The man called Man is pissed off. The transmission in his van went belly-up, and the thing is parked somewhere in Denver, where it’s been sitting since April. He’s broke. And he’s had it up to here with yuppies.
The self-employed carpenter and one-man punk-rock show is sitting at the dining-room table in the Hamtramck home that belongs to a friend who is letting him crash there for a few months. In front of him is a mess of bachelor-pad remedies, including a palm-sized weed pipe, an empty 40-ounce beer bottle, smokes and an overflowing ashtray. His carpentry tools spill out from paint buckets stacked in one corner.
His hair is cropped short, and his hands are big, his fingers thick. He wears olive shorts with black socks, and a T-shirt with some unremarkable punk band logo.
However mad and misanthropic Man (aka Matthew McGuire) may appear, he is downright genial. He offers cigarettes and coffee.
“This system is set up to get you in full time,” he asserts, sounding a bit like a young Joe Strummer. “I think freedom is more valuable than a full-time job. I’d rather be broke and be able to write than sit in a cubicle all goddamned day.”
Man is expressive. He references Bukowski with regularity during conversation. Celine and Miller are among his fave authors.
When he speaks, his words arrive slowly, in a kind of skateboarder-stoner ease. And he often takes the piss on himself as much as he does SUV-driving yups and cubicle-crawling day-job drones. Yet his steady gaze and slightly tilted head suggest something else entirely, something closer to a battered soldier observing some unavoidable atrocity.
As a freelance handyman, work comes in spurts, as do the gigs. A solo performer armed with only a bass, kick drum and voice ain’t the easiest sell to bookers.
Man’s one-dude punk show can be positively alarming. It’s inflexible, in-yer-face minimalism in the most stringent sense of the idea. Employing heavy downstrokes, Man hammers out bar chords on his bass — six-string style — keeps steady thump-time with a single kick drum, and his gnarly scream-shout vocal offers up lyrics fraught with good old-fashioned Marxist fun (I don’t want to wear your colors/ I don’t want to hold your grudge … Fuck the Team).
On stage, picture a blast-veined forehead, bountiful beer sweat and four-on-the-floor 1-5-4 raw-boned punk-rock songs supported by singsong spout-out choruses. He skewers the middle-management plumbing-supplier type by donning a cheap, slightly ill-fitting suit. An Old Glory backdrop is outfitted with his own logo over the stars — a hilarious personal insignia that bears close resemblance to the Ethiopian Workers Party hammer and sickle.
Fun songs, such as the hymn-in-waiting “Blue Law Sunday,” pose impossible existential queries: What the fuck am I supposed to do/ If I’m not supposed to do what I do?
On “Suck My Schtick,” Man sneers this bit of anti-indie-band-hipster vitriol with aplomb: I don’t need no badges/ No marketing device/ I’m pure rock ’n’ roll/ And you’re fucking blind.
He applies said sentiments with an intensity that is by design ironic but also, he says, earnest. Man shows are brutal and sometimes — oftentimes — hard to watch. All of which makes a Man gig one of the best things going in Detroit. Good or bad, his self-belief lends itself to passion.
A Man show is meant to spur laughs. Man understands that nothing is worse than misplaced anger for the sake of antagonism in the guise of testosterone-stunned punk rock.
“It’s not comedy but it’s got that humor,” he says. “It’s got to have that humor; otherwise you’re just an asshole. And I hate people who preach, who say, ‘You should this, you gotta that.’ I’m just expressing myself, really.”
Man eschews both the camaraderie and the head-fuck tendencies that are inherent in rock bands. He goes for the simpler and more rewarding approach of DIY multi-tasking. He does it his way: the writing, recording, playing, booking, producing, flier-making, everything.
Everything, that is, except starting his own label and self-releasing his own titles. Those are lofty goals considering how the music business is all about oversaturation and the law of diminishing returns. A successful indie band is simply a triumph of mediocrity.
Yet Man knows he must participate … to a point. And he’s cheeky about it.
“I know now I can’t start a label because it takes such large amounts of cash. Just to record I have to use the barter system. I just installed a hot water heater in exchange for studio time at Rustbelt Studios,” he laughs. “There’s no other way I’d be able to record. I mean, ideally, I wanted to do this all DIY, but it’s just so fucking hard.”
The 32-year-old one-man DIY show grew up in Clinton Township, the son of a tool and die maker who raced dirt bikes. His leftist-radicalist roots kick-started in his skateboarder days when his pal Andy Sutton turned him on to The Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust/Plastic Surgery Disasters. He leapt from his parents’ Sabbath and Zep record collection to Black Flag, Sonic Youth and the Clash. He quit playing sax in his high school jazz band and picked up the guitar.
He blew sax with an outfit called the Beer Whores in 1992. He played guitar with his producer-buddy Sutton in the much-loved Detroit quintet Forehead Stew. The band toured the Northeast, made a record (1995’s Rote), and headlined larger Motown clubs. He quit Forehead in 1996, christened himself Man and went solo. He split for Colorado for no other reason than to snowboard. He supported himself working eat-shit day jobs.
“I moved to Colorado to snowboard,” he explains. “That was the only reason I went. And that’s half the reason why I don’t like having a band. It’s too much trouble and I move around too much.”
Man took up residence in Denver, did shows, got press and honed his muse in Colorado’s yuppie utopia.
“In Denver and Boulder it is so oppressive — everybody’s got money, daddy’s money, whatever. So I really went to town on the songwriting.”
He shakes his head remembering one job he held for a year at a New Age record label in Boulder. Trusted with company door keys, Man would sneak in during off hours and rehearse.
“I’d go in there at night and practice. I was surrounded by all these spiritual tapes. It was definitely an inspiration.”
Man eases himself into a large cushioned chair at a coffeehouse in Hamtramck. As he’s scribbling song lyrics on notebook paper, he offers reasons why his new home of Hamtramck is an inspiration. “Hamtramck is real,” he says. “There’s no yuppies. I love that. I’d rather see some ugly drunk staggering around than some Gucci chick. Here, people hang out on porches. There’s community.” Man pauses, focuses his eyes on the figure coming through the door. He shapes his mouth into a grin and says, “That and there are hot Polish chicks here. …”
Having already demoed 16 songs that have garnered interest from more than one small label, Man is intent on getting his new songs out. He remains steadfast in his punk ethos. “I’m just gonna stick to my guns and keep grinding away. I’m gonna see this through to the end. That’s the challenge.”
Man will perform Thursday, Aug. 15 at The Shelter (431 E. Congress, Detroit) with Giant Brain and Jucifer. For information, call 313-961-6358.Brian Smith is the Metro Times music editor. E-mail [email protected]