Brother in Shaw

Feb 4, 2009 at 12:00 am

If someone outside this city knew nothing of its music scene aside from some of the anonymous comments one can find all over the Internet these days — especially when the last "major" rock 'n' roll event they may remember happening in Detroit, at least as reported on an international scale, involved Detroit's biggest current rock star beating up one of Detroit's aspiring rock stars — that someone may believe that our city is full of jealous, petty, backstabbing jerks.

Those of us who actually live here, however, know that ain't the whole truth, and that Detroit's music scene has always come together to aid one of its own in times of need. Such is the case with the upcoming benefit for Jim Shaw, long one of the scene's favorite people. A noted local visual artist, as well as a member of Hamtramck's Plan Commission (it seems that everyone in Hamtramck, even those apart from the music scene, knows Jim), Shaw was recently diagnosed with cancer. He had part of his colon removed in December, but, sadly, the cancer has spread to his liver and lymph nodes. It isn't the best of diagnoses, but both he and his wife Sandy Kramer Shaw are determined to fight this thing. Unfortunately, like so many artists across this once-great country of ours, Shaw lacks health insurance. And that's where this benefit show and art auction come in, with family and friends — including folks from all over the nation — bonding together to help out the Shaw family.

Although never a member of a band himself (and, thus, not to be confused with that other Jim Shaw who was a founding member of Destroy All Monsters), this Shaw was instrumental in the launching of many local legends. "Anyone who ever heard Jim humming and singing along to some of his cherished 45s knew he had the voice to be in a band," says his longtime friend and the member of numerous Detroit punk bands, Mike Murphy. "But instead, Jim utilized his other talents, like filling heads with musical ideas — often highly obscure ones — and, by doing so, greatly helping out bands like Vertical Pillows and the Gories, both of which were still green and in need of an education at the time of their formation."

Indeed, Shaw is known as one of the foremost historians and archive-keepers of Detroit music. "He habitually taped local shows, notating and archiving them," Murphy says. "You may have never even known about it — or at least you'd forgotten about it until a decade later, when a smiling Jim would pull out a caseload of long-lost cassettes by your old band to give to you, always free of charge." As a result, he was one of the greatest champions of this area's music, bar none. In fact, a comment on a music board outside this city (from the looks of it, folks are planning to travel from all over the country for this event; it was even mentioned by NME last week, due to a donation from the White Stripes) recalled: "I was once present for a backyard screening at Jim's of previously unknown to even exist live Stooges footage that left all of our jaws dropped. ..." (Some of that footage, along with rare MC5 film, will open the benefit show.)

Before he and Sandy became two of the more notable denizens of Hamtown — Sandy's the owner of Barberella Hair Salon, which she and her husband built together — Jim was famous throughout the city due to co-owning (with Heidi Lichtenstein) a store called Cinderella's Attic, first in Dearborn before moving to a longstanding location in Royal Oak. Sort of a D-town version of Malcolm McLaren's British SEX shop, Shaw's clothing and pop culture store-salon dressed both Iggy Pop and the B-52's, as well as tons of local rockers taking the stage at Bookie's back in the day, in addition to supplying some of the hardest-to-find cool records to its customers in those days before the Web.

But, as noted, Shaw's influence spread way outside the confines of this state. He and Sandy have taken frequent motorcycle trips across the country, where they've met rockers in many of these 50 states. As a result, the Shaw homestead has been a warm place to stay for bands on the road for years now.

In other words, Jim Shaw is just a real generous, helpful guy. "Jim's just always been there as a friend over the years, especially after the devastation of the hurricane," says Peggy O'Neil, one of the Gories' three founding members, who now calls New Orleans home. "I can't even begin to tell you how much he and Sandy helped us at that time of need! He's just a true friend with true heart and soul — just always positive, with no negative things to say about anyone. He was definitely a major presence and influence on the Gories, especially when we were just starting out. In fact, he supported us when no one else would. It's just amazing to see how everyone is rallying around him. But it's really not a surprise because we love him."

And his friends and fans are definitely rallying. Not only is the benefit show — which was organized by Jim's brothers, Steve and Pat — full of the cream of local rock 'n' roll talent, but a slew of art and memorabilia has also been donated for auction by folks ranging from Niagara to Gwen Joy to MT's own Doug Coombe to the aforementioned White Stripes, whose Jack and Meg White donated the drumkit they used in their video for "The Hardest Button to Button" to be auctioned at the special store that's been set up on eBay in Shaw's name. Even the legendary Mary Weiss of the very legendary Shangri-Las has donated signed memorabilia, which makes sense, as Memphis garage band the Reigning Sound — who backed up Weiss on her comeback LP two years ago — are one of the groups that make the Shaw house their home away from home when they're in Michigan.

It seems everyone in Detroit has a Jim Shaw story, both about his generosity and his uniqueness as a local "character." So we'll give the final (comical) words to Bobby Harlow of the Go, one of the bands slated to appear at the Magic Stick: "Jim's been a good friend of mine for over 10 years now. He's a big guy. I'm not. In other words, I inhabit a much smaller area than Jim does. And when we're together, his ideas come crashing down on top of me, and I have to try to speak sooner and more frequently in order for my thoughts to meet his. He also speaks with a heavy voice, much like tumbling redwoods. That voice often causes dogs to look in his direction. I practically have to chase my dogs down and beat them with brooms in order to get their attention!

"Jim is also well-known for riding his motorcycle across the country, from time to time. This is just fine with me because when Jim leaves town, it gives the little people like me an opportunity to pound our fists on table tops and smoke cigars and loom large for awhile. But then when Jim returns, it's business as usual. The smaller people make themselves useful by opening drawers way at the bottom, sweeping, collecting bottle caps, handing them up to Jim. But, hey, I can sing. Jim can't sing. So Jim will occasionally and casually say, 'Hey, Bobby, I like that Rob Tyner thing you do with your voice.' And I can then go quietly, back into my tiny little space, which — thanks to Jim — suddenly seems roomier than usual.

"But, hey, that's Jim for you! I've always admired him. But I'd, of course, never let him know that. I wouldn't want him to start going easy on me!"

Saturday, Feb. 7, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; $10 minimum donation at the door. The silent auction takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the CPOP Gallery.

The full lineup for the Shaw tribute benefit is as follows:

6 p.m.: Gallery Reception
8 p.m.: THE MC5 and STOOGES rare film clips

9 p.m.: THE GO
9:40 p.m.: THE PIZAZZ
10 p.m.: GARDENS
10:20 p.m.: HUMAN EYE
11:20 p.m.: TYVEK
Midnight: GREG CARTWRIGHT (Reigning Sound)
12:40 a.m.: THE DIAL TONES
1 a.m.: DAN KROHA

Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]