Of mice and myth

Dec 8, 1999 at 12:00 am

Trading the Cannery Row of Monterey for the Cass Corridor of the Motor City, Starlite Desperation moved to Detroit not to live legends, but to escape them.

Usually, bands move from Detroit and to California. But, as Starlite’s singer and guitarist Dante Adrian explains, "There’s a song on the new record, ‘The Gold Rush.’ It’s about the myth of the West Coast, of California and San Francisco, versus what it really is now. It’s far from what it’s envisioned to be. It might be kind of a negative take. I wrote those lyrics right before we left and I was eager to leave."

Acknowledging a coldness in the Michigan air, Adrian comments, "I’m sure after this winter, I’ll have an even better idea of why that California myth exists."

Between drummer Jeff Ehrenberg’s muscular pounding, bassist Yasmine Smith’s mastery of low-end sound, and Adrian’s desperate wail and superb guitar riffing, Starlite Desperation plays guitar rock the way it should sound, circa right here and right now. Those who witness the band’s sporadic, low-profile appearances at places such as the Gold Dollar or the Magic Stick are treated to energetic Detroit street rock at its hard-edged finest. SD even has its contribution to the car-song canon, in the propulsive "Mona Lisa Snake." Herein Adrian exclaims, "All I want to do is ride around," as the tune opens up like a spell of California dreamin’ about the Stooges’ Funhouse.

A quiet distance from his vocal persona, Adrian is much more soft-spoken, more laid-back than desperate ("If I talked the way I sang, I’d get arrested," he jokes). Explains Adrian, "I think the whole idea of rock ‘n’ roll has shifted from youth and vibrancy to seasoned decrepitude. Look at Dead Moon or Keith Richards. I don’t know if the Rolling Stones still embody rock ‘n’ roll, but I think that Keith Richards does, and Fred Cole (of Dead Moon) does," he states.

"Rock ‘n’ roll is still about rebellion, but it’s not necessarily about the youth pop culture that it was in the ‘50s."

Today’s rebellion, for Adrian, is more an aesthetic one. For today’s aesthetic rock rebels, uncompromising music is its own reward, often through the default of mainstream indifference.

Still, Adrian acknowledges the lack of good rock being created in the present. Sure, you’ve got your Royal Trux, Make-Up, Dead Moon and Bantam Rooster. But there’s a lot of mediocrity and pretension to look out for, too. "I don’t want to be a part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution," Adrian says with a smile.

"It’s not like we’re in a pop-culture renaissance, like in the mid-to-late-‘60s. It seems like it was harder to create something bad back then than it was to create something good. It’s way easier now to create something bad, so you’ve got to be careful."

That conscientiousness pays off on the trio’s upcoming recording, Go Kill Mice. A concise series of crunchy rock nuggets gives way to the title track, a tour de force. Live, it’s the showstopper that no one wants to play after. Lyrically, it’s an archetype straight out of rock’s prehistory, about a pussycat that gets the narrator into a lot of trouble. Musically, it goes off on different thudding psych tangents every time.

"When it gets to the middle part, it’s all just improvisation. We’re feeding off of each other and feeding off the mood of the audience that evening. It takes many different shapes and forms each evening," says bassist Smith.

Moving just a few months ago from one land of musical myths to another, this transplanted trio has settled into the Woodbridge neighborhood, and into the Woodward Village rock scene. It’s one of the few musical relocations to Detroit of note since Alice Cooper first called Detroit home. Citing decent rent, proximity to other major cities, and the city’s strong musical history, community and friendships, Starlite Desperation has settled in Detroit. These rock refugees join those bands around here that prove on a gig-to-gig basis that spectacular rock is not just a part of our past, but our present as well. Greg Baise gets electric in the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]