Rock candy 

Scotty Hagen hangs his head at the loss of the Goo Goo Cluster. The tasty mound of caramel, marshmallows, peanuts and chocolate is second on the Grande Nationals bassist's list of top five favorite candies — yes, he has such a list — surrounded by such similarly vintage classics as Pez, Slo Poke and Razzles ("First it's a candy and then it's a gum!"), all of which have found survival tough under pressure from corporate candy operations like Hershey and Wrigley.

"When you were a kid you were able to find candies like these in stores," Hagen says. "Now, every place you go into has the same thing, because the big boys pay slotting fees to have their products there."

It's tough being a Goo Goo Cluster when there are 50 varieties of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups hogging all the prime shelf space. Hagen isn't a total Hershey hater — Peanut Butter Cups make his Top 5 too. But as a lifelong candy fan he got sick of the big boys forcibly reducing his options.

Frustration led to action, and Hagen, together with business partner Michelle Moore, conceived the Bellyache Candy Shoppe. The enterprise will be an online venture, and there are plans for a brick-and-mortar presence in one to two years. Bellyache will offer a wide selection of classic and hard-to-find candies; candy-related books and novelties; Bellyache merchandise like stickers, T-shirts and toothbrushes; and fully-loaded gift baskets for the sweetheart in your life. "We're going to cater to the guy who can't get his [candy] into stores anymore," Hagen says. But Bellyache, besides being a friend to regional and independent vendors, will also be a place for consumers to taste nostalgia. With the opening of its online store, Hagen will finally have an answer for that guy who makes the same request at every Grande Nationals show. He doesn't want to hear a particular song. No, he wants Hagen to order him a few cases of Zagnut candy bars.

Besides its candy counter, Bellyache will also be a record label. Hagen and Moore both have deep roots in the local music community, and it was one of the first places they found support for the Bellyache concept. They knew an imprint with releases from Michigan-based artists would be the perfect side dish to their candy main course.

The Sweet Sounds of Detroit, Bellyache's first compilation, features 18 local acts paying tribute to candy and its enduring link to rock and roll with original material and choice inclusions. Hey Sailor's "Bitter Honey" could've been a hit for Elvis Costello in 1977; Troy Gregory & the Stepsisters get deliciously creepy on "Tippin' the Candy Machine"; the Capitol Cities have a run-in with the "Electric Frostine Queen"; and the Hard Lessons' favorite "Milk & Sugar" is a perfect closer. Other contributors include Loretta & the Larkspurs (adapting the Good & Plenty theme song), Hotness, Sara Celina, the Sirens, Fortune & Maltese and the Avatars.

Bellyache will throw a release party this week at the Magic Stick, with performances from many of the comp's participants (Hotness, Sara Celina, Troy Gregory & the Step Sisters, Loretta & the Larkspurs, Grande Nationals, Capitol Cities, the Sirens and the Hard Lessons) and plenty of Bellyache swag. But in the meantime, Hagen is busy prepping Bellyache's online store and attending to the hundreds of little details that go into running a small business. Sweet or not, it's hard work. But he's ready to do it, because he and Moore believe in their brand. They're offering products with great taste, boutique cachet and a significant nostalgia factor, which in a business sense are three things that go together like peanuts, caramel and nougat.

But there's also the satisfaction of doing something on their own. Hagen sees Bellyache as an extension of the self-empowerment that's been inspiring rock bands for years — the DIY ethic reimagined as a 21st century business plan. So let's see. Independent and regional confectioners have a place to sell their wares, fans of candy both old and new have a convenient place to nab their Zots and Zagnuts, and local artists have another avenue to sell a few records. Plus, the Bellyache Candy Shoppe gets to quietly stick it to what counts as The Man in the candy industry? Well, that just makes the whole operation a little more sweet.


Sweet Sounds of Detroit record release party is Saturday, May 13, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700.

Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

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