ranting know-nothings who are proud of their stupidity, and to reckless, lying careerist politicians.

Last week U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana,) a highly respected moderate who believed in bipartisanship, announced he was giving up in frustration and wouldn't seek re-election. That devastating development didn't get a tenth of the attention the Tiger Woods story did. By the way, stop for a moment and think about what this "story" was really about.

In December, we learned that a handsome, young billionaire superstar golfer apparently had sex with a lot of willing women. This probably came as a huge shock to anyone under the age of 6. True, he had a beautiful wife and small children, which makes him something of a cad. There is, however, some historical evidence that he may not have been the first celebrity to behave that way.

But why is this anybody's business except his family's? None of this violated the rules of golf. Nor does it seem that any of these women were underage, or that he took them against their will. This brings up another interesting point:

Whenever celebrity sex scandals like this happen, we act as if the women involved were victims. Well, hey: They agreed to party with Tiger, yes? It wasn't exactly a secret that he was married. Are these women any less guilty than he? Every time this happens, the media tend to treat women as if they are less than fully adult, in kind of a bizarre reverse-sexism that feminists have been slow to protest.

In any event, this wasn't breaking news, but old news. Good fanatical Chinese Communists that we are, we demanded and got Tiger to publicly crawl and ask forgiveness. That night, his "confession" was dissected and mainly sneered at by a bunch of hypocritical journalists, some of whom have their own sordid sex lives.

Meanwhile, our nation is failing, politically, economically and otherwise, thanks to President Obama's failure to rally voters and Republicans' willingness, even desire, to destroy things further if that means they can regain power.

Thomas Friedman, the most far-seeing journalist of our age, put it best Sunday: "The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past all at the same time.

"We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever. If Obama fails, we all fail."

That's the real story. If we continue to ignore it, our nation and our way of life will eventually be destroyed, no matter how many celebrities confess to sex with how many bimbos.

What Tiger should have done is quote that famous statesman Henry Ford II, who was caught late one night, driving with a woman not his wife. "Never complain; never explain," Hank the Deuce said.

He weathered the storm and lived happily ever after. And my profession badly needs to get its priorities straight too.


Speaking of Depression:
Macomb Community College has become known for some of the best cultural series in the state. Last year they did extravaganzas on the '60s and later on sports. This year, they are featuring a series called "And Still They Prospered: Living Through the Great Depression," which runs until May with presentations by some of the nation's greatest historians and cultural figures.

I have the honor to be the warm-up act for the series, and will speak on "Staying Alive and Fighting to Survive: Detroit in the Great Depression," at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lorenzo Cultural Center, (on Garfield Road in Clinton Township). Admission is free (and I'm worth every penny), but if you are interested, you need to pre-register by calling 586-445-7348.

Just don't tell 'em Harry Bennett sent ya.

Go slow — Slow Food Detroit, the local group leading the fight for "slow food," is having a beer dinner at Sherwood Brewing Company. The evening of slow fare and suds will feature plenty of Michigan produce, meat and fish. The fun starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, at Sherwood Brewing Company 45689 Hayes Rd., Shelby Twp.; $24 per person; RSVP with payment by March 2 at 586-532-9669. 

Show time — The Whitney has joined up with the Fisher Theatre and Detroit Opera House to offer meal deals that combine a seat at a touring show (think Young Frankenstein) and a four-course meal. Theater ticket pricing varies; call for details: 313-832-5700 ext. 208.

You got this — Have people coming over but no time to cook? Talk to the good people at Westborn Market's Prepared Foods Department. You'll find a cornucopia of ready-to-eat items and gourmet dishes prepared daily. Drop in at 21755 Michigan Ave., Dearborn (313-274-6100) or find their other locations at westbornmarket.com.


FOOD/THOUGHT

Fine aged tequila deserves to be drunk neat, that is, straight, without ice or any other adornment. However, we do recommend backing it up with Sangrita, a tart, spicy acidic drink made of citrus juices, hot chiles, tomato juice and salt. Mention Sangrita and most people assume that you mean sangria, without the "T."  Wrong! An authentic recipe can be found in Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites by Joanne Weir (Ten Speed Press, $16.95). 


BOTTOMS UP

2008 Bricco Dei Tati is a clean and spirited Barbera from the Piedmont region of Italy that sports a pleasant nose of cherries and subtle sandalwood incense. On the palate, an initial softness quickly gives way to a bright acidity that makes you want another sip. We figure the low price is due to being produced on a small plot of land owned and operated by the same family that imports and distributes it. Another value wine found in the ever-improving wine aisle at Ferndale's Western Market.  


THE WORKS

When you drink good tequila with Sangrita, style it up with cojitas, the handsome shot glasses, aka shooters, whose good looks enhance the experience. The glass' thick bottom provides stability while the narrow design makes it easy to hold. We like the 5-ounce size for the Sangrita or a smaller one for the tequila. The Libbey Glassware 5-ounce Troyano Shooter Glasses pictured can be found at foodservicewarehouse.com. Just $31 for a case of 24, you can throw them into the fireplace when you're done drinking. 

Architecturally speaking, Palmer Woods might be Detroit's greatest neighborhood. Tucked in the northwest corner of Woodward and Seven Mile, the neighborhood was built up largely in the 1920s, with grand Tudor and Colonial Revival homes nestled along winding roads. With every house unique — including houses designed by Minoru Yamasaki, Albert Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright — Palmer Woods is the antithesis of a cookie-cutter subdivision. 

Prominent jazz guitarist A. Spencer Barefield and his wife, Barbara, have called the neighborhood home for more than 20 years. Spencer became a key player in the '80s Detroit avant-garde jazz scene along with cutting-edge contemporaries in Griot Galaxy, playing with such greats as Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Andrew Cyrille and the young James Carter. The Barefields' 1937 home is filled with Barbara's luminous, hand-tinted photographs documenting Detroit's jazz scene (some of which were done while working with Leni Sinclair at the Detroit-Ann Arbor Sun paper). The home is also full of Barbara and son Spencer's pottery, and more than a few dog toys belonging to their huge charmer of a St. Bernard named Devo.

Over the years, Spencer and Barbara have given concerts at their home. Three years ago they decided to start a home concert series that celebrated the rich architecture of their neighborhood and Detroit's musical wealth, from jazz to Latin to Arabic, with shows in different homes each month. Last month's concert celebrated Mardis Gras with musicians including trombonist Ron Kischuk and trumpeter Dwight Adams.

It probably doesn't hurt that every show has great intermission food, or that each house is a trip back to a grander time with, as Barbara notes, "huge spaces for performances and celebrating the arts." Spencer nods his head in agreement: "You can't build houses like this anymore." 

The Lotus Ensemble performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, as part of the Palmer Woods Music in Homes series. A string quartet of DSO regulars, the Lotus Ensemble, will play music by composers from Bach to Scott Joplin to William Grant Still in honor of Black History Month. Added attraction: Celeste Headlee, former Detroiter and now co-host of public radio's The Takeaway, will be on hand to talk about her grandfather, William Grant Still. For more information visit palmerwoods.org. For more information on
Spencer Barefield visit spencerbarefield.com.

Robert's Rules

I'm a Detroit Public School (DPS) educator and a member of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT), and I read with interest the article, "Schoolhouse divided," (Feb. 17). I attend the DFT meetings and I've been asked to act as sergeant-at-arms, which I accept. The meetings have been very chaotic. Steve Conn and Heather Miller are the ones responsible. They have caused chaos going back to when John Elliot was president of the DFT, then Janna Garrison, Virginia Cantrell and now Keith Johnson. They are rude and disrespectful to Keith Johnson, parliamentary procedure and anyone who doesn't agree with them when they don't get their way. Even when approached in a courteous manner, they continue to rant, rave and incite to the point, as mentioned in the article, that the meetings are adjourned. There is important information that can't be disseminated to members because of their behavior and the behavior of others. Protest and dissent are part of the parliamentary process, but one has to know when, for the overall good of the membership, it becomes counterproductive for those of us who want to hear what's taking place in Lansing that has a direct effect on DPS and the teachers. —Thomas A. Wilson Jr., Detroit


Parting shot

Reading your News Hit on Matty Maroun ("Bridge bumps," Feb. 10), and there's a paragraph that starts with, "We would argue that Moroun might fairly be described as a certain kind of large, dangling appendage." I would substitute "small, shriveled appendage," but, anyway, that's just my opinion. —Jim Dixon, Detroit 


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Dave Graw and Derek Swanson are a couple of solid dudes.

Living evidence that age 35 is the new 21 (which is the new 15), they drink beer faster and tell dick jokes better than sports bar swillers, and though these total BFFs are heterosexually hot for each other's guffaws, they're also husbands with day jobs that see them as visual arts madmen pimping their skills to metro Detroit ad agencies. More, they're inked-up punk rockers who — before losing their shredmeister guitarist to hardcore torch-carriers the Dillinger Escape Plan — anchored the rhythm section (drums and bass, respectively) for a storied local band from the early 2000s called Heads Will Roll.

Graw and Swanson are solid dudes: good for a chuckle, or a ride to work when your car dies. But, literally, they are the Solid Dudes. See, for the last five years, Swanson and Graw have produced and co-hosted the best food show you've never seen, a Detroit-bred Internet sensation: Solid Dudes Kitchen

The show's recipe is something like this: Take a healthy Aerosmith hatred, add in fistfuls of phallic referencing, simmer with six-packs of top-shelf beer, lay down some music, top with motion graphic animations that'd make Adult Swim envious and finish with a dash of dudery. Episodes are pithy, and, when all's said and done, see a running time of less then 10 minutes each. Not only is Solid Dudes Kitchen all over the Web, it's a legitimate DVD designed and released by Graw and Swanson, and can be found stocked on the shelves of metro Detroit independent retailers such as Thomas Video and Flipside Records. And in these post-post-modern times where, in our (pop) culture, there is no great and there is no awful — there just "is," and then it's quickly replaced by more "is" — Solid Dudes Kitchen has a real shot at mass appeal, and could easily work on, say, HBO. 

But do they actually make food? Well, Swanson actually writes recipes and he does create dishes. Graw is more the straight man, good for a punch line or a cock punch. He's handy with an oven mitt. 

Solid Dudes Kitchen is the anti-cooking-show cooking show. During one episode in which the dudes created a pancetta, pork belly, brisket, pork rib, pork shoulder, bacon burger topped with homemade bacon mayo aptly titled the "Pork Motherfucker," Swanson quipped: "This is where people would explain what Sriracha is, but if you don't know — go fuck yourself."  But the show's charm isn't its cheap humor. It's not even the succulent foodie porn, such as the roasted beet and fennel salad, that the guys plate up. The show actually succeeds where most "reality-based" programs fail: It's not about the suspension of disbelief — it's about familiar comedic translation where food kind of holds it together. Put simply: they let you in on inside jokes to the point where you feel like you kind of know who these guys are. 

Take the "Mac and Cheese" episode featuring their guitar-playing pal Jeff Tuttle. He's single-handedly the quietest character a Solid Dudes Kitchen episode. 

When spoken to, Tuttle responds with blazing guitar licks. But is he really so quiet? Like several aspects of Solid Dudes, you get the feeling his muteness is an inside gag. But the Dudes want to bring us in. Back to the question: Is he really that quiet? Says Swanson: "He bums people out. Like people will meet him and be like, 'That guy's a fucking raging dick!' And Tuttle's like, 'I don't get it, I'm just kinda quiet.' People are super intimidated by him, but he's one of the nicest guys in the world." Adds Graw, "He's a pretty solid dude."

To have an inside joke that translates to an audience, where we don't feel alienated by some inferred elitism, or excluded from what's really their joke, is a one of comedy's biggest hurdles. These dudes mostly master it, and it's totally by accident.  

Here they talk of punk rock, pot brownies, Hollywood and their very own homies.


Metro Times:
How did this whole Solid Dudes Kitchen thing start?

Derek Swanson: It started with a "Wouldn't it be funny if we did this. I dare you to make an opening for it." 

David Graw: "Well, I dare you to record a song for it." The whole idea for the show was an inside joke.

Derek Swanson: We don't know how to cook; we just kinda enjoy doing it.

Graw: Dude, you totally know how to cook. I know how to make grilled cheese. 

MT: Is that truth or shtick?

Graw: Nah, that's honest. I mean, I'm fine — I can cook for myself —I just don't want to.

Swanson: Plus, it's funny being the straight guy. 

MT: And Derek, you have no culinary background whatsoever?

Swanson: None. 

MT: Before the show, what was the most challenging thing you tried out in the kitchen?

Swanson: I was a vegetarian for nine years, then my wife and I went to Paris and she was like, "If you go to Paris without eating meat you're going to regret it for you whole life." At that point I didn't give a shit, really, about being vegetarian anymore, so I started eating meat again. At that point, it was fucking on. The most elaborate vegetarian shit I'd try to make were like 36-ingredient veggie burgers that tasted like fucking sawdust. Coming back from Paris, the food I was cooking was all French, and I went for big dishes, like beef bourguignon cassoulet. That was probably the toughest — shit takes three days to make. I've never been a big fan of going out to eat. Growing up, we didn't have a lot of money, and then in college we didn't have a lot of money, so you can either eat shit like Burger King or make your own. 

MT: What about your diet while touring in Heads Will Roll?

Graw: We ate like assholes on the road. You take advantage of every free thing you can get and make up the rest of your meals by going to whatever's still open.

MT: I'd like to see that episode.

Swanson: What, the "Tour Food" episode?

Graw: [looks at Derek]. Shhh — there are things in motion. 

MT: [Inside Ronin, a hip metro Detroit sushi lounge where we meet the dudes, the interview is frequently interpreted by friends with good intentions.] So it seems at least one of you knows every other person in this place. Is this home base?

Graw: We have a lot of friends that work here but we also taped episode two of the new season here. We met with Ronin's head sushi chef, Kaku Usui, and co-owner Hugh Yaro on — was it a Sunday?

Swanson: It was eight in the morning, on a Saturday. We started drinking beer and eating sushi, and we did that for another five hours.

Graw: We got a lesson, man. We got schooled. As far as food goes, both of us are completely open to eating anything, and we're both really big fans of sushi. We saw this as an opportunity to watch and learn. Not only does Kaku prepare sushi and train everyone in his kitchen, from the ground up, but when he's not here at the restaurant, he's competitively fishing. ...

Swanson: Literally, competitively. 

Graw: His life is fish. He's like the Tiger Woods of fishing. ... 

Swanson: Our friend Kevin Hickner was like, "Wouldn't it be funny if you guys did an episode here?" When we got here, I couldn't believe what we'd fucking stumbled onto. There was just piece after piece after piece of shit we'd never think to order, shit that's not even on the menu. It was humbling. He has us breaking down fish, so Dave's whole thing about not really doing anything — he fucking nailed it. Neither of us had ever filleted a fish before and his was beautiful. Mine was mangled. Destroyed. Even Kaku said it sucked.  

MT: How long does it take to complete an episode?

Swanson: Filming takes a day, and then —

Graw: Filming is really like half a day, right? Under six hours.

Swanson: Yeah, a lot of that day is just us fucking off and hanging out. We haven't got to that point yet where we have a crew that comes in and boils water ahead of time. We throw some water on, put the camera on it and watch it try to boil for like a half-hour. That's when we get some of the best shit, like Aerosmith rants. The post-production stuff, that takes a while. 

MT: In the past year, Solid Dudes Kitchen has built some decent buzz locally. What gear is the hype machine in heading into the second season?

Swanson: Our friend Jason, thankfully, lost his job and wound up with a ton of time on his hands. He used to put out Heads Will Roll records so we were just like, "Dude, could you just get out there and talk to people for us — we'll put you on the payroll, for whatever that's worth." In the first two weeks we were on NPR, written up on a ton of blogs, Aquarius Records wrote us up favorably in their weekly thing. 

Graw: As it leaked out there, we had some — we've turned down our fair share of the little L.A. feelers, the "I know people who know people. ..."

Swanson: "Hey, man, I know people at the Lifetime Network, ..."

Graw: "... let me produce your show." Let me tell you, I'm a fan of Dischord Records and what they did, the fact that punk rock was punk rock and they did everything themselves and pushed everything themselves. We looked at L.A. and were like, "You know what? You guys are jerks."

Swanson: It's validating enough to have this thing, this tiny little show, that if only like 16 people see it and think it's funny — it worked. If things happen, then great, but we're not going to go talk to Señor Cocainepants to make it happen. 

MT: You don't see it taking over your lives anytime soon?

Swanson: In our real jobs, we're both professionals and we're good at what we do. People pay the companies we work for a shitload of money for us to do what we do. We don't see too much of that, so we just tried to take what it is we know how to do and make a fun thing out of it, for us

MT: So then is Solid Dudes like a living résumé of what you do, editing and animation-wise?

Swanson: Fuck, I hope not. 

Graw: There's a lot of people who like us that work in advertising and production and art production, ...

Swanson:  ... who have that one thing they've always wanted to do something for themselves. I was just working on an ad for Coke Zero. I don't love Coke Zero, I love hanging out with Dave, ranting about Aerosmith and making mac and cheese. Now, selling that experience for $10 a pop? Buy it or don't buy it, I'm going to do it. ... 

MT: Do you have criteria for what makes a "solid dude?"

Graw: I think it's one of those things you just know. In the back of your mind, when you look at your friends, you're like, "Yeah, what's-his-name is awesome, but would he really help me out the same way I think I'd help him out?"

Swanson: Dave's mom is a solid dude. 

Graw: My mom is a solid dude. 

Swanson: She'll make sure that you're fed; she'll make sure you're wearing your seat belt; she's always looking out.

Graw: If his car broke down, she'd drive to wherever he was.

MT: Do you collect solid dudes?

Swanson: You go through that period where you're like, "I have a million friends and I'm 23." At 28, you have 30 friends. I have 15.  

Graw: People into creating quality work, and are really into just going for it, end up kinda gravitating toward each other. I think a solid dude is, I don't know, P.R.D.? Yeah, Punk Rock Dave [P.R.D. is not to be confused with Dave McGraw, but as far as the guys are concerned, he's an archetypal "solid dude."]  

Swanson: This whole thing, the Solid Dudes name, came from our friend P.R.D. who's a guitar tech for Alice in Chains, Chris Cornell, Queens of the Stoned Age and more. He was putting this band together and Dave [Graw] was playing drums and I was like, "That dude is a solid dude. Wait! Oh my god — that would be the best band name. Let's give it to him," and Dave's like, "Fuck, yeah." So we phone P.R.D. and tell him and he's like, "That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard." We were all bummed out, like, "Fuck him then — we're fucking keeping that."

Graw: Three weeks later Derek calls me: "You wanna do a cooking show called Solid Dudes Kitchen?" I said, "Absolutely." Then we hung up the phones.

Swanson: That was it. Six months later, I recorded a theme song.

Graw: And once I got the theme song, I did an animation. We had an opening, so now we had to do something. 

MT: But the pilot episode is only a bonus feature on the DVD, right? 

Swanson: The pilot was built off the Food Network blueprint. There were like three or four dishes, there was the drinking night montage, and then we tried to do this Lost sort of opening that was fucking stupid and just went on forever. It sat for four months — we knew it sucked.

Graw: We almost scrapped it, then we were like, "Fuck it, let's do it another way." We showed up with one camera and no plan and filmed the Super Bowl episode in, like, two hours. We knew it was right. 

MT: Who makes up the rest of the Solid Dudes crew?

Swanson: There's CJ Benninger, he's a still photographer, and our friend Mike Shepard, who's a fireman that works nine days a month. 

Graw: The rest of the time, he does karate. He's the dry man — if he laughs at a joke, I know it's funny. 

Swanson: He's also the guy who, when we were filming here at the sushi bar, all of a sudden says, "I want one of those," and puts the camera down on its side in the middle of filming. It's like, "Well, I guess we're taking a break."

Graw: He'll totally break form and not give a shit.

Swanson: That's the whole thing though. We're not trained how to cook and we're not really trained how to make television. 

MT: How much of the show is scripted?

Graw: Nothing's scripted —

Swanson: Other than what we're cooking. 

Graw: And I don't even know that.

Swanson: Yeah, you fucking asshole.

Graw: To be honest, I didn't even know they were Derek's recipes.

Swanson: He calls me one day to go over this idea for this thing and he's like, "Yeah, I don't want to do that. Just do this other sandwich." So I was like, "Alright, I guess I can figure that out by the time we —"

Graw: What do you mean, figure it out? Just look it up.

Swanson: You know that I write all these recipes and test them beforehand and —

Graw: No, not really. 

MT: How much of season two has been shot?

Graw: Three are shot, two are totally done and we're going to do ...

Swanson: ... six or seven.

MT: Any big changes?

Swanson: Not so much as to the feel, but more in ways and the places were filming. The first episode we shot for season two, we went to this Jalapeño Fest thrown by this guy Bill Kozy.

Graw: Are you familiar with this guy? If you've ever been to a show in Detroit, you've seen him. 

Swanson: He had a house in Hamtramck where he had a little jalapeno garden there. He had all his friends come over for a barbecue and every food had jalapeños incorporated. He kept doing his thing, then he and his sister, Karen, bought a house in Indian Village, and it just grew from there.

Graw: How many years has he been at it again?

Swanson: This was the seventh year.

Graw: Dude, it will blow your fucking mind. There were either 14 or 17 specific dishes.

Swanson: Not even counting side dishes.

Graw: All made somehow with jalapeno, ready to feed ...

Swanson: ... like, 200-250 people per dish.

Graw: And there had to be 500 people there. 

Swanson: Insanity.

Graw: There's the 313 O.G.s — the original grillaz — who are a grill team made up of Mike Mouyanis and the staff from Small's Bar. 

Swanson: No joke, they were working with five different smokers. They had two pork tenderloin, both stuffed with cheese, chorizo and jalapenos, both wrapped in bacon, in the smoker. 

Graw: And as they smoked, they had them dripping onto a massive jalapeño-stuffed brisket. 

Swanson: Usually when me and Dave are doing things for the show, my wife takes care of our son and they do their thing. I was on the phone like, "Get the fuck up here right now — you're never going to believe this."

Graw: Barring tragedy, I will never, ever, ever miss that party. 

Swanson: Oh, and the next day —

Graw: The next day we're just calling each other all day long, while on the can pissing blood out of our asses. Our asses were peeing to the power of 10 because of the burning-hot jalapeño juice. It was so worth it though — so worth it. 

MT: What jalapeño dish did you make?

Swanson: We made chocolate chipotle steak bites on the grill. And Dave had an amazing idea to do mango jalapeño ice cream with tequila and topped with chipotle powder. We did that too.

Graw: If you have the rare opportunity to be invited to that party, do not pass up on it. If not, make your own party. 

MT: So you're shooting on location now. Are we talking external lights and boom mics?

Swanson: Yeah, now we are. We've got this dude Andrew who does audio recording, CJ does all the lighting, my buddy Russ was running a fan.

Graw: It's just like seven of us assholes wingin' it.

Swanson: Hey, it's Sunday morning, let's have mimosas and cook food and we'll film it. Let's throw in a green screen.

Graw: Oh, and we brought Tuttle back. Jalapeño Fest is the first episode, Ronin sushi is the second, and we brought Jeff back for the third. 

Swanson: It's a Dia de los Muertos episode. Jeff comes out dressed like a Norwegian black metal guy.

Graw: Death metal, that's the tie — we like it loose.

Swanson: You like it loose. The first time I read about black metal I was in Chicago. It was 1994. I was like, "Fuck me, I cannot wait to hear what this shit sounds like." Then I did. "What the fuck are these synthesizers doing here? This sucks." It was like when I was 8 years old and I first read about punk rock. "Man, I need to find that shit." Then a cousin of mine was like, "Oh, you want to hear punk rock, you should check out Echo and the Bunnymen." Then I did. "What the fuck? This isn't threatening at all." 

Graw: Then you hear Black Flag.

Swanson: And that changes everything. 

MT: Is there a Season 2 launch party in the works?

Swanson: Yeah, and this time we'll do it right!

MT: What does that mean?

Swanson: You weren't at the party? It was amazing. We got a whole roast pig, all this fucking food, and all these fucking people show up. My dad drives a truck in Iraq and he even made it in for this thing. Great night, beautiful weather, couldn't ask for anything better. Then everyone turns their attention to the screen, we pop the DVD in the player, push play, and the fucking thing dies. Dave being Dave just kicked the shit out of it. "This DVD player is done." Then he hooks up another one. That one dies. "Sic it, Dave!"

Graw: Dave walked out, went to the Garden Bowl bar and proceeded to get hammered, and watch people leave. 

Swanson: We wound up getting a DVD player to work out on the patio.

Graw: After working on Season 1 for four years, we screened it on a TV out on the patio.

MT: Why did it take so long to finish the season?

Graw: Day jobs, man. 

Swanson: Wives, a baby ...

Graw: I got married in the middle of all this.

Swanson: I actually married them. 

Graw: After we finished the first season, though, we told ourselves, "Fuck it, let's have the second season finished in a year."

MT: How long ago did you tape the first episode?

Graw: Aug. 2 of last year — before the premiere of Season 1 — before all of this. We go in bursts. 

Swanson: We come in bursts too.

MT: As far as executing these recipes, what didn't work out?

Swanson: Tons of shit. Most things had at least one fuck-up. Most dishes. ...

Graw: No way. You nailed it with the bacon burger, and that was the most complicated dish. It was insane. Macaroni and cheese was perfect. 

Swanson: Bacon burger was four days of prep, man. 

Graw: We got an e-mail from some guys who work in a kitchen somewhere — they actually re-created the bacon burger at work. That's awesome.

MT: Have the winds of the interweb carried Solid Dudes far across the map?

Swanson: The first 15 to 20 web purchases we were like, "Oh, it's our friend Brandon, how nice."

Graw: Now we don't even know.

Swanson: Now it's like some dude in Germany ordering five at a time. 

Graw: Through small Web ads, we sell, like, three or four things a week off our website. If we're lucky, we make — who cares how much we make? I don't know how much we make.

MT: Do you know much you make?

Graw: Yeah, I keep track of it, but I don't pay attention. It's not about the money.

Swanson: At no point have I ever held money in my hand and been like, "This is from DVDs!"

MT: The "Pot Brownie" episode was a personal fave. Were you guys legitimately stoned?

Graw: You can publish whatever you want; I smoke weed.

Swanson: So we eat them, but then we have to film us being high, and the shit takes a while to kick in when you eat it, so we were like, "Fuck it, let's just smoke some too." 

Graw: We filmed for two-and-a-half hours — that's why the cuts are so funny. You have to watch it with the commentary; I loved how he edited it, 'cause it was literally two-and-a-half hours of being stoned in chairs looking at the camera. 

Swanson: The first cut of that episode was probably 20 minutes long — 20 minutes of stoned gems. Brutal.

MT: More mind-altering drug episodes coming in Season 2?

Graw: I've been thinking about a 'shroom episode, but it might be a little weird.

Swanson: I'm 34, dude. I just don't have time. 

Graw: Yeah, that's a long day.

Swanson: At some point of which, I have to put my kid to bed. 

Graw: We've actually been talking about doing another version of the "Hangover Episode." I think we have a better one in us. I don't want to spill all the beans, but ...

Swanson: It involves alcohol and hangovers.

MT: What have you grown to hate about the first season?

Swanson: Dude, every fucking time I watch the beet episode, the roasted beet salad we made on the Super Bowl, I ask myself, "Dude, how the fuck are you going to make a salad and not use any fucking lettuce?" 

Graw: I think it's because we had such complex dishes for the first three that [pauses to nod along to "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" by Radiohead] ... Dude, this is a good jam. I went and saw 'em in Indiana with the full-on light show and we were so close that I had to back the fuck up because it was too intense. They took that massive stage and filled every square inch of where they weren't with hanging lights in a perfect row like a geometric grid. Their stage became this small little box of light. This band's genius.

Swanson: You know Aerosmith did that same thing in '86. 

Graw: Fuck off. Really, the beet salad had to be simple. Frankly, fuck football. I mean fuck it right in its face. I was sick of getting called a fag for playing soccer my whole life, you know. When it came time to do a Super Bowl episode, we couldn't care less. While everyone else is eatin' wings, drinkin' beer, suckin' their own dicks and spending wasted money on Super Bowl squares, we're like, "Let's make a roasted beet and fennel salad with capers and a mustard vinaigrette, tell dick jokes and not pay any attention to any of that shit." 

Swanson: My brother calls me every fucking Super Bowl like, "Dude, we're gonna be up at fucking B-Dubs watchin' the game — where are you gonna be?"

Graw: Your brother's a solid dude. 

MT: Are there any creative endeavors outside Solid Dudes that you two collaborate on?

Swanson: You should see us fuck. 

MT: What about music?

Graw: Yeah, we recently met up with our friend and we went and got high ...

Swanson: Which is code for "getting high."

Graw: ... and recorded some jams. We love our instruments. We play when we can.

Swanson: It's hard. It's not hard finding the time, and it's not hard doing it, but it's hard finding people you can tolerate doing it with. The idea of getting together with someone else and doing that irritates me to no end. Out of that session, we have new credit music for the new season and we wrote a couple other new jams.

MT: Is the approach to the show similar to your approach to music?

Swanson: The whole thing is informed by the whole punk rock ethic. If you're going to put out a record, then put out a fucking record.

Graw: But you gotta do it yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you. 

Swanson: If you want to put out an Internet cooking show, then put out a fucking Internet cooking show. 

MT: It's been said that you shouldn't ever work with your best friend. Have there been any rifts in making Solid Dudes?

Graw: Actually, good question, man. It's been pretty sweet.

Swanson: Yeah, I hadn't even though of it. So far it's really working out.

Graw: And that notion doesn't make any sense to me. I mean, if you gotta work, then why wouldn't you want to work in a situation you really like hanging out in?

Swanson: And, dude, at this point we've worked with each other for so long. We got this shit. 

Graw: If my best friend tells me I'm being an asshole, well, then I'm probably being an asshole. I should suck it up, swallow my pride and go, "My bad, dude." If everybody did that, we'd be solid across the board. 

MT: The candor you guys have with each other comes across on screen. 

Swanson: My mom is always like, "Oh, that Bobby Flay is really good — his food is really good." I'm like, "Mom, did you go to his restaurant?" and she's like, "No, but you just know — his shit is good." Cooking shows are to cuisine what porn is to fucking.

MT: Dave, anything you wanted to add to that?

Swanson: I look really good with my shirt off. 

MT: As opposed to Steven Tyler? Seriously, though, dude, you really hate Aerosmith, eh?

Swanson: No, I think we all really hate Aerosmith. 

MT: I hear they're trying to get Lenny Kravitz to take over vocals.

Graw: I think that's extremely disgraceful. I think Lenny Kravitz kinda sucks, but I would never in a million years put him on the same plane of sucking as Aerosmith. The band's dogshit — just terrible. And you know what? I don't know why I picked them to hate so much, but you gotta hate something, you gotta nuke something. They're despicable. I think they had skill and they put out one record and it was decent and they were supposedly supposed to be America's answer to the Rolling Stones and they're a fucking joke. 

Swanson: [to the interviewer] For the record: You asked this question. 

Graw: They're egotistical maniacs in purple shirts with suntans with a guy who puts scarves around his microphones and does the truffle shuffle on stage like an A-grade A-hole. I watched that video of Tyler falling offstage, like, 40 times — and I laughed every single time. I dreamt about having a time machine where I could go to that moment in time when he falls off the stage and beam in just to see him bail and point at him like, 'Yeah, fucker" and then beam right out. Whew, sorry, but you gotta hate something. 

Swanson: I hate Dave. 

MT: But do you like beans?

Swanson and Graw: Huh?

Watch Solid Dudes Kitchen Season 1 at soliddudeskitchen.com.

The two-year-old lawsuit brought against cable television giant Comcast by a handful of Michigan towns and their community-access television stations ended quietly earlier this year. There was a federal judge's order dismissing the case after Comcast agreed to the communities' terms, a cursory joint statement and a couple of community newspaper articles about it.

The Michigan communities and stations, for their part, got what they wanted, mainly the status quo that existed two years ago, before Michigan changed how local cable operating agreements are formed. And Comcast got rid of a lawsuit that could have held up its proposed acquisition of NBC Universal that is currently under review by Congress, the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

The stations — known as PEG channels because they provide public, educational and governmental programming — remain on desirable (low-numbered) channels in the vast cable lineup, a place where "surfers" can easily find them.

The channels receive funding through Comcast's operating agreements, either those still in effect with local communities or the new statewide contract a 2008 law prescribes. And the 10 to 15 percent of Comcast's 1.2 million subscribers who choose to purchase only a basic analog package will still get the community stations.

"We have always supported PEG programming and we continue to support it today," says Comcast spokeswoman Mary Beth Halprin. "The outcome of the settlement shows that PEG will be delivered in the format that it's always been. Until there's a change in the technology again or in the position of the community to move that channel to a digital format, we'll continue to support it."

Cable companies, local stations, industry groups and elected officials around the country had been waiting to see what the lawsuit would yield, as about half the states, like Michigan, have rewritten cable regulations in a way that many say spell danger for community access stations. That's because new state laws have changed longstanding operating agreements and contracts that had for decades required cable providers to provide funding and channel space for the PEG stations in exchange for the public right-of-way to run cable lines.

"Comcast made broad promises that bind it inside of Michigan, but the settlement does not affect its activities outside of Michigan," says Joseph Van Eaton, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who represents the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. "On the other hand, what happened in Michigan received a significant amount of attention on Capitol Hill and at the Federal Communications Commission. It is fair to say that the litigation raised the profile of PEG channels and highlighted problems facing PEG channels around the country."

The lawsuit and its issues are cited, in part, as justification for a bill introduced last year by a Wisconsin congresswoman that would offer better protections for PEG stations across the country. 

And in one of the first Washington, D.C., hearings about the proposed Comcast-NBC deal, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.) made Comcast's treatment of Michigan PEG channels an issue.

At the hearing earlier this month — one of the first on the deal that's also being reviewed by the Justice Department and the FCC — Waxman raised the Michigan suit in his introduction to the meeting, held by the U.S. House Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet.

"There are other issues to examine too, including Comcast's treatment of PEG channels, how this transaction will affect the diversity of voices in the marketplace, and how independent programmers will be impacted. We need to weigh all these topics as this process moves forward and the subcommittee considers related matters," Waxman said.


Local control

The PEG channels were born from the first cable operating agreements of the 1970s. At the time, cable providers needed to install the necessary infrastructure to provide television programming to households, and that meant garnering the blessing of municipalities that controlled the public land and other rights of way that cable needed.

As part of that, municipalities negotiated for funding of their PEG channels, and they did it under the FCC requirement that cable operators set aside channels for PEG use at no cost to local governments or school districts. The goal was to provide local and diverse programming, advance educational television and increase local government informational services.

When Congress passed rewrites of federal communications law in the 1980s and 1990s, it preserved the PEG channels, requiring cable companies to provide them to subscribers who purchase only a basic tier of service. Local municipalities were free to negotiate their own agreements that included single-digit percentages of cable fees to be paid to the PEG stations.

But in the last few years, about half of the states have crafted laws usurping local control. Michigan's Public Act 480 did just that. Purporting to increase competition between AT&T's U-verse network and longer-standing cable providers, the law has resulted in disputes over fees paid for PEG channels and where they appear in the channel lineup.

In late 2007, after Comcast in Michigan announced it would re-assign PEG channels and require subscribers to upgrade to a digital box to receive them, Bloomfield Township, Dearborn, Warren and Meridian Township near Lansing launched the lawsuit.

A federal judge immediately ordered Comcast to leave the channels where they were as the case progressed. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) held a hearing, the FCC took comment and then late last year Comcast proposed acquiring NBC. The spotlight shone brighter on the company's operations.

Last month's settlement has Comcast agreeing to pay $250,000 to split between the communities to help cover legal fees, and the stations remain in their traditional locations with relatively low channel numbers where they can be easily found. The PEG stations remain analog, so that subscribers don't need additional equipment to view them.

If Comcast discontinues its analog programming completely, then the PEG stations will go digital without objection from the plaintiffs, says Leslie Helwig, general manager of Bloomfield Community Television.

"In 2012 everything will be digital, but at least then our PEG channels will get the same treatment as everyone else. If a subscriber needs to make some adjustments, they'll have to make them for all the channels, not just PEG," she says.

Meanwhile, other efforts are under way to ensure PEG channels survive. Bills in both houses of the Michigan Legislature seek to clarify PEG fees in state agreements.

In Congress, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced a bill in October that would preserve their funding and place in the channel lineup.

The bill, called the Community Access Preservation Act of 2009, has 15 co-sponsors, though none are from Michigan. The Oakland County Board of Commissioners has passed a resolution supporting the act at the urging of local community access stations.

"Public access channels play an important educational role in our communities. They allow citizens to watch local city council meetings and school board meetings, and it would be much harder to hold local government officials accountable if public access television disappeared," says Tim Greimel, the commissioner who proposed the supporting resolution. "Just as importantly, the channels give everyday people the opportunity to hold community forums and express their views on television."

Scientists, lawyers and the hosting politician had the to-be-expected informative and persuasive presentations at a forum Monday, Feb. 22, about what it would mean for Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes if Asian carp breach barriers to rivers and canals in Indiana and Illinois and enter Lake Michigan.

Get ready to see the carp swimming upstream into inland rivers so they can spawn, the experts said. Prepare for environmental disaster, they warned, predicting the fish will replace many native species. And say good-bye to the $7 billion sport fishing industry and any accompanying travel and tourism dollars because the salmon, walleye and other smaller fish will die off as the carp decimate their food supply.

But it was one boater's experience with the fish that most affected the crowd, judging by the shivers, grimaces and questions following his impromptu speech.

At the forum at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, attended by about 100, Paul Streetenberger of Harper Woods described being on a small boat on a western Illinois waterway as jumping Asian carp surrounded him. When the invasive fish are "disturbed" by the sound of motors, they leap up to 6 feet out of the water. "One even landed in our boat," Streetenberger said.

Search "jumping carp" on YouTube (or read News Hits online) for a view of what Streetenberger was talking about and imagine that on Lake St. Clair, or any one of the rivers or lakes that feeds it, or any of the Great Lakes.

If your response is like the Grosse Pointe Farms crowd, you'll want to know what you can do to prevent it. And the answer is to conduct a good, old-fashioned, grass-roots political campaign, says Susan Harley, the Michigan policy director for Clean Water Action.

"We haven't seen proper funding levels to protect our natural resources and we want to see that changed," she said.

Sign petitions. Call the White House. Write, e-mail and fax congressional representatives because much-needed federal legislation and money would be the best security against a further invasion of the Asian carp, says Nick Schroeck, the incoming executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

"We don't have comprehensive federal legislation" regarding invasive species and other related environmental issues, he said.

Kelley Smith, chief of the fisheries division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said states are limited in their efforts because they don't have power to force Illinois or Indiana to close the waterways as many are urging. The feds do but "the Obama administration has come out very clearly on the side of Illinois in this case," Smith said.

"Maybe there's a little bit of taking care of the home state here," Schroeck said of Obama's response.

Schroeck advocates a complete environmental and hydrological separation of the Chicago and northwest Indiana waterways from the Great Lakes to protect against the carp and future environmental problems. Poisoning, electric fences and other control efforts are not 100 percent effective, he says. 

Closing canals, as other states have called on Illinois to do, is the most effective option at the moment, but with the network of sluices, water intakes and sewage routes, the fish could still make it into Lake Michigan and eventually the rest of the Great Lakes. Illinois has refused, citing the economic impact to the shipping industry.

That makes the threat an immediate one, Smith said.

"They're on the other side of Michigan but they're fish. They have fins. They'll swim."

State Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe), who hosted the forum, said any such proposals will need to be coordinated between states. "There's no silver bullet against these fish," he said.

Some local officials are getting ready. In western Michigan, for example, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners announced last week that it is preparing a contingency plan for an invasion and would call for the closure of the St. Joseph River's fish ladders to prevent the fish from moving further inland.

In Washington D.C. this week, advocates are at "Great Lakes Days" and urging Congress to take aggressive action to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and to separate the Mississippi and Great Lakes basins.

For more information locally, at the Outdoorama sport show at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs will host an Asian carp informational session at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25. Panelists include representatives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the Michigan Attorney General's office as well as the Michigan Charter Boat Association and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. 

"This is a problem for the whole region," says Bill Kirk, from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

It's Wednesday night at Cliff Bell's jazz club. Drummer RJ Spangler's regular organ-jazz jam session is under way. Spangler sits behind his drums flanked by guitarist Paul Carey and a nervous young trombone player. Spangler calls a post-bop tune, and he wants the young buck to take the first solo. The drummer shoos him toward the microphone, assuring him the veterans on the bandstand will guide him. The cackling inside the club ceases when they start the tune. Surprisingly, the trombonist holds his own — and looks relieved when the audience applauds. Perched at the bar after the set, nursing a cold draft beer, Spangler, 53, explains why he put the youngster on the spot.

"I encourage the young cats to partake, and I really enjoy seeing the torch being passed. I see a lot of positive stuff going on, Spangler says. For young players, a jam session is a rite of passage where they learn the standard repertoire, protocol backing singers, etc. I have met some outstanding young cats from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State at my jam session, and have seen some of them really grow in the short time [since May] I've had the gig."

Spangler has plenty to offer the next generation. In fact, he's a sort of bridge between musical generations. The multifaceted drummer has performed on 32 albums, and he's produced 14. He's led or co-led many bands since the 1970s, including Kuumba, the Sun Messengers and the Blues Insurgents, not to mention his current projects, including the trio that plays Cliff Bell's. But he may be best known for returning to the public eye a series of Detroit blues musicians, Johnnie Bassett, Odessa Harris and Alberta Adams, in particular.

"He is the foremost blues revivalist in our town. It all stems from his passion for the music of Detroit. He certainly doesn't do it for the money," says music publicist Matt Lee, a friend of Spangler for 30 years.

Richard John Spangler — RJ to his friends and colleagues — is the size of a nightclub bouncer, but he comes across as a scholar when he discusses Detroit's vast jazz and blues history. He grew up in Grosse Pointe. At a young age, he started playing the drums. His grandfather, Elbridge G. Wilkinson, played with Bing Crosby. An uncle, Bud Spangler, played with saxophonist Archie Shepp and the heavy cats of the local scene, in addition to hosting Jazz Today, an influential 1970s program on WDET. Spangler's parents divorced when he was a lad, and, as he recounts the story, his protective mom wouldn't allow her boys to visit their alcoholic dad, or associate with his side of the family. Spangler and his brother tracked down their uncle to get to their dad.

"My brother Greg, who is two years younger than me, got up the nerve to call my uncle on his radio show. My brother said, 'We're your nephews.' He set up a meeting with my dad. When I finally hooked up with my dad, I found out he was really into jazz," Spangler recalls. They hit it off immediately. His dad encouraged Spangler's interest in music, and he came out for his gigs when Spangler began working professionally around Detroit. 

Uncle Bud introduced RJ to former Horace Silver drummer Roy Brooks, who had then left New York to return to Detroit. RJ became one of numerous local percussionists who took lessons or otherwise learned from Brooks, and one of Spangler's first high-profile gigs was playing in Brooks' Aboriginal Percussion Choir. "Roy was a nice man. Right up to his incarceration, he supported me," said RJ, referring to the troubles — psychological issues, culminating in an assault charge — that took Brooks off the scene before the end of his life. "He would come to a lot of my gigs. When I used to go to his gigs, Roy would call me up to the bandstand to play the drums. I loved Roy."

Spangler — who was playing a lot of congas and other percussion back then — started Kuumba with saxophonist Rick Steiger in the late '70s, and around 1980 it morphed into the Sun Messengers. Playing modal jazz, old standards, jump blues and some of Sun Ra's music — not to mention South African jazz, Afro-beat and ska — the Messengers were already serving up a world-music stew when most folks were just learning the term. But as the ensemble's popularity grew, it became more commercial, which didn't sit well with Spangler. 

"I was into the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. I love the Sun Messengers. I'm good friends with them today. They were becoming married men with children. Their idea of a good gig was playing weddings making $200 a man. That wasn't my dream," says Spangler, explaining why he set off on his own as a drummer, bandleader and promoter. 


RJ finds his calling

In the '50s Johnnie Bassett was a session guitarist for Detroit's Fortune Records, performing on classic R&B sides by Nolan Strong and the Diablos, and the Don Juans. When Bassett hooked up with Spangler in 1992, at the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival, the guitarist was only working sporadically. Shortly after, Spangler invited him to join his band.

"I was playing a honky-tonk tune. That's when RJ heard me. He was mesmerized. He said that he loved my sound. He said: 'Hey, man, next Saturday, if you're not busy, I want you to play a house party with us.' That's how it started," Bassett recalls.

With then-Detroit organist Bill Heid, they started the Blues Insurgents. Spangler landed Bassett three record deals, booked him concerts in Europe, and he played on four of Bassett's albums: I Gave My Life to the Blues, Bassett Hound, Cadillac Blues and Party My Blues Away. The guitarist's profile in the blues world soared. He hired an agent to assist Spangler, but they butted heads, so Spangler moved on in 2005. 

Bassett says there's no bad blood: "RJ was very instrumental in refurbishing my career and he's still in the loop. We are still good friends and good colleagues. He's a good promoter and he's good with people. He manages and promotes better than anything else." 

As with Bassett, Spangler hooked up with vocalists Joe Weaver, Odessa Harris and Alberta Adams, reviving careers that had been at a standstill, bringing them some combination of record deals, high-profile gigs and awards. Both Weaver and Harris passed away in 2006, but Spangler continues to work with and represent Adams. He also represents and plays with singers Sir Mack Rice (the Detroiter who wrote "Mustang Sally" and other hits) and Cece Collins. And that's in addition to RJ's Rhythm Rockers and the RJ Spangler Trio/Quartet and the Planet D Nonet — the latter co-led with trumpeter and longtime friend James O'Donnell. Each group has a different lineup and objective.

Of all of them, Planet D is the most ambitious, Spangler and O'Donnell's "space-age swing band," an outfit with a repertoire that includes Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams' R&B, Ellingtonia and Sun Ra's extraplanetary excursions. 

Recently, Planet D released two recordings, on Eastlawn Records, a label Spangler co-founded. The EPs capture the group's diverse roots. The ballads on Ballads, Blues & Beyond are so soothing you'd want to cuddle up with them. Those tunes will surely put you in a hypnotic state, but the Sun Ra ditty "Saturn" will snap you out of it, and prep you for the second album. Blowin' Away the Blues is a down-home, rip-snorting blowing session in which the horn players show off their chops, as do guests vocalists (Adams, Mario Rodriguez and Charles "Buddy" Smith) and instrumentalist guests (including saxophonists Johnny Evans and Keith Kaminski). 

Although Spangler is a leader, the drummer is there to make the whole sound good rather than put his rim shots out front. The Nonet brings together veteran swingers, Spangler contemporaries such as O'Donnell and trombonist John "T-Bone" Paxton, with novices, such as 21-year-old bassist Noah Jackson.

"I've looked out for the generations before me, and I try to encourage the generations after me," says Spangler. "In my own way, I am a keeper of the flame. I always lead from the heart."

The RJ Spangler Trio's organ jam session — Ralph Tope on guitar & Dale Grisa on organ — takes place Wednesdays at Cliff Bell's, 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543; cliffbells.com. The Planet D Nonet plays Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Tap Room (201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320; taproomypsi.com). Other future gigs include the Planet D on March 11 at Music Hall's Jazz Cafe and RJ's Rhythm Rockers backing Alberta Adams on March 13 at Callahan's in Auburn Hills.  

No matter how strongly we may feel about the health-care debate — and no matter which side of the debate we're on — most of us stay safely out of it. Aside from a few boisterous town-hall meetings, we monitor the dealings in Congress from couches, desks, and smartphones, where we can keep tabs on the action, make donations to the activist groups of our choice, and post our opinions on FaceBook or Twitter.

But as the discussion about health care has shifted from coverage for all citizens to a system that will force people to purchase private health insurance — without the controversial "public option" that would offer some kind of government-run health plan for those who wanted it — pockets of unlikely activists are mobilizing. Health-care practitioners are expressing their opinions via old-fashioned civil disobedience. Many of these protestors say the solution to the nation's health-care dilemma is in what's known as single-payer health-care — a government-funded medical system, much like Medicare, that would cover all citizens from birth to death. So far, the notion of single-payer health care has not gotten much serious play in the current discussion. But this new breed of professionals-turned-activists feels strongly enough about the topic that some of them are putting themselves on the line to draw attention to it.

On May 5, 2009, eight representatives of several activist groups, including Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare-Now of Maryland, and Single Payer Action — three of whom were doctors, two of them from Maryland — sat in on a Senate Finance Committee roundtable discussion chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana). They observed that no representatives at the roundtable supported single-payer health care, and repeatedly requested that they be permitted to speak at the hearing. Baucus had all of them arrested.

On May 12, at a second roundtable sponsored by Baucus' committee, five more health-care practitioners who were not given a seat at the table crashed the hearing, spoke out in favor of single-payer health care, and were arrested.

And in a series of actions that took place across the country this fall, more than 150 people — many of them working health-care providers — were arrested for staging sit-ins at the offices of health-insurance companies and Congressional representatives, such as senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). One such action took place in Baltimore on Oct. 29, 2009, resulting in the arrest of two doctors, a retired psychologist, and a schoolteacher.

We asked some of these individuals to tell us what made them feel so strongly about health-care reform that they were willing to go to jail for it.

Dr. Carol Paris is a practicing psychiatrist from Leonardtown. She was arrested during the May 5 incident at Sen. Max Baucus' Finance Committee meeting, one of eight people locked up. Paris was charged with unlawful conduct on Capitol grounds. She received six months' probation, though the charges were diverted in January. She is a member of Physicians for a National Health Care Program.

Prior to last year, I was working, via volunteer time primarily, with the [physicians' group] Maryland State Medical Society. I did some work for about three years on their legislative committees, and I did a lot of work on pieces of legislation that were designed to try to get the [insurance] industry to play fairly. And what I realized ... is that it doesn't matter what you get passed in the law. What matters is what the regulations are, and who writes the regulations and enforces the regulations. In the state of Maryland, the regulations were written in large part by the insurance lobby themselves... . And the Maryland Insurance Administration is tapped with enforcement of the regulations. And what I've come to realize is that the Maryland Insurance Administration is ineffective... . The only trigger for the Maryland Insurance Administration to enforce a law is a complaint. They are not even monitoring, and they don't even enforce unless somebody complains.

We had this bill that was passed in the Maryland Legislature called the Clean Claims Act. It said if you as a physician submit a claim to an insurance company, and you've dotted your I's and crossed your T's, your forms are all filled out correctly, they have either 30 or 45 days to pay the claim. And if they don't pay in that amount of time, they have to give you interest on the money. ...  I had a case where, the [patient] had two insurers, Medicare and a private insurer. I submit the claim to Medicare, they pay what they are going to pay, then they send the paperwork to the private insurance company, and they are supposed to pay me the rest. I sent $3,000 worth of claims to Medicare. Medicare sent them to CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. CareFirst put in the wrong provider number [on the forms] and sent my money to a doctor in Fredericksburg, Va. My staff identified the problem within a month, and it took two years to fix it. I kept a list of every interaction with CareFirst over those two years, and I determined that at a rate of $13 an hour, it cost me $13,000 to collect the $3,000 owed to me. I didn't even get interest on the money.

All of this is to paint the picture of the frame of mind I was in last January, when I met Margaret Flowers and realized there were organizations out there that were advocating for a single-payer plan. I was a case in point as a physician of how bureaucratic and wasteful the private insurance industry is in so many ways. It just resonated with me all over the place, and that's why I joined.

It was a combination of that and of being a practicing physician and just seeing day after day after day how the system is abusing doctors and abusing my patients. That reinforces my determination every single day. ... I jokingly have come up with a new psychiatric diagnosis called PIISD — private insurance-induced stress disorder. When Margaret called me and said, "Do you want to protest at the Senate Finance Committee hearing?" I didn't have to think about it. I said yes.

We decided we weren't going to disrupt in the middle of the proceedings. ... So as soon as Sen. Baucus pounded his gavel, Russell Mokhiber [of Single Payer Action] got up and said basically, "You have repeatedly refused to allow a single-payer spokesperson to address the committee ... . We have three doctors here, any one of whom could speak to this issue. Will you give them a seat at the table?" And Baucus said that proceedings would adjourn until order can be restored and had Russell arrested. As soon as order was restored, Margaret Flowers got up and spoke for a minute or so, and she was arrested. As soon as order was restored, ... someone else got up and spoke and was arrested, same thing. I was number four. And there were eight of us total. [Activist] Katie Robbins got up and said "We need single payer in this country," and Baucus' reply was "We need more police."

[They] put us in a paddy wagon and we spent five hours sitting on a bench handcuffed to a wall in jail. While we were sitting there talking to the Capitol police, they were telling us their stories of health-insurance woes with their families. They completely got it, what we were doing and why we were doing it. In fact, there was a sign in the jail that said if you are having a medical problem, let us know and we'll get you medical care. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that its cruel and unusual punishment to deny a prisoner health care. In Baltimore, you get medically cleared before they will even put you in the general population [at] the jail. So think about it: You have more rights to health care as a prisoner in this country than you do as a law-abiding citizen.

Charles Loubert is a retired counseling psychologist who lives in Southwest Baltimore. Loubert, who is 81 years old, was arrested on Oct. 29, 2009, when he and a group of 30 supporters of single-payer health care held a rally outside the offices of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in Canton. Loubert was one of four people arrested that day. He was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Despite the fact that his case was nolle prosequi — not prosecuted — by the State's Attorney's Office, a warrant was issued for Loubert's arrest in December 2009. Officers showed up on his doorstep early one morning, handcuffed him, and hauled him down to Central Booking again, where he was held until a court commissioner determined that the warrant was issued in error. Loubert is a member of Veterans for Peace, as well as Healthcare-Now of Maryland.

I'm a retired psychological counselor. I was a school counselor and I worked with adults, as well, in the community and at a health clinic.

I can do this because I pretty much have my time as my own. And that's not heroic, that's just convenience. There are many people that I know who feel the same way I do, but they've got jobs, they've got families. I'm a little bit of a rabble-rouser, you know, and at my age what do I have to lose?

We went to CareFirst, to their office is at the 1st Mariner Tower [in Canton]. About 30 of us went there. We were protesting at the front door, and they had the doors locked because they didn't want us to come in.

We were protesting and so on, and then Margaret Flowers and Eric Naumburg, two doctors, and Kevin Zeese and Del. Jill Carter [D-41st District] went to the back door and talked to a representative of CareFirst and asked them to stop denying doctor-ordered procedures, and said they wanted to speak with the CEO of the company. And the representative said, "Well, we'll put it in writing and we'll consider it." Fat chance was my silent answer when they came back.

So anyway the four of us decided, including Margaret and Eric and another lady who is a teacher, we decided we're going to risk arrest if necessary to get the point across. The plan was we were going to go into the lobby, all 30 of us, and then when they asked us to leave, four of us would not leave. Well, what they had done is, apparently, they had notified the police. So as soon as we rounded the corner to go to the door, the 30 of us were surrounded. Out of the blue came about 40, I think — there were more of them than there were of us — Baltimore police. They came racing to the door to keep us out.

The other three got in because they were quicker [than me], but my old bones beat this one younger cop to the door, and we got in and we sat on the floor, and the manager of the building asked us to leave, the police asked us, and we said no. They handcuffed us and took us out into the paddy wagon, and they took us off to Central Booking.

I hate to say it, but I was a little ashamed of our country. We do so many good things, and we are a haven for people from all over the world to come here to be citizens of this country, and yet we do this kind of thing.

Eric Naumburg is a retired pediatrician from Columbia. Today, he says he sees more and more doctors in the Howard County area getting out of traditional medical practices and setting up "concierge" practices, where individuals pay a large membership fee each year for guaranteed access to the physicians of their choice — a luxury for those who can afford it, an impossibly expensive proposition for most. Naumburg was arrested at the Oct. 29 protest in the lobby of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield's offices in Canton. He was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. The charges were eventually nolle prossed. Naumburg is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and Healthcare-Now of Maryland.

Most people don't understand what the term single-payer means, because it's a technical term, but it's a one-payer system, like Medicare used to be, that pays for the care, but the care is provided privately. ... Since this debate has gone on, single-payer has been systematically taken off the table. It's not included at all. When the Baucus [Senate Finance] committee had hearings on health reform back in May, the room was filled with lobbyists, health insurers, pharmacies, all the people you would expect. But there was not one person representing patients' interests in the room. Nor was there anybody there representing doctors' interests.

The people who were struggling, in my practice, were the ones who didn't qualify for Medicaid. They had jobs and they were doing what they should be doing. And they were the people you had to go back and look in the sample closet to see if you could find antibiotics for a child who was sick, that kind of thing. A lot of them would just stop coming because they just couldn't afford it.

We have a very expensive, very poorly run health system. And there's no system to it — it's a mishmash. And the biggest waste in the system is all this administrative stuff. It makes practicing medicine very unpleasant because at every turn you have to worry about, Well what does this person's insurance cover? What forms am I going to have to fill out to make the insurance company happy, so they'll pay? To make the pharmaceutical plan happy so they'll give out the drug that I think the patient needs? You're fighting with the private insurers to get care for people, ... fighting with people who don't really understand.

One of my last cases was a real frustration for me. I had a 3-month-old who had noisy breathing and his mother was working and she had private insurance, Aetna. I wanted to get this child seen by two or three specialists, and they had the family going to — instead of the people that I know and know were good — they had them going to a cardiologist that I'd never heard of at one place and a pulmonary clinic at another, then finally they ended up at an ENT [ear, nose, throat specialist] down in Washington. They had them going all over the place. ... And the bottom line is I didn't know he ended up in Washington, I never got a chance to talk to the ENT doctors down there. They ended up doing a tonsillectomy, which on a 3-month-old is pretty unusual. I wanted them to just look for an underlying cause, and I never got a chance to tell them what I was thinking about. When I got a chance to talk to the surgeon three days later, I told them "I was hoping you guys happened to get a biopsy," and he said "No, if you'd told us that we would have done it, that's a good idea." ... It's that kind of thing. That's just an example, but it happens all the time.

When we were doing the protest at the CareFirst building, there were a lot of police around. We started talking to them about their medical coverage, and they have issues, they have gaps in their coverage. The people arrested in Washington had the same experience with the guards. When I was in Central Booking in Baltimore, there were two of us in the cell, we were wearing our T-shirts, and ... the minute they found out what we were doing, they were very supportive of us. It's all levels of society who know that their health insurance is not working for them. It's universal.

[Physicians] are leaving primary care in droves. It's a real problem here. The health commissioner in Howard County has been having meetings about the lack of primary-care providers. Howard County is the richest county in the richest state in the nation, and they're having trouble finding enough primary-care providers. People aren't going into primary care anymore — they want to become specialists because it's very hard to make a go of it as a primary care provider, because of the insurance reimbursement issues. Doctors want to be able to practice medicine without feeling like being in a mill, which is what it's like. You have to churn out so many patients just to get enough reimbursements.

In a wealthy country like this, everybody should have access to health care without having to worry about how to pay for it.

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician from Sparks. She stopped practicing medicine two years ago to devote herself full-time to advocating for single-payer health care. She serves as co-chair for Physicians for a National Health Program, and is also a member of Healthcare-Now of Maryland. Flowers was arrested twice in her effort to push for health-care reform: She was one of the so-called Baucus Eight who were arrested at the May Senate Finance Committee hearing, and she violated her probation on that arrest to participate in the CareFirst protest in Baltimore, where she was again hauled off in handcuffs. Flowers was charged with unlawful conduct on Capitol grounds for her Baucus committee arrest, for which she received six months' probation, and with trespassing and disorderly conduct for her arrest at CareFirst. Those charges were eventually nolle prossed.

I went into the practice of medicine thinking it was the doctors and patients who made the decisions about what was the best care for patients, and that there would be a certain amount of respect for the knowledge that physicians gained after many years of studying and training. But instead what I found is the insurance companies that you bump into at every level — in the hospital, in your practice, in the pharmacy — are not making decisions based on sound medical practice. Initially, I was surprised by it, and then I started to get curious about why it was that way. One thing led to another, and it's been about five or six years now that I've been trying to educate myself and others about health-care reform and fighting for it.

One of the things we learned this year is that the regular physician's voice is not heard in Congress. They hear from special-interest groups, and many of those have somewhat corporate affiliations. And many of the people that were involved in devising the numbers about health policies didn't really understand health policy. So we brought doctors and nurses and other health providers into Congress and we met with members of Congress and we presented them with packets of information about health policy and we also spoke to them about our real experiences with real patients, about what the reality is, why we are losing primary-care doctors, why our health outcomes are bad, just a voice they haven't heard before.

We spoke to everybody, we didn't limit it to any kind of affiliation. People who believe in a free-market [health-care] model would say, "Well, we think that there should be competition." So we would say, "Well, explain to us how that would work, how does competition improve health care?" And they couldn't. Then, we would say, "This is what it actually does to health care, and this is why the real competition we want to have is between doctors and hospitals. If everybody can come to see you, then you are competing based on who's the best [provider], not which insurance company covers you."

The first committee to take up health care was Sen. Baucus' Finance Committee, and so the Leadership Conference [for Guaranteed Healthcare] sent a letter and requested that one of our representatives be present. They had 41 people testifying over three days at these roundtables. It became very clear that they did not want our voice to be included. [But] if you talk about universality, single-payer wins, if you talk about cost saving, single-payer wins. They didn't want to hear that.

We were actually prepared to testify that day if need be, and as the roundtable was opening, the first member stood up and he said, "Why aren't you allowing single-payer on the table? We have three doctors here, will you let one of them testify?" And he was arrested. I stood up next and said, "I'm Dr. Margaret Flowers, and I speak on behalf of the true stakeholders," because they kept calling the people at the table the stakeholders, and we're going, "The pharmacy [representatives] are not the stakeholders." So I said, "It's the patients and the providers who want a national health program." And they arrested me.

We knew we were risking arrest. It was a public hearing, but they weren't allowing the public to speak. They gave us unlawful conduct and disruption of Congress. That actually caries a six-month sentence, it was a little more than we expected. We just had our probation hearing last week. But the effect was actually rather positive. Sen. [Ted] Kennedy [D.-Mass.] was still alive at that point, and his office reached out to us, and I was the first person to testify at his committee hearing when they brought up health care.

The more you learn about what is going on and why we don't have real reform, and what health-insurance companies are able to get away with, I came to a point where I felt like if I was going to make a difference, I was going to have to do this full-time. So many of my friends were leaving their practices and just giving up. I now do this full-time.

This is a matter of life or death for people. My outrage is at the fact that our government is not acting in the best interests of the people, and they are getting away with it. It's just unacceptable. You can work a job, you can pay your premiums, you can do all the things you are supposed to do, and then you get sick, and you lose everything. And it can happen to any one of us.

Part of the reason I became a doctor is because I care about people. So I can't see this happening and not do something about it.

$=$5-10; $$=$10-25; $$$=$25-50; $$$$=$50+

Because of this week's Blowout, we're presenting this handy shortlist of Hamtramck's humble culinary destinations. They're uncommonly cheap, sometimes open late, and are often off the beaten path. But at any given hour of the day, these joints are there to lay the foundation for a night's drinking, quell late-night hunger pangs, or nourish away that morning hangover.

Al-Qamar Halal Pizza 10240 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-875-5592; $: Even though Al-Qamar is known specially for its halal pizza, the menu isn't limited to that alone. A huge variety of subs, shawarmas and gyros are also a popular hit among the customers. Keeping up with the authenticity, Al-Qamar even has great Mediterranean dishes. The best part is you won't have to spend much on a delicious meal, because the prices are very affordable. Falafel sandwiches are only $2. Set up as more of a fast-food restaurant, your orders are cooked quickly, so you won't have to wait long to eat. If you don't feel like leaving where you are, Al-Qamar also provides a delivery service. 

Aladdin Sweets & Café 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050; $: This is a small, neighborhood place, quite unlike Gandhi just down the street, lacking that restaurant's cloth doilies and polished steel cutlery. In fact, at Aladdin, you will eat on plastic plates and drink from polystyrene cups. But what Aladdin lacks in china and stainless steel it more than makes up for in flavor and authenticity. Instead of complex preparations, try the simple choices on the menu, such as chick peas and spinach, to see how these humble beans and greens come to life when expertly spiced. Don't miss the excellent and hearty naan bread, including the bread with potato baked into it. This small, lively spot is much more than a sweets shop, and whole families regularly cram into its small booths, which often makes the shop lively on the weekends, in a kid-friendly sort of way. No alcohol is served.

Bosnian Specialties 3028 Caniff, Hamtramck; 313-875-2722; $: Bosnian Specialties is unpretentious in the extreme, with seven round, well-spaced tables up a flight of steps, trying for a homey effect. Little rustic crosshatched roof effects adorn the windows and the corner table sits in a wooden bower twined with plastic grapevines. The food brings to mind Greek and Romanian dishes; gyros are on the menu, as are Greek salad and various shishes. The national food of Bosnia, though, and the most popular dish at Bosnian Specialties, is chevapi, beef ground with "secret ingredients" and made into sausage. It can be served on its own or between slices of lepina — a round, filling bread, sort of like a huge grilled English muffin, but spongier. Another interesting dish is the burek — layers of phyllo pastry filled with ground beef or cottage cheese. The cheese version is comfort food, mild and bland and very filling. Portion sizes are impressive for the affordable prices.

Café 1923 2287 Holbrook, 313-319-8766; $: Built in 1923, this former corner store has been lovingly restored with the period details that now make it such an appealing coffeehouse. However, the way Café 1923 differs from most coffeehouses is the price. Coffees and other specialties are affordably priced; nothing on the menu is more than $5. Art exhibits are showcased along the walls featuring local artists. In fair weather, their back yard is a sun-splashed delight. In foul weather, enjoy the street views in the front or retreat to the book-filled smoking section in the rear. It's a great place to get some work done peacefully, since Café 1923 offers free wireless Internet. 

Campau Tower 10337 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-873-7330; $: They've been a fixture in Hamtramck for as long as anybody can remember, as a ghost of the old White Tower chain, a tiny building that looks like it had to wedge in between those on either side of it. And, day after day, this slider joint serves the few characters who always seem to be waiting for a burger. But at night, when the bar crowd rolls in, the handful of stools in front of the counter fills up with night-clubbers and bar-hoppers, still eager to fill up on Campau's sturdy fare. In fact, owner Sandy Bakic, of New Martha Washington Bakery next door, says she's ordering extra sliders for Blowout; at $1 per burger, they're sure to draw a throng. But don't worry if the seats are all taken; Campau Tower offers carry-out service.

Clock Restaurant 11444 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-305-2713; $: As a diner, the Clock occupies a solitary niche in Hamtramck's late-night dining scene. After 1 a.m., when the mini-city's eateries close for the night, the Clock keeps running all night long. With no competition, they don't have to turn out culinary wonders to get people in the door. And on post-Blowout nights, it's often jammed and smoky, with the post-bar crowd snarfing down deep-fried-to-perfection diner fare that sops up the booze. 

Gandhi 11917 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-366-7795; $$, The food is above average at Hamtramck's newest Indian-Bangladeshi restaurant (and the portion sizes are larger than average too). The chicken Kashmir (cooked in a creamy banana sauce) and the fish masala (salmon with spicy tomatoes and chilies) are both interesting, flavorful dishes. Also good are chicken tikka, chicken dansak, and begam bharta, a very rich, mashed eggplant. Appetizers and breads are a must at Indian restaurants, and Gandhi doesn't disappoint. For a less formal and more interesting experience, try the attached restaurant, where the local Bangladeshis eat.

Grandy's Coney Island 1200 Holbrook St., Detroit; 313-875-3000; $: OK, so you've just seen five or six bands, you have a car full of juiced-up pals, and you just want to grab a load of hooch-sopping comfort food before descending into the freeway for points distant. You could do much worse than Grandy's. The little drive-through just outside Hamtramck (and right near the entrance ramp to I-75) is one of those places with more than 100 things on the menu, ranging from coney dogs to subs to BLTs and on through to more elaborate choices, including cod, smelt, gyros, catfish and a 21-piece shrimp basket. OK, so you won't need that, but their burgers are very good, the service is friendly, and, best of all, they've never gotten our order wrong! Closed Sundays and holidays.

Hamtramck Coney Island 9741 Joseph Campau St.; 313-873-4569; $: Detroit's culinary gift to the world may be humble, but it's a point of local honor. Located in the midst of the busy street of Joseph Campau, this coney island is the perfect stop in between the bar hopping. Taste the pride for $1.85 with a classic coney dog: An all-beef frank placed lovingly in a bun, drizzled with beef chili, diced raw onions and mustard. It's the perfect spot for a quick meal of your favorite burger, gyro or sandwich. Also, stop in for breakfast the next morning after an adventurous night on the town. 

Kelly's Bar 2403 Holbrook, Hamtramck; 313-873-9428; $: Don't let the appearance of a dive bar fool you. Inside, Kelly's Bar features a huge menu to pair up with your favorite drinks. Kelly's is known widely throughout Hamtramck for having one of the best Reuben sandwiches and great waffle fries to match. Not only do they offer the typical "bar food" (burgers, fries and different appetizers) but also chicken, seafood and rib dinners. Kelly's Bar is also participating in the "Hamtramck Blowout" so don't miss out on the live music over the weekend while you're enjoying your meal.

Maine Street 11650 Joseph Campau; 313-368-0500; $: Serving stick-to-the-ribs diner fare (daytime only; closed Sundays), Maine Street may not be a late-night hangout, but it's a likely spot to see the people you partied with the night before, probably in the smoking section or at the full-service bar. It may appear as a typical family-style Greek restaurant, serving gyros and saganaki ("Opa!"), but Maine Street's menu also includes dishes that encompass Hamtramck's diversity by offering homemade chevapis and hummus. Breakfast is served anytime, except it costs $1 more after 11 a.m., however, even then it's worth it for the enormous omelets they serve. 

Maria's Comida 11411 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-733-8406; $: Food doesn't have to be authentic to be tasty, but some may find Maria's not quite authentic enough for their pedigreed palates. Just in case, you may want to ask the kitchen to hold the cheese, which may overwhelm many of the dishes' more delicate points. Maria's offers complementary homemade salsa and chips as appetizers while you decide what to order. Better than most choices are the jalapeños stuffed with lime cream cheese, the verde sauce for enchiladas, and the house-made desserts. If you like the kind of tamales where the masa is dry, which is more common around here, Maria's serves the best we've found of that genre; they come from Mexicantown Bakery. For made-to-order fried ice cream, an American-born dish, the chef coats ice cream with Frosted Flakes, to good effect. 

Polish Village Cafe 2990 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-874-5726; $$: Digging into a big plate at Hamtramck's Polish Village Café might have you suppose you're eating food prepared by somebody's Polish mother. That's because, essentially, you are. During peak dining hours there's a steady flow of waiting customers first lining up at the bar and sometimes winding up the stairs and out the door. Most entrées run around $8 — a trifle when you consider the asking price for a dreary meal at the corner suburban strip mall chain. In a space with old-style character, with a full bar, this Hamtramck staple serves a few pages of meat-and-potatoes Polish dishes and their accompanying sides. Impressive soups, Polish standards, "city chicken," Hungarian pancakes, mushroom crêpes, boiled ribs, fresh sausage in beer sauce, pan-fried chicken livers — plus a whole other menu page of such daily specials as stuffed green peppers and sauerkraut in crusty dough. Don't forget to order Poland's famous beer Zywiec along with your meal to truly enhance your Polish experience. Smoking permitted; cash only.

Polonia Restaurant 2934 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-873-8432; $: Back in the 1930s, the second floor used to be a place where labor organizers would meet. Today, Polonia still serves authentic Polish fare, taking special pride in its freshness. Their kielbasa, for instance, is made at the restaurant from their own special recipe. The almost-100-year-old restaurant was bought and remodeled in 1986 by Polish immigrant Janusz Zurowki. Feel at home amid the cozy booths, the colorful Polish knickknacks on display and the aromas of Polish home cooking. That's why if you're looking for good, hearty and affordable food in a charming atmosphere, you can't do much better than Polonia. The menu is full of traditional Polish food, heavy on the meat and potatoes, but without gargantuan serving sizes. The decor is a hodgepodge of wooden curios and colorful plates beneath the warm pink glow of coated fluorescent lamps. There is no real sit-down bar, but drinks in all forms are readily served. Start off your meal with a shot of Wisniowka, a very sweet, cherry flavored vodka. If diet be damned, dive right in to an appetizer of smalec ze skwareczkami, a bread spread consisting of pork lard, bacon crumbs, onion and spices. There is a nice lineup of soups, and great pierogi stuffed with potato, cheese, kraut or meat. Open seven days a week and there are several daily specials. No smoking.

Royal Kabob 3236 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-872-9454; $: Here's a weird disconnect: In a metroplex with one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in the whole hemisphere, it has been nothing short of challenging to find good Middle Eastern food in the city proper. With the arrival of Royal Kabob on Caniff in Hamtramck, at least that multi-ethnic enclave has a shop that can provide everything from an ambitious platter to a humble, wax-paper-wrapped falafel sandwich. And those sandwiches are deals: A falafel sandwich is $3.25, as are the four other vegetarian sandwiches. For carnivores, meat-kebab sandwiches are around $3.50. As for their entrées, they're big enough to guarantee you'll leave with a box. Jeez, their $24.99 takeout combo for two is enough food for a small army. Though it does a brisk take-out business, the interior is bright and commodious, with enough room for large parties. What's more, it has a gelato bar for your sweet finish.

Three-Star Bar B Que and Lounge 11941 Joseph Campau; 313-365-9494; $: Good old-fashioned comfort food in an environment your parents might approve of. But that's hardly a strike against it. Three-Star offers dine-in, carry out, delivery and a full-service bar that adds a "lounge" feel into the evening. Hearty breakfasts start at 7 a.m. and drinking hours extend until 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Hint: The ribs lay an excellent base for an ambitious pub crawl.

Under the Eagle 9000 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-875-5905; $: Located at the south end of Hamtramck, Under the Eagle completes the Polish cuisine triangle. Solid Polish fare is served by a staff in native Polish dress, in a room filled with colorful folk art. Amenities are extremely modest, from plastic tablecloths to paper napkins, but the value is outstanding for plates brimming with kielbasa and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, stuffed cabbage, pierogi and blintzes. It's impossible to leave hungry after the giant portions, including a huge bowl of the famous dill pickle soup. 

Special thanks to editorial intern Catherine Gasior for her contributions to these listings. See any inaccuracies or omissions? Let us know! Send an e-mail to mjackman@metrotimes or call 313-202-8043.

Louie Pacini's business is as fragile as the brittle creations he makes.

He's a craftsman whose plaster statues have been crowded out of the marketplace by cheap imitations from China. His health is faltering, tormented by persistent cancer. His customers have moved away, taking with them their patronage. And his employees were let go, one by one, as people stopped buying the delicate little things he makes.

"Right now, it's just down to me," he says. He owns Sam Pacini Statues on Van Dyke, just south of Eight Mile. "The only reason I survive is I'm by myself; the building is paid for; I got no overhead, but even now it's a struggle to even stay in business."

His species is endangered — a Michigan manufacturer engaged in an obscure art inside a little shop in a Detroit neighborhood. "You can drive right by and you don't even know we're here," he says. 

But he still comes to work every day, locks the door behind him, and heads back to his workshop, where he molds wet plaster into vases, planters, statues and figurines, using a technique that goes back centuries.

His finished creations line long aisles of shelves in his shop, streaming from one end of the store to the other by the hundreds. Almost all of them are soft white and delicate, giving them a ghostly look in the dim light. Unfinished simple frogs and pigs share shelf space with traditional statues of Catholic saints whose detailed faces are etched with agonized or beatific expressions.

In the old days, he had to hustle to compete with others like him who carried on this tradition. Now there are fewer craftsmen and fewer customers. 

"There's really nobody in the state doing this now, but back when we took over there were shops all over the place," he says. "We're the only ones in Michigan doing this now."


Pacini's family
came to Detroit by way of Chicago from Lucca, Italy, a little town famous for its plaster figurines. There's even a museum there dedicated to the long history of its craftsmen.

"Everybody there pretty much was in this type of business, the statue business," Pacini says. His voice still hints at the accent he's left with from his first eight years in Italy. "My mom went back there a few years ago and said there's still shops putting the stuff outside to dry, letting it air dry."

The town craftsmen began emigrating a couple hundred years ago; some eventually wound up in the American Midwest, a few made their way to Detroit, and one family brought the tradition to the little shop on Van Dyke.

The store was named after his uncle. And his dad. Amazingly, they had the same first and last names, despite being unrelated, at least until one Sam Pacini married into a family that happened to have another Sam Pacini. The uncle who founded the store was Louie's mother's brother.

"Coincidence," he says. "Pacini is, in our part of the town we came from, like Johnson or Smith is here." 

Sam Pacini the uncle died in 1978, and left the business to Sam Pacini the father. No name change was necessary. 

"At the time, we were living in Chicago," Pacini says. "My dad actually did this type of work in Chicago, and when my uncle passed away he wasn't married or anything, so we pretty much inherited the business, and that's when we moved here."

The family, like most in Lucca, had its own way of making plaster. "Our technique, nobody does it the way we do it," he says. "I learned everything about it from my dad. I learned how to make little stuff, then from there I graduated to the bigger pieces, and then I was eventually able to do everything."

Pacini's dad died not long after moving to Detroit, leaving his son in charge. His mom would help out sometimes, but she was getting older and soon stopped coming around. It became his shop.

Back then, three decades ago, business was booming. "We were doing pretty good with it for a little place like this," he says. On some days he'd have eight employees working at once in the back. He would hire the kids from the shop's crime-ridden neighborhood and teach them the craft.

"I hired all the degenerates," he says, half-joking. "People don't realize, even a little place like us, I hired people that nobody else was going to hire. And you need that, especially in the city. And we've lost so many of the small businesses that would do that."

There were benefits to hiring locally — when crime skyrocketed in the area and break-ins started happening at the shop, his employees would use their street connections to find out who did it and send a message, verbal or otherwise, that the store was off-limits.

"The guys who used to work for me were probably some of the worst guys in the neighborhood, so actually they kind of watched out for me," he says.

Despite their rough lifestyle, the kids would always show up for work on time, Pacini notes. One stands out in his mind. 

"One time he came in, he got shot in the hand; he had blood coming out the hand a little bit and he was still coming to work. Another time he got stabbed in the back and he didn't even tell us. And he was working, and I could tell he was in pain. He had a cut this big," he says, holding his hands about a foot apart. "Somebody sliced him because he sold some crackhead some soap and they cut him."

But then the economy soured, cheap statues from places like China poured in, business dried up, and employees had to be let go. Pacini got thyroid cancer, closed the shop while he sought treatment, and when he came back his customers had moved on. 

"The health issue set me back a little bit, but what can you do? That stuff happens. But everything goes in cycles. That's why I figure if we can stick this out there's always something that comes along." He still always says "we" out of habit when speaking of the shop, even though he's the only one here now.


The walls of
the workshop are splattered with plaster. Thick drops of it cake the wood benches where the finished statues are left to dry. Years of work have left their mark in the shop, one drop at a time, one day at a time. The workshop is almost like an artwork in itself.

Making a statue takes time. Pacini starts by mixing water with fine white plaster powder. The mixture is poured into a latex-coated mold, then poured back out, leaving a paper-thin coating. Once that dries, he does it again. And again. He repeats the process until there's a quarter-inch thick layer inside, brittle and thin but strong. The statues are hollow, and this is how they are made, from the outside in. 

Finally, the mold is pulled away and the plaster piece is left to dry.

These days he sells a handful at a time, mostly to hobbyists or gift shops that keep a few of the figurines in stock. Some teachers buy them for the kids in their class to paint. A brush and some paints cost only a few dollars. The kids love them, he says. It's an easy way for them to create something artistic.

When he became ill a few years back, he put a "For Sale" sign in the front window. Predictably, on a street where empty buildings have gone unused for decades, there have been no inquiries. "I'm going to take it down," he says. "Ain't nothing going to happen."

His craft survived a trip across the ocean, the deaths of two owners, a bad economy, a brutal illness, cheap imitations of his work and changing decorative tastes. Yet it stays alive because he wills it to, because he's never done anything else, but mostly because he still loves making those little statues. This craft is his life.

"I'm gonna be 49 years old, so it's like, 'What am I gonna do now?'" he wonders in those moments when he thinks of giving up and closing for good. "This is what I know. This is all I know." 

25 years ago in Metro Times: In "Bringing up Super Baby," Leah Rosch investigates how Baby Boomers are raising their hyper-intelligent babies. Several psychologists are interviewed, saying that these children may be a generation of "hurried children," who are so pumped full of information that it will cause them undue stress at a very young age. Harvard Family Research director Dr. Fran Jacobs said, "There really isn't a lot of room for our children to rise higher than we did." Compare this parenting style with the recent national discussion about "helicopter parenting." Discuss. What was happening: Hall & Oates at Joe Louis Arena. (Note the Facebook-based effort to get Hall & Oates at Movement 2010!) 

12 years ago in Metro Times: We casually introduce the first Metro Times Blowout's debut at six venues in Hamtramck: Motor Lounge, Lili's 21, Paycheck's Lounge, Holbrook Café, the Attic and Roadrunner's Raft. The handful of venues housed 74 bands for $10 over two nights. All of this received roughly one page, give or take, in the entire issue, which also featured a story of everyone's favorite tropical superstar storm El Niño. Compare that with this year's offering, featuring 171 bands at 17 venues over the course of four days. Some things just get better with age. What was happening: Um, Blowout, of course! Among those 74 bands, we had Kung Fu Diesel, Big Barn Combo and, at Roadrunner's Raft, some dude named Eminem.

6 years ago in Metro Times: Erica Davis profiled the new Corktown art gallery Izzy's Raw Art on Michigan Avenue. Local artist Karl Schneider started the gallery with the intention of selling art that everyone could afford, attempting to keep all art prices less than $300. Schneider said the inspiration for the gallery came from Jacques Karamanoukian, who specialized in self-taught artists. Karamanoukian was a huge influence also on Zeitgeist Gallery across the street. Unfortunately, Zeitgeist closed last year, and Izzy's closed its doors just a few months ago. What was happening: Aside from the usual Metro Times Blowout, Dub is a Weapon was at the Detroit Art Space, and Ludacris took center stage at the State Theatre (now the Fillmore).

Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory and his younger brother, Terry "Southwest T," started as street-level cocaine dealers working out of their family home on Detroit's southwest side in the early 1990s. With business genius, luck and the unquestioned loyalty of associates, they morphed into the Atlanta-based "Black Mafia Family" organization, which the federal officials who eventually laid the family low call one of the biggest cocaine operations ever out of the Motor City. The case of drugs, money, music and murder are now the subject of a book-length account. 

In Atlanta, Meech sought a "legitimate" career in the music business with BMF Entertainment, his hip-hop label, which signed the artist Bleu DaVinci and was associated, for a time, with Young Jeezy. Success in music would justify his lavish lifestyle and legitimize showing it off. Law enforcement would leave him alone, his thinking went.

The more reclusive Terry eventually moved his branch of the family business to Los Angeles, where he received massive coke shipments. "Product" would move on to Atlanta, Detroit and St. Louis via private jets, tricked-out limos and the U.S. mail.

The Flenorys' organization included a loyal army of employees and associates that included the son-in-law of an Atlanta mayor and others with ties to sports stars, musicians, successful businessmen and celebs.

Like many such empires, BMF eventually crumbled under the weight of lengthy federal and local investigations and internal strife; high-profile shootings, murders and other crimes focused unwanted attention on the BMF members.

While the bulk of the operation and investigations were in Atlanta, the indictments, pleas and sentencing were handled from federal offices and courts in Detroit, a symbolic nod to the city where it all started.

The Flenory brothers are now serving 30-year prison terms for their roles in BMF. In all, about 150 associates have been convicted and are serving hundreds of years, all told, in prison.

In 2006, Mara Shalhoup, then-news editor of an alternative weekly newspaper in Atlanta, Creative Loafing, where she is now editor in chief, published a three-part series that earned her a Journalist of the Year award from the Atlanta Press Club. In 2007, Metro Times ran the second installment — the most Detroit-centric — as a cover story.

Shalhoup started her book as the series came out and continued to report on the "family" until the brothers' sentencing in 2008. BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family, is being released this week. 

Shalhoup talked to Metro Times about her book, BMF and the case's significance. 


Metro Times
: How did BMF become a story for you?

Mara Shalhoup: Meech was doing this heavy promotion around Atlanta, using billboards, so I was very familiar with them as a hip-hop entity. Then I got a call from a woman whose son was killed by BMF. Her son had delivered papers for Creative Loafing, so she had some sort of vague connection. It was a kind of random call, but she was talking about a high-profile killing that I recalled. Still, I thought, "This organized crime ring called Black Mafia Family killed your son?" That sounded crazy, but I started checking. At that point, it was in the court file but hadn't been reported. I was in the course of research when the indictments were issued.

MT: A couple of the chapters involve interviews with Meech in prison, but why didn't you incorporate his voice more throughout the book?

Shalhoup: His voice wasn't in there as much because in the facilities you get 30 minutes per visit, and he only got a few visits a week. They don't let you bring in tape recorders, so I only had handwritten notes, which is not my preference. The time I got to spend was limited, but I wanted to use a lot of what he told me as scene setting.

MT: And Terry never talked to you?

Shalhoup: I tried to reach out to him through his attorney, but they put me off.

MT: To what extent was Meech's big-spending lifestyle his undoing?

Shalhoup: You need to have that kind of excess and flash to make it in that world, but if you're showing that much of it before you have legitimate earnings, you're a magnet for the feds. Wrangling with that ended up being a big problem for him.

MT: Why did you take such a matter-of-fact writing style in the book?

Shalhoup: I didn't want to glamorize the cocaine scene. I didn't want to glamorize the police either. I was trying to do more like an observation of those worlds without taking sides in them.

MT: Could a BMF happen again?

Shalhoup: I'm hearing these rumblings of claims of a new BMF in Detroit. There are people who are active but not in the same organized, kingpin, highly structured kind of way BMF was. People are claiming to be BMF on the street level in Detroit, which makes sense because the Flenorys came up from the street level in Detroit. They were never street-level in Atlanta. They were never the guys on the corner selling in Atlanta. They came in here at the top. So in Detroit, there's a lot of their network, further down the chain of command. It arguably could happen again. It has a better chance of happening again in Detroit than in Atlanta.


Excerpt from
BMF: The rise and fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family
by Mara Shalhoup
St. Martin's Press, $24.99, 304 pp.

At its height, the Black Mafia Family (BMF) had distributed several thousand kilos a month. But compared with the Mexican cartels, a couple thousand keys was nothing. One of the cartels in Atlanta had 16,000 kilos seized. The feds also accumulated $22 million of the cartel's cash, setting a record for the amount of drug money confiscated from a single crew in the city. As one federal officer put it, the Mexican cartels "could wipe their feet on BMF." In the end, the dismantling of the Black Mafia Family in Atlanta was merely the eradication of the middleman, an opportunity for Mexican cocaine importers to extend their ever-expanding reach.

The situation was a bit different in Detroit, BMF's second-largest distribution hub. In the Flenorys' hometown, BMF, as a brand, had trickled further down the food chain, to mid-level and street-level dealers who claimed allegiance to the crew. Those dealers held the same positions that Meech and Terry occupied more than a decade earlier. (Atlanta had known BMF only as the city's top players; thus Atlanta's lower-tier guys, while in awe of the BMF, had less personal connection to the crew.) The young Detroit dealers clashed over who would step into the Flenorys' void. It stood to reason that every Detroit dealer aspired to be the next Big Meech or Southwest T. But the battle to succeed BMF's top players was messy and unorganized. While the myth of BMF was still strong, the organization itself — the cocaine-processing labs and fleets of tricked-out limos and handsome stash houses and piles and piles and piles of cash — had withered away. BMF's army of couriers and distributors had fractured, and the lieutenants who'd directed them were AWOL. It was no surprise, then, that no successor emerged. There was no real infrastructure to inherit. One of the only tangible signs of the Flenorys' fading empire were three spray-pained letters — B-M-F — that graced highway overpasses in Detroit.

Detroit was where Meech and Terry's cocaine enterprise started, and Detroit would be where it came to an end. By the fall of 2007, nearly all the defendants who'd been indicted along with the Flenorys had pleaded guilty. (Another 23 had been charged in a second Detroit indictment, most of whom eventually would plead guilty as well.) Charles Flenory, Meech and Terry's father, fessed up to a money-laundering charge, and New York's Jacob "the Jeweler" Arabov admitted to lying to federal agents. Both men received less than three years in prison. Almost everyone else received far stiffer sentences — the longest of which went to Meech's second-in-command Chad "J-Bo" Brown. J-Bo, who pleaded guilty in the summer of 2007, refused to cooperate with the feds. He got 15 years. Ultimately, a mere five of the 40-plus defendants indicted with the Flenorys, including the brothers themselves, were still standing when the November 2007 trial date approached.

Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.

Wrong Numbers guitarist Matt Thibodeau is gleefully reliving the time when members of his band were robbed at gunpoint in front of his house. "We had a gig at Northern Lights and, afterward, we had a little party," recalls Thibodeau, before adding a surprising laugh. "There were some members of the Party Stompers and a couple of guys from my band just hanging out. These guys came up to us with an automatic gun and a pistol. They patted us down individually and took our money, cell phones, credit cards. Then they left. We made a police report, but they never caught the robbers. I think I know who did it, though. There was this crazy guy in the neighborhood who was stalking me." He pauses. "I don't live there anymore."

Perhaps it's not earth-shattering news that a group of guys living in the city of Detroit were threatened with guns in the middle of a porch party last spring — but the fascinating thing is how this band responded. Thibodeau laughs throughout the tale. And then he concludes: "It's just something kinda interesting that happened to our band."

Yes, even robbery seems like fun to the Wrong Numbers, and that's the operative word throughout their conversation. "The whole thing is just about fun," he says, and then adds, "We have no pretensions about doing anything with this or achieving something grand. It's all about the fun."

Put simply, the Wrong Numbers are some of the most laid-back guys you'll ever meet in this rock 'n' roll malarkey. Not even a gun in the face will put them off stride. They claim they're playing music just for laughs. And yet, when they set foot onstage, they apparently leave their carefree sides in the dressing room, because a Wrong Numbers set delivers total, raw, unadulterated passion.

Observers are usually most struck by lead singer Jason Clark, a mass of contradictions. He looks like a white Urkel, sings like a white Stevie Wonder. With his vacant stare and thick glasses, there's nothing to hint at a voice in the same vein as such hometown brethren and sistren as Mitch Ryder, Scott Morgan, Rob Tyner, Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin and, of course, Stevie Wonder. 

Thibodeau acknowledges that "People wonder what's going on when Jason opens his mouth." Offstage, the singer is incredibly shy. He admits he's somewhat getting over that, though, as the shows pass by and more people get turned on to the Wrong Numbers. "I was just always shy," he says with a blush. "It was really hard for me to sing in front of people for a long time. This doesn't come naturally for me. But then, I don't think it's natural for anyone."

The Wrong Numbers have been together for 18 months. When they wowed the crowd at the Blowout pre-party at the Majestic Theatre last year, pretty much stealing the night from the headlining Meatmen, they had only been together for six months. However, they'd been friends for a long time before forming a band. 

"Jason and I go way back," smiles the guitarist. "We used to both live in the Cass Corridor in the mid-'90s. He'd never been in a band before in his life, but I've always known he's a good singer because he sings all the time. So when we decided to give this a try, I got a guy I went to school with — Todd Boschma — to play drums. My friend 'Spooky' Dave [Uricek] was convinced to play bass and — voila! —we had a band. The whole idea behind it was based on the fact that I'm a record dork. I love old Detroit soul. And I knew Jason could sing well enough to really pull off those songs. So we just started drinking and playing really loud in my basement."

Thibodeau admits that it's the thrill of playing in a band with his best friends that makes the whole experience worthwhile. "It's just surreal because we've known each other for so long but never thought about forming a band before this," he grins. For a relatively new group, the band has been fortunate enough to play some cool gigs, including two Blowout appearances and last summer's Cityfest. It's not always easy, though.

"We're in Detroit," says the ax man, stating the obvious. "You play the Lager House, then the Painted Lady. Then it's like, 'Where do we play now?' Sometimes a good gig will fall in our laps. We've had good gigs with [alt-Americana rockers] Duende! And [singer-songwriter] Brandon Calhoon has given us some good shows because we can bring girls out." He laughs before turning reflective. "We need to play some shows outside of Detroit. But Jason and his wife just had a baby, and he works two jobs. So that makes touring difficult. We all work. We're just a bunch of old guys."

No matter how old the members of the Wrong Numbers are — mid-30s, by the way — their set at this year's Blowout promises to be a highlight. They really are an archetypal party band, pulling in rock 'n' soul influences like Humble Pie, the Faces, Free and the Stones from across the Atlantic to blend with their natural Detroit sound. They're really that good. 

Thibodeau remembers Blowout 2009 fondly: "Bobby Emmett [formerly of the Sights, who recently released a stunning solo disc] was playing with us for a short while — and that was the only gig we got to do with Emmett playing a B-3 organ ... although carrying the B-3 there was not a good memory." He laughs. "Horrible! But the actual show was a ton of fun." There's that word again! "We were going to light [the organ] on fire during the show but we got cut off at the end. It was actually ridiculous that we even got the gig, as far as I'm concerned. But it was super fun." OK, guys, we got the point!

One suspects that the Wrong Numbers will be going all out to top last year's performance. And Thibodeau is genuinely excited. "We have a good slot this year, at the New Dodge," he says. "We have some new songs that we're gonna unveil. Jason keeps coming up with these goofy ideas ... and we turn them into songs. And, of course, Jason will wear some flamboyant outfit. Or maybe he'll just take his clothes off."

In fact, Clark's plan is perhaps even more disturbing than public nudity. "I have sailor pants that used to belong to my dad," acknowledges the singer, swallowing a chuckle. "They're, like, two sizes too small for me, so I think I'll try to squeeze into them. That's about it." As if that's not enough. ...

And to think, 18 months ago, he was simply shy.


The Wrong Numbers play Saturday, March 6, at 1 a.m. at the New Dodge. With Bazooka Jones, the Marvins, the Let's Talk About Girls reunion and the School of Rock showcase.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3 (PRE-PARTY) AT THE MAJESTIC COMPLEX

Garden Bowl
9 p.m.-close 

Keep on Trash Dance Party
Three-one-three superstars Dave Buick (Italy Records) and John Hentch (Hentchmen/the Paybacks) will be spinning punk and rock 'n' roll classics as well as lost nuggets throughout the night — so there's absolutely no need to go soft.


Magic Stick

9:30 p.m.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Apparently, the Earnhardts have zero imagination when it comes to naming their boys, but that's OK — why fix something that ain't broke? Junior Junior fuses hip-hop with folk, but don't expect a rap version of "Idiot Wind" (although, if everybody requests it loudly enough, ...)

10:45 p.m.
Doop & the Inside Outlaws

Doop and his wasted cronies grab old Johnny Cash's festering corpse by the neck, have their filthy way with it, and then refuse to cuddle it. And they'll do it for about 40 minutes. Yee-haw, son!

Punk Fitness Interludes
Now it's a party! The fetching Punk Fitness chicks — led by Julie Hecker and usually featuring Vivian George and Karen "Queen Bee" Neal — will hula-hoop and do other forms of shape-shifting aerobics for our pleasure, so drink it and smoke it away. 

Midnight
The Displays

Immediately after those punk fitness gals put down their jump ropes, Mrs. Hecker's teen son's band takes the stage. Which means, Andrew, no bad language and no giving the "Uh, chick, I'm the singer!" eye to the hottie in the front row. But some of that awesome scuzz-rock you play will go down quite nicely, thank you very much.

12:45 a.m.
Chapstik

Listening to the primal, sludgy swamp metal of Chapstik at 12:45 a.m. and then having to go to work the next day (after the coney stop) will undoubtedly make you feel very much like you were dragged to your day job off the bumper of a 1974 Cutlass Supreme. Salute!

Second Stage

10 p.m.
Sugarcoats

Otherwise known as "What Joey Mazzola did next," the Sugarcoats find the former Sponge and current Detroit Cobra man messin' with a bit of a country. Essential. 

11:30 p.m.
Cannon

Otherwise known as, um, "What Kenny Tudrick did next," Cannon is surely worth seeing, if just to find out what the terrific former Kid Rock, Bulldog and Detroit Cobras rock 'n' roll star is up to these days. Do Not. Miss.

Café

9 p.m.
Mirror Twin

Loretta Lucas of the Sisters Lucas describes her new gig as like new wave meets the Breeders in the '60s — which sounds good, as long as Kim Deal doesn't show up wearing a go-go skirt.

10 p.m.
Computer Perfection
In some people's eyes, computer perfection was reached when the Commodore 64 came out with Frogger in the '80s. Since then, though, the contraptions have just gotten convoluted ... unlike these synth-y, psychedelic art-house rockers (with roots in PAS/CAL) who are actually quite sweet sounding. 

11 p.m. 
Bad Party

So you get there late and everyone's drunk and you attempt to catch up by drowning in a bottle of Smirnoff and instead end up naked in the shower with people laughing and pointing. Now there's a party. With that in mind, these super-animated noise merchants should consider renaming themselves Respectable Soiree. They're that interesting.

Midnight
F'ke Blood

Comely Marcie from Silverghost (and, previously, of course, the Von Bondies) is busy with several project thingies, but F'ke Blood is probably the most raucous of them. (Plus, Eastern Market's Dion Fischer!) She's also playing with the universally acclaimed Silverghost later in Blowed Out. But it's here that she'll really be letting that lovely mane down and kickin' her heels high.

 

THURSDAY, MARCH 4

Atlas Bar

9 p.m
Steffie & the Dirty Virgins

Local transgender goddess and onetime MT pinup Stephanie Loveless will whoop, shriek and wail at ya, backed up by a band that is not made up of virgins. Want proof? Ask to see their surgically manufactured hymens.

10 p.m.
The Potions

Barroom stoner rock from what sounds like the Hamtramck Hometown Junk Band, penning songs about "Leprosy" and the "Children of Satan." Wild, Screamin' Jay-style shouting and harmonica? Who said some things are sacred? 

11 p.m.
Carradine

Despite the fact that this band is called Carradine and features a drummer named Dave C, David Carradine of whiskey flask and Kung-Fu fame is, sadly, not a member. They do, however, create some rather lovely, Sonic Youth-inspired dirges. 

Midnight
Fur

If Ian Curtis had, um, hung around, relocated to Detroit, soaked up the '90s garage fever and then made some more Joy Division records, they'd have resembled Fur. Or, perhaps, "Venus in Furs."


Baker's Streetcar

8:40 p.m.
Modernlull

It's like they really know me, man. Every song is about me. Well, maybe not. But their lush indie anthems move in that way that lush indie anthems should move. Geddit?

9:40 p.m.
Flatfoot

Rockabilly country from a band fronted by two bros. Do you like ferocious "billy-country?" Birds of a feather? The Pabst awaits. ...

10:40 p.m.
Timothy Monger

He's the singer with the Great Lakes Myth Society and he has the best second name ever. It's true and honest stuff. Honestly.

11:40 p.m.
The Drags

Closet mods sound like Blur if that band had just discovered the Jam. 


The Belmont

9 p.m.
Michael Seger & Everyone's Favorite Band

OK, Seger knows his way around a pop-rock nugget, whether or not you're too cool to admit it. But in Detroit, if your last name is Seger — you'd better swing, baby!

10 p.m.
Macrame Tiger

What could be more rock 'n' roll than macramé? But these indie-rock fruitcakes know that old-lady-art + cats = class. We'll be waiting for Knitted Cougar at next year's Blowout.

11 p.m.
Decibilt

Remember local metal titans Forge? Decibilt — featuring former members of that band — are even more metal and much metaler than you! They go up to 12, they know who Dimmu Borgir are, and they out-horn Dio and look for old Phil Lynott wherever they go. Hell-fookin'-yes!

Midnight
The Hadituptoheres

Oh, man. We adore this band! Face-melting, head-smashing punk-rock pop ditties with more metal hooks than a body-piercer's playroom. Hum these pups all the way to bed.


Jean's

8:20 p.m.
The Ruggs

It's a lot like there's this creepy kid who was sitting alone all night in the corner of a dive bar suddenly and without warning deciding to entertain us all on a guitar he just stole. And that's cool. 

9:20 p.m.
The Earworms

Not as uncomfortable as their name suggests, this lot serves up old-skool pop-punk and has in its ranks members of the Reruns, the Mutants and the Polish Muslims.

10:20 p.m.
Citizen Smile

Now that the Singles have pissed off to L.A., these guys may well be the best power-pop band in the city. Their songs are sunshiny and happy. It is March, right?

11:20 p.m.
The Handgrenades

Not to be confused with fellow local boys the Hi-Fi Handgrenades (although don't assume that they're as lo-fi), this band plays '90s Brit-pop-inspired alt-indie-rock stuff that's pretty sweet.


Kelly's Bar

8:40 p.m.
The Q

The Q sound like tie-dye. How can music sound like a clothing pattern? Fuck knows. But they do.

9:40 p.m.
Electromags

This lot has somehow fused Dick Dale with Kraftwerk. And makes it work. Lo-fi surf with electronic noises. It sounds like the Aphex Twin surfing on your nightmares. ... Welcome!

10:40 p.m.
Bat on Fire

The most evil band on the Blowout bill, BOF has a song called "Day 4 Cannibalism." Thing is, we've always hated to plan like that. Cannibalism's a spontaneous thing, yeah?

11:40 p.m.
Odayin

Who wishes Rush were from Harper Woods? How about King Crimson? Emerson Lake & Palmer? Yes? Well, tough shit. But these prog rockers are from Harper Woods. 


G of C Hall

10 p.m.
Rocky Loves Emily

Everyone knows that Rocky loves Adrian. Haven't they seen those damn movies? Nevertheless, these guys have been getting loads of national press and play the sort of emo-rock that teens continue to lap up all over the U.S.A.

11 p.m.
Bump

These local indie-rock heroes released a new critically acclaimed album last year. It got a bad review in MT and we were told to fuck off. You have got to love this band!

Midnight
Invincible

We don't know if Invincible is invincible or not, but she's awfully damn strong. This MT cover gal's topical, poetry-ferocious hip hop presents a wide and empowering take on life in Detroit, yo. She's a star! Peace.


G of C Lounge

8:20 p.m.
Matt Jones

Apparently, acclaimed singer-songwriter folk-rocker Jones drank an A&R guy into the gutter at South by Southwest two years ago. Proof positive that appearances can be deceiving because he looks, as one blogger wrote on last year's Blowout blog, like a comic book character. But this beer-monster sure can write a tune — in fact, he's penned some of the best to recently come out of this area.

9:20 p.m.
The Meadowlarks

Pagan blues jams from Ferndale. No, really! That's what they do. They might have a name that sounds like a '60s English folk band, but these guys plug in and see where the music takes them. Sometimes, the answer is Madison Heights.

10:20 p.m.
WCTM Gold!

These guys describe themselves as "beer-core or disaster-pop." Boys, Shane MacGowan is beer-core. Robbie Williams is disaster-pop. You guys sound like a great rock 'n' roll band.

11:20 p.m.
Darling Imperial

This femme-fronted indie-rock deal has a song called "Don't Close Your Eyes" which might be good advice if you're driving ... but bad if someone is throwing bleach at your face. Hey, they need to be more specific. Their music is quite specific, though — good enough to wink at, even. 


New Dodge

9 p.m.
Black Hours 

They dig Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Tool, so it's likely they'll gnaw out a 40-minute single.

10 p.m.
No, Really!

A new genre called "conversation-rock" is born right here. No, really. They're soon going on tour with Yes, Honestly, and, Well, Fuck Me! But, tonight, they'll just be playing their emo-pop noise for your pleasure.

11 p.m.
The Phage

Imagine Stephen Hawking fronting Wire. Try not to laugh. Now go see the Phage and see if you can come up with a better description.

Midnight
60 Second Crush

Hardcore and metal meet head-on. Metal wins, but not before hardcore gets in a couple of cheap shots.


Painted Lady

8:20 p.m.
Hayley Jane

This singer-songwriter-poet recently performed at Jerry Vile's Dirty Show. But don't expect any naughtiness here — just cute songs performed to some idea of perfection. 

9:20 p.m.
Phantom Shakers

Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran may be long gone, but their spirits live on in these Hamtown-based 'billy revivalists. Teds forever!

10:20 p.m.
The Crooks

These teens play psyche blues skronk, though if you think that means you'll get a set of spaced-out jams, ... well, you're probably right. Cred alert: They just released a Matthew Smith-produced debut album.

11:20 p.m.
Black Irish

Thin Lizzy-inspired classic rock, featuring Elliot Moses of the sadly defunct Universal Temple of Divine Power. Songs are awesome, though one suspects Moses wanted a band with a tighter name.


Paychecks

8:20 p.m.
Mister

This fella describes his music as hip-hop mixed with melodramatic pop, and he rhymes about caterpillars, doorknobs and feeling peckish. 

9:20 p.m.
FAWN

Short-time Von Bondie and Nice Device siren Alicia Gbur and Javelins man Matt Rickles make two-thirds of an interesting three-way. So new you can't even download 'em. 

10:20 p.m.
Carjack

Carjack main-man Lo-Fi Bri is one of D-Town's bona fide musical innovators. No shit. Just listen to his other project, the Electric Fire Babies, for proof. And Carjack are fookin' brilliant; like Suicide but with better songs.

11:20 p.m.
Zoos of Berlin

The booozz surrounding this band is becoming white noise. For a reason: Their Euro-pop inspired tuneage is sing-song and inspired — two things that are too often mutually exclusive of late. 


Small's

8:40 p.m.
Snakewing

Dirty punk played with shit-eating grins on pock-ridden faces. Think Motörhead, but drunker.

9:40 p.m.
Karalavara

They've a song called "Ditch the Bitch." Not very nice, huh? Then again, neither is their filthy scuzz-rock. In other words: Aces!

10:40 p.m.
Invader

These guys steal so much from the Stooges, they're nearly a tribute band. But then, this is Detroit, Iggy is God. So, if you're gonna steal, steal from the man.

11:40 p.m.
Grande Nationals

Otherwise known as "Stevie from the WAB's band," the Grande Nationals continue to be criminally overlooked despite having some of the best four-on-the-floor, shout-along songs the city has seen in ages. 


Skipper's

9 p.m.
Isosceles Mountain

Psychedelic, proggy space jams. But then, after seeing that name, you already knew that. 

10 p.m.
Legendary Creatures

Very pretty, male-female dual vocals and some Juno soundtrack-esque songs. Lots to enjoy, although it's a bit soon to be using the word "legendary," guys. Then again, it worked for James Brown's band!

11 p.m.
SelfSays

Old-school rap with a Message (note capital "M"). Things need to be better. So says SelfSays.

Midnight
Superdollar

As superheroes go, Superdollar kinda sucks. He'd never get into, say, the Justice League of America, with his powers of tipping at a bar, buying a candy bar in a vending machine and alt-rock excellence. But it sure might win him a local fan base.


Whiskey in the Jar

8:40 p.m.
Cougar the Tiger
These guys are battling with Macrame Tiger for the prize of "most nonsensical, cat-inspired band name." Let's call it a tie — or a lie. Oh, and these guys play guitar noise rock with electronica-based pulses, by the way. No relation to Old Man Mellencamp.

9:40 p.m.
Sey Lui

This lot plays ambient, experimental rock that is so unlistenable, it's positively impossible to stop listening.

10:40 p.m.
Jesus Chainsaw Massacre

If Liberace jammed with Suicide, the result would probably sound a lot like the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre. It may be a 21st century phenom, but they're better known for their blog than their music. 

11:40 p.m.
Illy Mack

Based on what it says on its MySpace thing, Illy Mack wanted to form a band but couldn't find anyone else to join. So instead, they incorporated drum 'n' bass beats into their sound. Hey, some things are a happy accident.

 

FRIDAY, MARCH 5

Atlas Bar

9:20 p.m.
Perrenials
The great thing about this band is that, no matter how crap the weather is in any given season, they're gonna keep returning with some splendid music. 

10:20 p.m.
Blasé Splee

No! Splees ought to be fully committed to their cause. Oh, wait. Irony. Still, there's nothing impassive about these young boys and their joyous power-pop sound. (But will there be free CDs?)

11:20 p.m.
Roofbeam Rye

Featuring former members of Inside 5 Minutes — a band that flirted with success before giving it a fake phone number — these guys sound like an ambient, country-ish Wilco. 

12:20 a.m.
Satin Peaches

There are few better alt-rock bands in the Mitten than these guys who — for description's sake — straddle the line between the Arcade Fire and the Smashing Pumpkins. (Although everyone knows peaches are sweeter than pumpkins. ...)  


Baker's Streetcar

9:20 p.m.
Scott Harrison

As the guitar player with Battling Siki, Scott Harrison sports a wondrous Tom Waits-ish sense and a Frankie Miller groove. As a solo artist, he plays a kind of twisted blues superbly. Guy's an original.

10:20 p.m.
Bloodbird

Want to feel like the world's ending, nobody likes you and you'll never fit in? Or, in other words, want to feel like a teenager again? Listen to Bloodbird. 

11:20 p.m.
Eyer Department

Gold Cash Gold and Crud man Eric Hoegemeyer plays with these guys. That's all we can dig up at press time. But fuck, it's enough. That dude is sick.

12:20 a.m.
Lac La Belle

This female-fronted Americana trio has very likely ignored any music made after the early 1900s, to their benefit. In a word: sublime.


The Belmont

9:20 p.m.
Elle & the Fonts

Folk rock done right. No posturing, no nonsense, just great ditties by this hotly tipped band of musical vagabonds and miscreants.

10:20 p.m.
Rogue Satellites 

Only thing worse than a rogue satellite is a stray cable box. That said, these electronic-garage kids list German synth-pop, the Flaming Lips and Slayer as their influences. 

11:20 p.m.
Fidrych

Fusing Americana with power-pop is a noble endeavour. Making it work is even more admirable. And doing it with a name that sounds like a bawdy, drunk Irish dude (not to mention a legendary former Tigers pitcher) is this damn close to genius. 

12:20 p.m.
Friendly Foes

Ryan Allen's Friendly Foes are always worth seeing. Moreover, the trio couldn't, even if it tried, put on a bad show. Filthy, garage-y punk rock and pure toothache-inducing pop. Stick out your tongue!


Jean's

10 p.m.
Das

This psychedelic band doesn't even have a website and they only release music on vinyl. You gotta admire the old-school, Motor City passion. 

11 p.m.
Beekeepers

Much like the children at the orphanage who Frank Zappa denied, these funky mad-rockers are out of their freaking minds. 

Midnight
Trash Camera

Trash Camera bangs up the kind of rock 'n' roll that wouldn't offend your grandma. Then they get to the chorus and deliberately set out to offend grandma. Sorry, Granny, we don't give a damn that you were at Woodstock!

1 a.m. 
Slow Giant

A Hamtramck-based crew — now featuring the Secret Twins' Dina on bass and vocals — who describe their sound as "a million tea kettles boiling and whistling in hell" and their primary influence as "our lord and saviour, Satan." Throw them horns!


Kelly's Bar

9:40 p.m.
Robin Parrent (Violent Ear)

Parrent's songs (with his project Violent Ear) on MySpace hint that this lot may be Blowout's dark horse. They wallow in fuzz and feedback, and they sound, frankly, gorgeous.

10:40 p.m.
James & the Rainbros

Sublime- (the band not the adjective) influenced, funked-up punk rock, which should go down sweetly on a cold Mitten night, if you know what we mean.

11:40 p.m.
Mean Mother

Inspired by such neo-Southern rock bands as Black Label Society and Hell Yeah. Expect bottles o' Jack, and a Marshall stack or two. 

12:40 a.m.
Hi Speed Dubbing

Garage rock with enough soul, funk and hellfire to make them sound unique, and yet still sound like they come from Dee-troit. Incidentally, they play at normal speed and the singer doesn't sound like a chipmunk at all. (Extra points for a cassette tape reference.)


G of C Hall

10 p.m.
The Sundresses

There isn't a genre of music that the Sundresses don't explore. There's elements of rockabilly, swing, jazz, blues, punk, Americana, big band and show tunes in there. There's probably even some opera, if you listen hard enough.

11 p.m.
Gorevette

Nikki Corvette and Amy Gore don't really need an introduction, do they? They sound like a Ronettes-Ramones jam at your big sister's slumber party. And they're prepping for a tour with the Donnas, who, you'll note, list Ms. Corvette as a primary influence.

Midnight
Octopus

Everyone in Detroit's talking about the Octopus. Everyone loves the Octopus. There's a reason. Go see why. They wowed the crowd at last year's pre-party, by the way.

1 a.m.
Detroit Cobras

Is there anything left to be written about the Cobras? The greatest cover band in history will most likely blow the roof off of this hall. 


G of C Lounge

9:40 p.m.
The Juliets

Sweet indie-pop, Jeremy Freer's Juliets know how to write a song that's both understated and huge. It's witchcraft.

10:40 p.m.
Lettercamp

Like Bjork without the accent, or Goldfrapp with better songs, Ferndale's Lettercamp plays cutesy-yet-fierce electronica-pop. Great shit.

11:40 p.m.
Black Lodge

These guys recognize the fact not enough people whistle during their songs anymore. In short, kinda like Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd., without self-parody.

12:40 a.m.
Stoopz N Breeze

The dudes in this rap duo claim they've sold crack, turned out hookers and robbed banks. So? It's Detroit. Who hasn't? 


New Dodge

10 p.m.
Spitting Nickels

Forget that they look like they walked out of their jobs as accountants 10 minutes before their set, Spitting Nickels play straight-ahead rock 'n' roll with a bona fide rockstar drummer. 

11 p.m.
Copper Thieves

Can a band be psychedelic and pop at the same time? Apparently so ... because these guys prove it. All night. Or at least for 30 minutes!

Midnight
The Sights

Eddie Baranek is back with a new, improved version of Detroit's beloved Sights, with pop-geek mastermind Dave Lawson riding shotgun. On inquiries alone, this is a hotly anticipated set.

1 a.m.
The Hard Lessons

There's a small group of people in this town who seem to enjoy sniping at the Hard Lessons, when all they've ever done is produce stellar rock 'n' roll amped on hooks and Townshend moves. (If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you know Augie can out-Townshend Townshend.) Last year's Arms Forest album was Detroit brilliance through and through.


Painted Lady

9:20 p.m.
The Blueflowers

Ethereal, bluegrass-y alt-pop. Sounds like Portishead playing at a Pink Fairies tea party, or Raggedy Ann getting fresh with Noel Gallagher.

10:20 p.m.
The Swamp Sisters

They don't look or smell like they crawled out of a swamp. And their indie-pop is all breezy and nice. 

11:20 p.m.
Scarlet Oaks

They describe themselves as Americana, show tunes and French pop, which may mean that they sound like Steve Earle, Liza Minnelli and Serge Gainsbourg singing karaoke. The Americana usually wins out here.

12:20 a.m.
Polish Muslims

It's midnight. It's Saturday night. What could be better than polka versions of classic rock 'n' roll songs, I ask ya? Dumb fun, but mucho fun all the same. 


Paycheck's

9:40 p.m.
Forget

The Loco Gnosis showcase opens with this project, which appears to have two official members but about 5,000 collaborators. It's very self-indulgent and self-effacing, and is either incredibly intelligent or absolutely stupid. You decide.

10:40 p.m.
Woodman

The members of Woodman are actually made of regular flesh and bone, which, as far as we're concerned, is against the trades descriptions act. Unless they play their entire set in a state of, um, arousal. Look closely for that, while they entertain you with their rather spiffing Americana rock.

11:40 p.m.
Jehovah's Witness Protection Program

The hairiest band on this bill, JWPP sound like J Mascis' kid brother got into his bro's bedroom and starting fucking around ... with his gear. J'd be pissed ... that is, until he heard some kind of glorious noise. 

12:40 a.m.
Marco Polio & the New Vaccines

Not enough bands use umbrellas as props. Marco Polio are fixing that, and, as you'll find out, there are few things more terrifying than having a grown man scream in your face while handing you a busted umbrella. All that aside, MPATNV is creating a stir with its '80s-based synth-electronica — it's hype you can trust.


Small's

9:40 p.m.
Pigeon

Both Tony Vegas of the Grande Nationals and Leslie Hardy (once of Courtney Love's Hole) play in Pigeon, and that sounds like something of an intoxicating combination to us. And, no, they're not from the Thumb, pulling a Chicago by naming themselves after their hometown.

10:40 p.m.
Bars of Gold

Like Isaac Hayes singing Meatloaf in his living room on his own Rock Band game. Who wouldn't want to hear that?

11:40 p.m.
Wolfbait

Surely meat's all you need to lure a wolf. Perhaps a dead deer. Now that that's cleared up, we'll mention that these guys play thrash metal and have a song called "Dawning of the Robot Age." That's all you need to know, really.

12:40 a.m.
Blue Snaggletooth

Psychedelic stoner rock from a band whose name really should be a Dr. Seuss character. Monster Magnet fans will love 'em. 


Skipper's

10 p.m.
SX-8 Columbia

It's been a hell of a year for local star Deastro (aka Randy Chabot), and his appearance at this year's Blowout with his SX-8 Columbia project should provide a nice, early kick in the balls. 

11 p.m.
The Wall Clocks

For a band with such a terribly banal name, these guys make some great noises — and in a Brit-pop meets new wave sort of way. 

Midnight
Sisu Kid

Actually, Sisu Kid isn't a villain from a John Wayne movie but rather a pretty interesting dude who plays sample-filled rap-punk. A shame, really, because I was all ready to claim my reward.

1 a.m.
Old Empire

Old Empire's songs are all about the characters in the old sitcom, WKRP in Cincinnati. Not a lie. Not only is that surreal, it's also incredibly intriguing. Rumors that they're working on Different Strokes: The Musical are completely made up, though.


Whiskey in the Jar

9:20 p.m.
Space Band

Imagine if farmyard animals held an illegal rave party at the bottom of the Detroit River. It would sound exactly like Space Band.

10:20 p.m.
October Babies

Japanese female vocals over Detroit indie-pop. Like a hot bath on a cold night with somebody special. Honestly.

11:20 p.m.
The Ferdy Mayne

There are an alarming number of bands playing Blowout this year who are citing French pop as an influence. What's that all about? I mean, we can tell you that French pop is basically English pop, only 20 years later. So there you go — the Ferdy Mayne sound like '90s Britpop.

12:20 a.m.
Kielbasa Kings

They play polka-rock and they're named after a sausage. The perfect Blowout contender!


Detroit Threads (From 6 p.m)

T. Linder, DJ Seoul, Darkcube, Neil V.
These members of the Detroit Techno Militia will be spinning at Threads all evening. Banging techno in a badass clothing store: That's why the Blowout is the best festival in the world.

 

SATURDAY MARCH 6

Atlas Bar

9:40 p.m.
The Mahonies

They have a song called "I'm a Craig, I'm a Ian" where they introduce themselves to each other over and over again, and they have another song about ZZ Top's beards. They're the freakin' shiznay, kids.

10:40 p.m.
Johnny Ill

Thankfully, Johnny Ill is fit and rather healthy. Also, he doesn't mean "ill" in a street-talk sort of backward manner, like saying "bad" or "sick" in a positive way. But he could.

11:40
Kommie Kilpatrick

If that name doesn't drag you to see this band, the fact that they're one goddamn nasty Detroit punk band should.

12:40 a.m.
Bill Bondsmen

Want to feel like a walrus just fucked you in the ear? Go see these loud, vicious degenerates. Off stage, they're teddy bears ... but don't tell anyone. No word on whether the legendary Detroit newscaster gets a percentage yet.


Baker's Streetcar

9:40 p.m.
Beverly Fre$h

Beck meets the early Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill at a wine bar and invites them to smoke a fat one in his VW Bug.

10:40 p.m.
Big Mess

Ever feel cheated? To these ears, Big Mess' easy-listening rock is actually very tidy, organized and clean. Not a note out of place. Damn it! 

11:40 p.m.
Electric Fire Babies

Last year, these guys opened up the entire festival at the Magic Stick — and they freakin' rocked it. One year and multiple shows later, their electro-funk-rap kills

12:40 a.m.
Divine Comedians

Not to be confused with '90s Brit indie band the Divine Comedy, this Detroit indie combo features scrubbed-faced members of the Dollfaces and the Decks ... and they're suitable aces.


The Belmont

10 p.m.
The Kodaks

Damn. Yet another band using the "French pop" genre description. Truthfully, though, the Kodaks actually sound like Interpol jamming with the Cure. Neither of which are French, by the way.

11 p.m.
Browtown and the Beefcaves

Is a "beefcave" a new woman's private area? What are we? Sexist pigs? 

Midnight
Four Hour Friends

Their name is almost as depressive as their music, which is also both haunting and beautiful. Recommendation: Watch a cartoon after listening, but that doesn't mean that they're not well worth the effort. 

1 a.m.
Mick Bassett

Bassett has been compared to Dylan and Waits in past reviews. Hey, let's not fuckin' push it, buddy, ... though that's far from his fault. Look at it like this: mighty fine, laid-back rock 'n' roll from one fine Detroit tunesmith.


Jean's

9:20 p.m.
Jamie Register & the Glendales

Breathy, classy R&B in the fine tradition of Motown. Want some Saturday night soul? 

10:20 p.m.
Bixy Lutz

They might have a name that sounds like a '70s porn queen from Anaheim — but these guys play worthy, white-knuckle-fisted garage rock — with clothes on. 

11:20 p.m.
Prussia

A big buzz band this year, Prussia is sure to pull a throng into Jean's. A local tabloid chose them as 2009's Detroit Artists of the Year ... not that we disagree. They describe themselves as "dreadlocks can't live in a tenement yard" Darn these zany Detroit bands!

12:20 a.m.
I, Crime

Like a sober Pogues or a drunk Neil Diamond. 


Kelly's Bar

9:20 p.m.
Switchblade Justice

Not even Judge Dredd called for switchblade justice, which sounds awfully harsh. But harsh fits, 'cause these guys play barroom punk rock damn well.

10:20 p.m.
JTX

This guy's getting mad press now, thanks to his emo- and pop-punk songs, which kids are lapping up like mother's milk. 

11:20 p.m.
Smoke

Take some '70s funk with rap and throw some disco on top. Yup. Smoke is cool in that Samuel L. Jackson kinda way.

12:20 a.m.
The Black List

Green Day-, NOFX-style contemporary punk-pop rock, and that's definitely a compliment. In other words, just try ignoring their songs. 


G of C Hall

10 p.m.
Secret Twins

They describe themselves as DIY folk punk, which is about right. There's a hint of the Cranberries about them, ... but don't hold that against them.

11 p.m.
Child Bite

The reigning kings of loony-jazz-space-rock. Child Bite slays live. 

Midnight
Silverghost

These much-loved and -revered electro-popsters will entice and hypnotize, then leave everyone wanting more. That's what Marcie and Deleano do. 

1 a.m.
Millions of Brazilians

Another year and yet another rise in popularity for these alt-rock boys who sound like the Queens of the Stone Age's kid brothers. They round off another killer bill at the G of C Hall tonight to close the fest.


G of C Lounge

9:20 p.m.
Political Heroes

A jam featuring Barack Obama, Winston Churchill, Che Guevara and Malcolm X! We keed, we keed. You can be sure Kwame Kilpatrick won't be there, though. They're too new to have a website yet, ... but you'll be hanging at the hall anyway. 

10:20 p.m.
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor

Psyche glam, in a twisted, perverted, Velvet Underground sorta way. In other words, there's much to love here from this band formerly known as Sik Sik Nation.

11:20 p.m.
The Cold Wave

Odd, electronic indie noise from Ferndale. Is that city the new Berlin these days? Whatever the case, there's some fine sounds coming out of there.

12:20 a.m.
Lightning Love

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you'll know all about Leah Diehl's band and their genuine pop masterpieces. 


New Dodge

7 p.m.
School of Rock Showcase

Nothing to do with Jack Black, this is a local music school. The students get to play the Blowout, which is absolutely awesome. Besides, what else are you going to do at 7 p.m.? School of Rock's rock 'n' roll star instructors Eddie Baranek and Augie Visocchi are reportedly riffing along with some of their favorite teen and pre-pubescent pupils. Best class project ever!

10 p.m.
Let's Talk About Girls

Following a bunch of folks just learning to play is a band that hasn't played together much in decades. MT's music editor doodles alongside his brother Barry in what would be the hottest reunion of the year, if Dokken hadn't just reunited. A one-time Lili's regular, L-TAG opened Detroit shows for the Replacements, Chuck Berry, Gang of Four and others.

11 p.m.
The Marvins

Twee indie pop for those who like twee indie pop from a relatively new Detroit unit. There's nothing wrong with them at all. Hey, it's twee indie pop ... and that's a good thing for twee indie pop fans!

Midnight
Bazooka Jones

Wasn't Bazooka Jones an Atari game in the '80s? If not, it should have been. This hardworking Detroit quartet plays fuzzy power pop, merging the MC5 with Beatlesque hooks and lyrics that celebrate sex in all its glory, a la the Cramps. And they have a Joan Jett-ish singer who calls herself Viagra Jones. Hoorah for that. (Maybe her
dad invented boner pills? ...)

1 a.m.
The Wrong Numbers

The best soul singer currently in Detroit ... which is a big claim but it's true ... even if the singer does look like Bill Gates' banished cousin! Brilliant-sounding stuff. ...


Painted Lady

9:20 p.m.
The Party Stompers

Featuring the roots and Americana talents of MT scribe Mike Hurtt and longtime guitar hero Jeff Meier, these guys play big-beat party soul with a hint of rockabilly. They couldn't be more aptly named, and they've wowed audiences from New Orleans to New York City. 

10:20 p.m.
The Meltdowns

They might look their mothers dressed them for church. But forget that; these folks kick up some mean garage, and uphold the honor of rock 'n' roll, when they want to. ... 

11:20 p.m.
The Space Heaters

They've a kinda Cramps-meets-Stones-ish vibe. 

12:20 a.m.
The Alarm Clocks

Hey, you think the Alarm Clocks ever played a show with the Wall Clocks? They really should, you know. They could call it the "Don't Be Late Because We Won't" night. And Blowout runs on its timeliness. Whatever. This rare out-of-state Blowout band comes highly, highly recommended, though we've never seen 'em. It's no-nonsense rock 'n' roll, straight up! 


Paycheck's

9:20 p.m.
Devilfish
Night Two of the Loco Gnosis Showcase at Paycheck's picks up with this interesting little band who play a kind of surfy version of psyche rock. Better devil fish than devil babies, that's for sure!

10:20 p.m.
Duende!

Thumping alt-Americana, played by a band that's tighter than a gerbil's ass. 

11:20 p.m.
Canja Rave

If the Muppets played minimalist rock, they would sound like Canja Rave. These Brazilians made their way to Detroit ... and belong here.

12:20 a.m.
The Beggars

Noisy, electro rock 'n' roll that wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack to an indie movie about a group of kids who plan a bank heist, but it goes wrong — with zany results.


Small's

9:40 p.m.
Grommett

This hardcore band has a song called "Michigan Aggression," which is exactly as fast and filthy as you'd expect it to be. It could surely be their theme song, sorta like "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees," but with their fingers wrapped around your throat.

10:40 p.m.
750CC

Their obsession with motorbikes has spilled over into their name, their music and, most likely, their love life. They rock like bastards, mind you.

11:40 p.m.
Shakey Jakes
Featuring Chuck Burns of Seduce, Speedball and a shitload of other great bands, not to mention David Black of Seduce and Crud, the Shakey Jakes don't fuck around. They play the sort of rock 'n' roll that makes Motörhead sound like the Carpenters. So, yeah, they play as if they have guns pointed to the back of their heads.

12:40 a.m.
Los Minstrels Del Diablos

These guys are kinda scary, like Swans if they sodomized Kraftwerk while KMFDM clapped along the rhythm, so to speak.


Skipper's

10 p.m.
Le Ren

Like the incidental music from a radio play about life for teenagers in a remote farming community.

11 p.m.
Solitary States

If Pulp had been from Detroit, they'd sound like the Solitary States. Conversely, if Solitary States had been from Sheffield, England, they'd sound like Pulp. Funny how it works.

Midnight
The Mourning Voices

Their voices really do sound like the band members are in mourning. It's almost like the music from an additional funeral scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

1 a.m.
Oscillating Fan Club

Experimental psyche, but it's not contrived (or pompous). The songs are, in fact, as joyous as the name.


Whiskey In The Jar

9:40 p.m.
Dog Latin
Experimental indie-folk strum that's like Woody Guthrie crossed with lots of Jack Daniels.

10:40 p.m.
The Codgers

Irish folk, touching on such subjects as whiskey, green hills and, urrrm, the fuckin' IRA. Nothing like a little terrorist ditty. ... Oh, well, national pride dies hard.

11:40 p.m.
Dooley Wilson

He's a classy blues guitarist in the vein of a rootsier Stevie Ray Vaughn and very early Eric Clapton. He seems a little young to have too many tales of woe, but he plays like a motherfucker.

12:40 a.m.
Sh! The Octopus

How loud was the octopus, that it required a rebuttal from these folkster-poppers? Apparently, they were originally going to call themselves Pipe Down Squid. But that one was already taken. (!)


Café 1923

2 p.m.
Afternoon Acoustic Showcase: Anthony Retka

For those who wake up early, there are some acoustic delights at Café 1923, and Retka will provide some soothing grace.

Mike Anton 
We absolutely love this guy Anton. His attitude rivals the apt anger in his homespun songs, which stick in the head long after the music stops. On a Saturday afternoon, he'll likely be upping the folk and downing the rock, which will work perfectly with a roomful of hungover fest-goers and daytime java-drinkers.


Detroit Threads (from 6 p.m. )

A. Garcia
Ava
Suzana Doncic

Detroit Threads will be hosting a record release party that should see out the Blowout with yet more techno terrorism. And, hey, if you ask Threads manager Mike nicely, he might even let you sleep on the floor until next year's festival!


All blurbs by Brett Callwood, with additional writing by Brian Smith and Bill Holdship.

AUGIE VISOCCI OF THE HARD LESSONS

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Initially, our goal was to put out a 45 and maybe play the Magic Stick if we were lucky. I would have never imagined playing on a boat in Paris or getting lost on Highway 61 en route to Mobile, Ala. We've been very lucky, and I'm most proud of coming out of it all reinvigorated and constantly evolving.

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

I really like what the Silent Giants and Pinky Blaster do as far as design. Glass Action's "Bowie Nightlight" is also the coolest thing to happen to a light bulb since Edison. We've played with a band from Lansing called the Continental Things who were great too.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

YouTube sensation = the widest gap ever between fame and talent. That little kid who got drugged at the dentist's office is pretty funny, but, for the most part, I find a lot of Internet communities to be pretty disappointing. WiFi has given a forum (and an audience) to every uninformed idiot's knee-jerk reaction to anything and everything. 

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

I guess I'd have to go with Henry Ford — as a conduit. His assembly line lured to town (or otherwise employed) the likes of John Lee Hooker and Berry Gordy. Close proximity to the auto industry also directly influenced the MC5, Mitch Ryder, Eminem, the White Stripes. ... it's unavoidable, and it's what makes the area unique. 

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Maybe it's a result of four years of touring, but I tend not to look too far into the future. 2009 was the best year we've ever had as a band, but it also came with a lot of unforeseen challenges. On our first record, I sang "27 seems so old" in reference to people like Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. As of this year, I'm older than both of them. Writing songs and performing will always be a part of my life, which should take me through the next 10 years, ... granted I survive Blowout.

The Hard Lessons play Friday, March 5, at 1 a.m. at the New Dodge. (Augie will also be playing with his School of Rock students at the same venue on Saturday, March 6, at 7 p.m.)

JOE FREZZA OF THE OCTOPUS 

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Hooking up the iPod station to my living room stereo. Now I can listen to the iPod while I am in the living room!

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Camillo.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

12AX7.

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Who is the greatest Detroit musical import of all time? That's what I wanna know.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

My guess is that 10 years from now, we will all still be relying primarily on mirrors to see ourselves in.

The Octopus play Friday, March 5, at midnight at the G of C Hall

MELODY BAETENS OF THE SWAMP SISTERS

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

I've played in more than 16 countries on three continents with three different bands. I've gotten to see, hear and do more things in my 20s than some people get to in their entire lives. I cherish that, and I don't take it for granted.

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

It's kind of strange because these two are married, but I'll always be amazed and inspired by any music from any of Wendy Case's or Ross Westerbur's bands. And I know I may seem biased, but I also will always be a hardcore Wolfbait fan. 

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

I think of parents videotaping their kids doing something incredibly hilarious at just the right moment. 

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Bill Kozy. He's humble, talented, a great success and, above all, he is true to the city and the musicians in it. 

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Well, if you asked me 10 years ago when I played my first Blowout what I'd be doing in 10 years, I probably would not have guessed that I'd be answering a survey for Blowout coverage ... so who knows? I'm sure I'll be playing music, and I'll still be writing about music and musicians.

The Swamp Sisters play Friday, March 5, at 10:20 p.m. at the Painted Lady.

BEN VAN CAMP OF THE CROOKS (DRUMS) AND THE DISPLAYS (GUITAR)

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

It would have to be recording the Crooks’ record with Matthew Smith (Outrageous Cherry). Working with Matthew was an honor and an unbelievable experience. I’ve learned so much from him.

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Well, I’m totally in love with bands like the Muggs, Outrageous Cherry and the Sights. But right now, my favorite Detroit band would have to be the Hand Grenades. They’re really cool dudes and extremely talented musicians.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

Those two words just mean that today’s society is even more stupid then I thought. Computers have turned the brains of today’s youth into mush. It makes me sick to see what people watch on YouTube, and then call it a sensation. It’s unbelievable.

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Wow! This is a hard one, but I’m going to say Iggy Pop. He has so much raw energy and his influence is felt in so many different genres. Though I strongly believe in a few years, or even now, it may be Jack White; whether you like him or not, he brings real music to a world of computer generated singers.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I see myself playing and producing music. It would be nice to be on the level where I can still go to the grocery store without getting mobbed but can sell out a place like, say, the Fillmore. Ha ha!

The Crooks play Thursday, March 4, at 10:20 p.m. at the Painted Lady. The Displays play Wednesday, March 3, at the Blowout Pre-Party at midnight in the Magic Stick.

MARY RAMIREZ OF THE DETROIT COBRAS

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Getting a few people to ask, "Who's Irma Thomas?"

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Sugarcoats. Corey Wheaton sings like a young Bob Seger. In time, we'll see if he can write like one.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

 "It's So Cold in the D" ...

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Dude, the list is way too long.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Rolling in my sweet baby's arms.

The Detroit Cobras play Friday, March 5, at 1 a.m. at the G of C Hall.

 

MARCIE BOLEN AND DELEANO ACEVEDO OF SILVERGHOST

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Marcie: I am happy just to be in a band in which I can express my creativity the way I want.

Deleano: Our tour with the Murder City Devils was the most fun I've ever had onstage. The two nights at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles were amazing.

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Marcie: I don't have a favorite, but right now I like Gardens, Esquire and Infinity People.

Deleano: His Name Is Alive: I'm not sure what the current status of this band is since Andy FM moved to L.A., but I really liked Detrola. Warn Defever always has interesting projects.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

Marcie: Talking cats.

Deleano: "Pants on the Ground."

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Marcie: The MC5 because they were very innovative and empowering. They would sometimes use hints of jazz progressions in their rock 'n' roll.

Deleano: Maybe Smokey Robinson, because he wrote so many of those Motown hits.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Marcie: I'll be playing acoustic guitar to my cat.

Deleano: I hope to have enough money to fly around onstage when I perform.

Silverghost plays Saturday, March 6, at midnight at the G of C Hall.

MIRROR TWIN (FEATURING LORETTA LUCAS)

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Just being able to play our instruments. ... Really. Nah, just kidding. Our new record we're working on!

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Your band!

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

Chocolate Rain, Surprise Kitty, Scary Mary, David Goes to the Dentist, Shoes, Auto Tune the News and — last but very, very not least — the Shining (happy version).

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

What is this? A trick question? Casey Kasem, of course!

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Riding that jetpack into the stars, man. The stars!

Mirror Twin plays Wednesday, March 3, at 9 p.m. at the Blowout Pre-Party in the Majestic Café 

SCOTT HARRISON OF BATTLING SIKI

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

A) Winner of first grade pantomime contest in Mayville, Mich., with a performance of "Charlie Brown" by the Coasters.
B) Not using the word "baby" in a song.
C) Creation of the DeLorean scale.
D) All of the above.

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Gino Fanelli and the National Coney Islands featuring the hit "Large Hani Deluxe Swing"

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

Ordinance that forbids VIP rooms and touching between strip-dancers and patrons.

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

A tie. Walter Bridgforth Jr., needs that Anita Baker music royalty money. Or Roxy and Maxine Petrucci.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Asking myself, "Where have all the good times gone?" And still not having the answer if Diver Down was Van Halen's best album.

Scott Harrison plays Friday, March 5, at 9:20 p.m. at Baker's Streetcar. His band includes guitar hero Augie Visocchi, plus drummer Dave Vaughn and bassist Shawn Nolan.

INVINCIBLE

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Completing and self-releasing my first album, ShapeShifters, independently, instead of signing a bullshit deal earlier on in my career. It was a longer scenic route but was worth it. I'm proud to be able to build off of that foundation as well as share the model I'm developing with other artists. 

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

A tie between Underground Resistance and Slum Village

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

T Baby's "It's So Cold In The D"

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Stevie Wonder. Funkadelic, J Dilla, Aretha and Juan Atkins as runners-up. 

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Still living in Detroit while exploring parallel universes, taking quantum leaps both musically and with my communities.

Invincible plays Thursday, March 4, at midnight at the G of C Hall.

MICK BASSETT OF MICK BASSETT & THE MARTHAS

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

I've still got a lot of work to do. But playing at the Don Was Detroit All Star Revue at Concert of Colors last year has been a highlight for sure. To be one of a dozen-or-so bands from the last 50 years to represent Detroit's musical legacy — and the only one really from my generation — was quite an honor. 

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Lots and lots of favorites. The most recent favorite I saw live was Prussia, so I'll go with them. They always bring it onstage and have great songs. 

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

House of cards. Good luck keeping it up. 

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Motown. Hands-down. Or maybe Smokey Robinson, if I had to pick one. ... But I don't know. That's too hard to answer. The list goes on and on.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Playing with Michael Jackson at the Super Bowl.

Mick Bassett plays Saturday, March 6, at 1 a.m. at the Belmont.

ZOOS OF BERLIN

1  What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

Building our own recording studio, and recording and self-releasing our album, Taxis.

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

Aran Ruth and Lightning Love spring to mind, but we like a lot of 'em.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

Our main goal for this band.

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Stevie Wonder. We'd be very interested to hear any arguments that someone else was greater.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

With a few more Zoos of Berlin albums in the bag, and deeper into movies.

Zoos of Berlin play Thursday, March 4, at 11:20 p.m. at Paycheck's Lounge.

EDDIE BARANEK OF THE SIGHTS

1. What musical accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?

I am most proud that I've been fortunate to do what I want musically without anyone's outside interference. 

2. Favorite local band/artist (other than yourself!)?

At the moment, I'm loving the Moonshine Forestry Outfit 45 on Distortion Records — some 15-year-old kid recording his songs in his living room in 1969.

3. What do the words "YouTube sensation" mean to you?

Live music makes your bones rattle, your body sweat, and your ass move. Community is lost when we all sit at home, jerking off in front of our monitors. Instead, we should be jerking off onstage, in front of our stage monitors!

4. Who is the greatest Detroit musical export of all time?

Detroit's greatest musical export is attitude. I don't mean attitude as in giving lip or having a chip on your shoulder. I mean attitude as in, "We do what we want and don't care what you think." You can't buy that.

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Teaching my child(ren) the chords to Who songs.

The Sights play Friday, March 5, at midnight at the New Dodge. (Eddie will also be playing with his School of Rock students at the same venue on Saturday, March 6, at 7 p.m.)

When this cat Charles Vann stepped onto Detroit's rap scene last winter, newly dubbed as SelfSays, he arrived as a new face and a fresh voice. For some vet local emcees, DJs, promoters and hip-hop heads who've kept track of important and upcoming names and faces over the years, Vann's move to Detroit was inevitability — especially given Detroit's recent rap revival, with such acts as Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Danny Brown breaking out of here. In other words, there was no better time to make the move — and Detroit welcomed SelfSays into the city with open arms. Funny thing is, though, during the last year, Vann's music hasn't received the most attention in Detroit or even Michigan but rather in London, England. 

To dispel any rumors you may have heard about this much-talked-about rapper, no, Vann is not from London. (To confirm another: The man is seriously funny.) Vann's mother fulfilled a lifelong dream four years ago when she moved to England. Her roots however, like those of her son, can be traced back to our working-class state capital of Lansing. A few months ago, Vann flew out to London for the first time since his mother had made the move. What happened while he was there was one of those "chance of a lifetime" moments. 

"You never know who's listening to your music," he explains. "And you never know who they might know or where they work or what they could be connected to."

Up until then, Vann had tracked his growing popularity in London via downloads on blog posts; soon thereafter, he began receiving countless e-mails from genuinely loyal hip-hop fans, and has only continued to get more over the last few years. One fan was a chap named Tom. Tom knew his good mate Alex would also dig the recently released SelfSays EP, Something Out of Nothing. Well, it turns out Alex did dig it — and it turns out Alex also works at Browns-wood Recordings, the record label of iconic British radio DJ Gilles Peterson. And it turned out that during what was originally planned as a visit to see Mom ended up with Vann visiting BBC Studios and making an appearance on the disc jockey's weekly show. 

"The way I heard it, they were working in the [label] office one day and Alex had [the SelfSays track] 'Little Things' playing in the background. Gilles was like, 'Oh, who's this? This is kinda sweet.' Well, Alex told him a bit about me and that I was coming over soon.

"So I get to London and meet up with Tom and Alex, who asked, 'You want to go to the radio station?' I couldn't believe it! We get to BBC and Gilles is there doing his show. He quietly invites us in while a song is playing, fades the song out and softly leans into the mic: 'We got SelfSays in the studio — Detroit — oh, yeah!" 

At that point, Vann says he pretty much "lost it." But a little later on in the show, as the now-comfortable rapper was lounging on the couch, watching Peterson pluck records to spin, he hears the intro to "Little Things." 

"Alex told me that he didn't know it was going to happen. I definitely didn't think that was going to happen," Vann recalls. "I'm still tripping over that shit."

Even more hits to his website — and taps on the "click here to download" button — immediately followed. The opportunity wasn't lost on Vann.

"It's hard to explain to some people who don't follow music culture just how big that moment was. There's no American equivalent for Gilles Peterson." 

Of course, it's a pivotal moment in any musician's career to be played on the radio — but Peterson's internationally aired show is, for many, the portal to Western urban music, from acid jazz to afrobeat, rap and R&B. So here was a kid who wrote his first raps in middle school — but didn't let anyone hear them — witnessing firsthand a song of his being played, quite literally, around the world. 


Growing up
in Lansing, Vann was not your typical hip-hop runt. "I was a nerdy kid — I did well in school," he recalls. "This whole rap thing is one of the only extroverted sides I have." 

Becoming a rapper wasn't about trying to invent a hip alter ego, though: "I never wanted to be cool. I just wanted to not suck."

During those formative years, when the innocence of cartoons still has some sway on the soul, Vann was also being seduced by  music he heard from his cousins and uncles as well as from the trendsetting video show, Yo! MTV Raps

"Early on it was Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD and stuff like that. Later, it was Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep — super East Coast and super lyrical. If it wasn't super lyrical, I wasn't with it." 

Yes, Vann had found exactly what it was he "didn't want to suck" doing. First, he took the name XCel, "but then I found out that there was a guy named Chief XL from the Bay Area group Blackalicious." So he changed it to MI-Self, an ode to his home state and his solitary nature, before sticking with SelfSays. 

In Lansing, he found the music scene was just a party; its focus was on getting fucked-up, not cultivating music. "I wanted to be heard. I wanted to find any place I could rap, and in Lansing there weren't any," says Vann, who took off to Ann Arbor in the mid-2000s. "I saw Athletic Mic League [which spawned 14K, Buff 1 and Mayer Hawthorne] and OneBeLo doing some big things, so I thought I should head out to A2. It sounded cool, but it wasn't my time." 

Although he didn't blossom, fame-wise, in Ann Arbor, he did succeed in beginning to build a rep for SelfSays. He won over crowds at open-mic nights and collaborated with some of the best rappers in the area, including work on Lawless Element's 2005 release, Soundvision: In Stereo, which features such rap royalty as J Dilla, Madlib, Melanie Rutherford, Phat Kat and Big Tone — all big-shots alongside a young upstart named SelfSays. 

Though the allure of hip hop took the man from Lansing to Ann Arbor, Detroit's rich music community was only a fraction of his motive for a second move to the D.  Musically, he already had some allies before moving here, including rapper-producer Nick Speed and the United States of Mind crew. Unemployed and surrounded by creative and musically inclined acquaintances, Vann made the decision to "give it a go more than ever." 

But he discovered that that it's a city that's thick with rap cliques. It's a hard town for nomadic rappers that way. "At times, I felt very alone," he affirms. "I thought people weren't getting it and that the people who did get it weren't digging it. But I had to stop thinking about all that stuff and just make music. Once I took control and shed the bullshit, things started happening — fast. All of a sudden, I put a record and, all of a sudden, people were listening to it."

Discuss local music with Vann and you can see that he gets agitated, even frustrated, because there is so much Detroit-bred talent he wants to work with but so little time and money to make it happen. It's not just about rap music, either. Vann says he wants to collaborate with the city's indie music elite, including electro-pop sensation Deastro and deep groove melody makers Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. just as much as he does such pedigreed rap acts as Nick Speed, Black Milk, Danny Brown and ElzHi.

But turn the focus to what he could bring to the table, musically, and Vann's social insecurities flare with his defense mechanisms taking over.  That is, turn the spotlight on Vann and he tries to downplay what rap music — clearly his life passion — means to him. 

"I never wanted to be one of those dudes who are like, 'Yeah, man — watch the fuck out, son! I got my record coming out and you can't even comprehend how dope it is,'" he laughs. "I'm just not that guy. It's just rap. It's just rap." 

Yeah, Charles. Keep trying to tell yourself that. You ain't foolin' no one! 

More by Travis R. Wright

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