“Midwest Medley 12/09/2015”

“A Little on the Midwest Concert Experience… Dispatching from Amish Country”

Sleater-Kinney’s got me singin’, Sleater-Kinney’s got me blind, Sleater-Kinney’s got me hopin’ that I’ll be holdin’ that paper stub tonight. But alas, I’m stuck at home here in South Bend, Indiana, a couple hundred miles down I-94 from Detroit, with no car, no one to go with, and no day off tomorrow.
I can FEEL it though… I can feel these ladies’ zeal for music, for making all things one, fusing everything with a mental punch bowl of love and urgency, punctiliousness and power. Their holistic minds are more than proven at many times in Carrie Brownstein’s recently unleashed memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl [1], whether it’s their indulgence in an Armistead Maupin [2] book-on-tape on the tour bus, or Corin Tucker’s “Sound guy” project where she interviewed and profiled the sound guy at each show throughout one of their tours… or, indeed, the very pertinacity of Brownstein’s detailing of this.
Detroit is sort of a trippy, twilight zone type place for many reasons, and the band’s relished “Hitsville U.S.A.” site of their facebook photo from today is a great embodiment — it looks like some tacky southern ice cream shop. There’s nothing “tough” or masculine about it, just like, indeed, there was nothing tough or masculine about Motown music. Then eventually, Detroit music did get “tough,” which is probably why Motown disintegrated.
One time, after a Modest Mouse show, I called out to this crowd “Does anybody know the name of the last song they played?” and this dude, who was walking with like four friends (I was with one friend) replied, “Your mother’s a wh**e!” That’s the type of place it is. This placid girl ended up smiling, turning around and answering my question (“One Chance”), but I guess that was my little “Taste of Detroit.” Whew, I’m stuffed! No room left for a hot dog.
Lansing is pretty much completely white trash. I went to a show up there of a Chicago BAND, and it was awesome, The Clergymen, but I had to sit around watching the movie American Psycho on three TV’s at full volume, and there were like no other bars in sight. The opening band, hometown kids (literally, kids,) covered “Seven Nation Army.” Awww.
Chicago is Mecca of concert going — see High Fidelity, see Steve Albini’s spiny opinions on everything — but the Midwest is a place where most people do work daunting schedules; [3] I even remember Billy Corgan bemoaning this in an interview one time, that no one would ever be able to come to his show.
Champaign, Ill. is home to Polyvinyl Records, which now hosts two not excellent, but elite, Pennsylvania bands — Pittsburgh’s Aloha, and Philly’s Beach Slang. “Ni**az don’t know,” articulates Raekwon in the spoken-word interlude of the Wu-Tang song “Redbull,” alotta stories came outta Philly. Did they ever, whether it’s a bartender from my town getting “taken home” by a girl there, to my account of going to the Roots’ mural unveiling, meeting Mr. Black Thought who was basically the epitome of a ray of happiness and approachability.
Pittsburgh is my hometown, that’s all there is to it. I walked out of a Califone show one time at the Thunderbird Cafe on Butler Ave., [4] and immediately found a punk show going on right across the street, having heard the loud noise booming from over there. The music was great, too — it was totally original, sort of like the Melvins but more rhythmic, and more metal, and it made me think something totally twisted, new and great was taking place in the steel city on a large, but undetected, scale.
I’ll generally avoid the state of Ohio at all costs short of distending a testicle, and when I drive to Pittsburgh I even prefer to go down through Indianapolis, which takes longer but saves you the doldrums of the aesthetically unbecoming Cleveland. Kurt Vonnegut remarked in Slaughterhouse-Five that Dresden in the wake of the gargantuan bombing “looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio” (he hails from Indianapolis, 100 miles west on I-70). I consider Columbus a pretty decent town to walk around in, but no famous music ever comes from there, go figure [5].
[1] The title is taken from a Brownstein-penned S/K song “Modern Girl,” which draws from her mother’s eating disorder during the artist’s youth.
[2] Armistead Maupin is ground zero of gay San Francisco hipness in the ’60’s and ’70’s — dry, uncompromising yet oh so sociable!
[3] Currently in my home library there’s a book, The Midwest: Myth or Reality?, in which the crux of the argument is basically that the Midwest exists for the purpose of producing goods for the rest of the country to enjoy, whether they’re steel, iron, corn or wheat, while itself, miring in relative misery and inability to enjoy said goods. It’s compiled by a Notre Dame professor.
[4] This is a neighborhood where I once saw a dude literally skateboarding at like 30 miles an hour down this busy street, through stop signs and everything… Pittsburgh I guess is distinguished from the Midwest by its hilliness.
[5] Whereas Dayton has boasted The Breeders, Guided by Voices, Enon and Brainiac, Cleveland an eclectic bevy from Nine Inch Nails to Bone Thugs to Tracy Chapman to Chrissie Hynde.



“Why Couldn’t Detroit Make Viable Music to Serenade the Artillery’s Whispers in Vietnam?”

Well, could it be because Detroit made Vietnam look like I Love Lucy?
As far as I know, there’s only one Motown song that ISN’T about a love interest, and that is the one CALLED “War”… Chris Tucker has a great scene in Rush Hour of dancing to this song, but honestly, I think it would be a better SONG if it were about some old bag ex-girlfriend, sort of like Bobby Digital’s cut “Domestic Violence” off his first albums. And really, black people never seem that concerned with war. Their lives ARE war, already.
But the question remains, if Detroit could have somehow made music to harpsichord the cognisant consciousnesses of our nation’s pacifistic dissenters, would the city still be economically ebullient? Iggy Pop was a narcissistic junkie (an incredibly skilled and entertaining one), the MC5 really wasn’t that GOOD, necessarily, and Ted Nugent as we all know was a political conservative.
Nugent like guns, hated hippies, I guess. So did Detroit actually just get what it WANTED all along? In these misanthropic times, what could be more satiating than a healthy jaunt through downtown at noon on a Saturday in which you DO NOT SEE A SINGLE SOUL ANYWHERE? And indeed, a burgeoning manifestation garnering considerable online buzz from facebook roughnecks throughout the Midwest is the idea of the sort of lingering pride Detroiters wield, and hold up to the rest of the world. It’s like it just makes sense to them.
Jack White moved away, but most Detroit artists stay in the area — Eminem, Nugent, Black Milk et. al. And Milk never mentions war, but does bemoan in “Keep Going” the “’68 Detroit riots / It’s a recession.”

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