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26 August 2013

Six pictures from Detroit

This post could also be accurately titled as “What I learned on my summer vacation” because, well, we remain children forever in a way.

I went to Detroit on what could be mistaken for a disaster tourism expedition. I saw a Caucasian man who might have been dead winched into a Port-a-Potty at an awkward angle. I ate some BBQ and saw some street art and happened upon a letterpress printer located in an old meat-processing facility near Eastern Market. (They let me use their bathroom. That was very nice of them.)

I think the city poses interesting questions about education, art, technology, industrialism and especially community. Here are some pictures of those questions. Please take them as more than ruin porn. They’re not intended as such. And, come to think of it, there’s not much in the way of ruins to be pictured in the pictures I pictured.

Implicit commentary on the fate of the record industry from the Heidelberg Project?

A photo taken near Service Street.

A friendly group of motorcyclists in front of the Motown Museum.

Chicken wings.

Wall art in Corktown, wherein resides the city’s most self-conscious gentrification vibe. Wasn’t that into it. But the BBQ restaurant was quite good.

Co-ops designed by Mies Van Der Rohe in LaFayette Park.

Here is a very short reading list of materials I read before and just after I went. I found them all helpful.

  • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige
  • Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli
  • “36 Hours in Detroit” by Jennifer Conlin for the New York Times
  • Read more »

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    21 September 2012

    Billy Corgan on the Community Function

    May I grab a moment of your increasingly internet-fractured attention span and focus you on this interview between T. Cole Rachel and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan on, ahem, the “state of the Alternative Community” — communities being something I care about a great deal.

    Here it is thanks to Stereogum. (Thanks Stereogum!)

    Here is an excerpt I particularly like, and bold-face on the parts I really really like:

    “Once I entered the world of honesty, circa 1992, there was sort of no going back. It’s a nice fantasy to think if someone got me some media training, I would have avoided a lot of these controversies that are really meaningless and continue to be meaningless. Secondarily, I think there’s something to be said for being principled. Like I think of Lou Reed as being principled. I think of Neil Young as being principled. There are those actors in the world for whom the principles they live their life by, in the long run, mean something. And I think that the principles that I live my life by do mean something and will look better in hindsight. Because when I was at South By Southwest … first of all, in alternative rock music, generally speaking, there have been very few bands in the past 10 years that have made OK Computer-level records. I guess you could say Arcade Fire made one, but there’s been a real scarcity in great, A-level work that crosses over into the mainstream. That’s very interesting, because I don’t think it’s a lack of talent. And if anything, you could say that technology should afford the ability to make ideal records even more easily than we used to be able to make when we had to do it all on tape. Secondarily, the main alternative voice for at least seven years now, and you could argue possibly longer, has been Pitchfork. And they have not produced the level of movement commensurate to their power. So what does that say to me? That system doesn’t work. Now it might work for the kids down in Wicker Park or Echo Park. It might work for the guy with the handlebar mustache. But it doesn’t work overall in the way that the Stooges work, the way that the Velvet Underground worked, or the Cure worked, or Depeche Mode, or pick your fucking any band that made it across the divide from being underground to being iconic. Read more »

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    3 April 2012

    Paul Farmer’s executive priviledge & the peculiar nature of “a calling”

    Awhile back I read Tracy Kidder’s excellent Mountains Beyond Mountains, an inspiring portrait of physician Paul Farmer’s work in the area of public health, specifically the pioneering work he’s done in Haiti. FYI, I was not inspired to read it by the Arcade Fire‘s charitable giving to the cause, though it’s easy to see, in this book, why they, in turn, were inspired to give so generously of their time, resources and fan attention.

    This particularly beautiful passage gives an account of what it’s like to have what they call “a calling” to be driven by that peculiarly human kind of passion, in all of its illogic. When one has “a calling” how it is is, often, just how it has to be. And don’t let my use of the word “beautiful” give you the wrong ideas. The passage is actually rather dry, delivered in the matter-of-fact manner in which, I imagine, Dr. Farmer works & thinks. The beauty is in a person hovering above the mundane efficiencies of 20th century management thinking, who knows that the way to get things done is, sometimes, to just move inexorably toward a goal with a force & intensity that others are simply incapable of maintaining.

      [The former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, Howard] Hiatt seemed to say, [Paul Farmer] should be solely engaged in the battle against those scourges, and at a level commensurate with their size. “The six months a year that Paul’s looking after patients one-on-one in Haiti, if that time were converted to a major program for treating prisoners with TB in Russia and other eastern European countries, or malaria around the world, or AIDS in southern Africa–it doesn’t matter where or what because you know he’ll do important things. Because look at what he’s done with only part of his time on MDR. Look what he’s done with his skills and his political acumen! I have been urging him to take the role of consultant in Haiti and spend most of his time on worldwide projects.”

      Farmer was forty now, and he had the credentials to operate in the way Hiatt envisioned, on a purely executive level. In academic circles his reputation had grown. He was about to become a tenured Harvard professor. He was near the head of the line for the big prizes in medical anthropology; some of his peers were now saying that he’d “redefined” the field. As for his standing in clinical medicine, he’d become one of the doctors whom medical schools, in Europe as well as in the United States, invite to their campuses to deliver the lectures known as grand rounds. At the Brigham the surgeons had recently asked that he lecture to them, a signal honor not often granted to a mere medical doctor. He also sat on a number of councils in international health, and he’d made his views heard. But he didn’t seem disposed to abandon any side of his work, including seeing patients one-on-one in Haiti.

      It wasn’t as though Farmer didn’t want to do all he could to cure the world of poverty and disease. He just had his own ideas on how to go about it. Actually, he seemed to be the only person who understood the plan fully. A young assistant of his once said to him, in exasperation, that he had no priorities. That wasn’t true, he replied. Patients came first, prisoners second, and students third. But you could see how the assistant might have felt lost in the details.

    …and, for once, that’s all I have to say about that.

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    11 November 2011

    Two deep thoughts on community from other people

    I post these two passages side-by-side because they’re more connected than you might imagine.

    First, a rant by the eminently make-fun-able (but still preeminent) music industry firebrand, Bob Lefsetz.

      Once upon a time, centuries ago, when we all lived in little villages, you had your fame. You were the blacksmith, the singer, the storyteller. You had a defined role and if you did it well, you received accolades, everybody in your hamlet knew who you were. As far as worldwide fame goes, most people had barely been to the next town, the concept of spreading your ideas far and wide didn’t even cross your mind.

      And then came modern transportation and media and suddenly, you could reach everybody.

      This was a thrill. Not only for the performer, but the audience. Instead of being restricted to the talent in your local burg, you could be exposed to others, with a different voice, a different viewpoint, in many cases with superior talent.

      And by time we hit the era of network television, there were very few slots, and if you made it through, you’d truly made it. That was the goal, to make it.

      Artists want to be heard by as many people as possible. If someone tells you they’re satisfied with a tiny audience, they’re lying. Art is expression. It foments understanding. You’re filling a hole inside yourself and the satisfaction comes when you realize you’re filling the same hole in others. And no matter how many holes you fill, you still feel empty, it’s the artistic temperament.

      And then the filter was tightened even more, during the MTV era. It was harder to make it, harder to get your video on television, but if you did, you were instantly nationally famous. You achieved that goal of mass exposure overnight.

      But now that’s impossible. Unless you stab or shoot someone, commit a crime. If you do something outrageous, there are Websites devoted to exposing you, never mind YouTube. But shy of that, it’s nigh near impossible to reach everybody.

      And this has got all artists scratching their heads.

    A next a passage from The Geography of Nowhere, the similarly excellent, albeit similarly ranty book by James Howard Kunstler.

      For all practical purposes, Schuylerville became a colonial outpost of another America. Its impoverishment is one of the untallied costs of the policy of limitless “growth.” The leading business establishments in Schuylerville these days are the two convenience stores, each operated by large chains — call them X and Y. The main east-west road through town, Route 29, has become a major “feeder” for Interstate 87, and the convenience stores were built to take advantage of that traffic. They sell gasoline, milk, beer, cigarettes, soda and snacks. Plenty of local dollars are spent at the X and Y stores too — at times, the whole population of town seems to subsist on Pepsi Cola and Cheez Doodles. Perhaps in the future people will look back at convenience stores with fond nostalgia, because they are the late twentith-century successors to the old general store that sold a little bit of everything. But there is one big difference — the X and Y stores are not owned by local merchants.

      The X and Y corporations pay property taxes to operate their stores in Schuylerville, and a percentage of the county sales tax they pay is returned to the village via a rather abstruse political formula. The stores also furnish a handful of minimum-wage jobs. But what they take away contribute to the town is far less significant than what they take away: the chance for a local merchant to make a profit, to keep that profit in town, where it might be put to work locally, for instance, in the upkeep of a hundred-year-old shopfront building downtown, or a Greek Revival house on Pearl Street, or in the decent support of a family. But that profit does not stay in town. Instead, it is funneled directly into distant corproate coffers. The officers of the X and Y Corporations, who do not live in Schuylerville, have no vested interest in the upkeep of the 100-hundred-year-old shopfront buildings or the Greek Revival houses there. (They may not even know what they town looks like, or a single fact of its history.) Their success is measured strictly by the tonnage of Cheez Doodles and Pepsi Cola they manage to move off the shelves. Read more »

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    24 October 2011

    Some thoughts about politics, music and Rough Trade

    UPDATED NOVEMBER 7, 2011: Soon after posting this I discovered a great full-length BBC documentary about Rough Trade posted on Vimeo. I’ve replaced the Raincoats video that led this post with said documentary. (The Raincoats song is now at the end of this post.) I’d recommend watching the doc even before checking out the book on RT if only because music only really lives & breaths when seen & heard. Contrary to reports, I have not been watching the documentary on repeat since the original posting date of the first BLOG. I’ve just been occupied.


    Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore separate. There’s protest in the streets again. Everything is born again & everyone dies. And sometimes people blog about it.

    Anyway, here’s an excerpt from a book I’m reading about Rough Trade which somehow has everything to do with this.

    GINA BIRCH: Before moving to London, I’d been at Trent Poly doing a Foundation Course and while I was there I got involved with what you might call a conceptual art tribe, people involved in Art & Language. It was very political because there were always lots of factions, but it was also very exciting. When I moved to London, though, and started studying at Hornsey Art College, although the course I was on was interesting, and it had some interesting fellow students — like Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter, who painted horses, and Anish Kapoor — there was no core to it, no tribe like there had been in Nottingham, so I became lonely. I was living with a bunch of drug dealers in Islington when Neil from the Tesco Bombers said I could move into his squat in West London. This was a squat within a group of squats and this became my new tribe. Richard Dudanski, who played drums in The 101ers, was there with his partner Esperanta, whose sister Palmolive played in The Slits.

    There was this great community of punks and hippies and everyone joined in. We all used the Tea Room, which was kind of a local café and food co-op in a squat where for 20p you could get brown rice and vegetables, a pudding and a glass of sarsaparilla. The punks the hippies really joined at this point and in some ways the DIY ethic chimed with many of the hippie ideals. I supposed that’s what we were, really — middle-class punk hippies.

    It’s good to realize who you are. It’s good to realize how you do. It’s good to show no shame in it. Another excerpt after the jump. Read more »

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