Extra! Detroit, Detroit, got a hell of a hockey team…

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I didn’t write about Detroit after we’d been there in the Spring of last year – it seemed too easy to get things wrong, to be a rubbernecking tourist come to see America’s most famous dying city. Yet that’s not how Detroit appeared to us. Yes, it would take the sort of money only hosting an Olympics or a World Cup would provide to rebuild the infrastructure, and way more than a hipster influx to bring back some neighbourhoods from their desolate brink, but there was a real spirit there, in the University, in the Detroit Institute of Art, in Jack White’s Third Man Record Store on the Cass Corridor, at the great letterpress print shop Signal-Return, and in the Shinola factory, successfully bringing jobs and pride back to the Motor City. Reading Drew Philp’s nuanced piece in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, adapted from his book, about buying a house there (Buying a $500 House in Detroit: bidding on the soul of my city) took me back to the questions of gentrification and industry and community that we talked about as we drove around 8 Mile.

[Above: Downtown from Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney building]

ONE PARTIAL PLAYLIST FROM THE JOE LOUIS ARENA, DETROIT RED WINGS GAME
In a blue-collar, hard rock town, I was hoping for a little more local talent to show up on the soundtrack to our first ever Ice Hockey match. Maybe a little MC5, or some Bob Seger. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Ted Nugent, even (well, on second thoughts, not Ted). Something by those sons of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Iggy and the Stooges. Anything made at the legendary Motown studio a few miles up the Boulevard. Not a bit of it. Here’s what I jotted down during the game.
– “Zorba the Greek”, by Mikis Theodorakis (the stadium is near the Greektown area of Detroit)
– Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (no surprise there)
– Generic Scary Horror Film Music
– A fair bit of EDM. (Actually a horrible amount of EDM)

– Randy Newman’s “You Got a Friend in Me…”
– Something by Aerosmith, I think

– Soft Cell, “Tainted Love”
– Chubby Checker “Let’s Twist Again”
– The headbanging bit from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
– The strutting bit from Elton’s “Bennie and the Jets”
– And some silent movie/Benny Hill-type musical interludes, usually accompanying a moment of humour. Or a fight on the ice.

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TWO 8 MILE LOW
There was no Eminem heard at the Ice Hockey game, and I guess that it’s stupid to think that they should play some locally-grown music at every game. But it did seem like a lost tourist opportunity that the house that Em grew up in – famous from his first two album covers – is no more. It’s now just an empty lot on Dresden at Eight Mile. We put “Lose Yourself” on the car stereo and stopped to take some pictures…

[Above: Red Wings’ Pennants/Gettin’ down at Dresden]

THREE COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES
The Motown Museum (the studio is in one of eight houses bought by Berry Gordy on West Grand Boulevard) has its feet firmly planted in the glory days of the 60s and early 70s, and is therefore a nostalgic blast. You’re hustled through pretty quickly (as Berry Gordy knows, time is money) and the shop is a strange mishmash of postcards, random CDs and out of date merch, but it’s still a thrill to be in Studio A, to stand under the hole in the ceiling (Motown’s secret echo-chamber) and to see the Gordy’s upstairs apartment in its mid-60s glory, looking for all the world like they’ve just stepped out to take the kids to school.

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FOUR THE BEAT GOES ON
From the obituary of Motown’s Sylvia Moy by Richard Sandomir in The New York Times, about her work with Stevie Wonder: “There was an announcement in a meeting that Stevie’s voice had changed, and they didn’t know exactly how to handle that,” Ms. Moy said in an interview after her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. “They asked for volunteers. None of the guys would volunteer. They were going to have to let him go…” [I said] “Let this be my assignment – I don’t believe it’s over for him. Let me have Stevie.” She said that she asked Mr Wonder to play some of the “ditties” he had been working on, but she heard nothing that sounded like a hit. Then, as she was leaving, he played one final snippet of music for her and sang, “Baby, everything is all right.” There wasn’t much more, she recalled, and she told him that she would take it home and work on the melody and lyrics. With the songwriting help of Henry Cosby, a Motown producer, “Uptight” was completed. In the recording studio, though, there was no transcription of the lyrics into Braille for Mr Wonder to read from. So Ms Moy sang the words to him through his earphones. “I would stay a line ahead of him and we didn’t miss a beat.”

[Above: Moy, Wonder, Jamerson, Van Dyke and White in Studio A / Visiting Studio A / Detroit detritus

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[Above: Diego Rivera’s astonishing Detroit Industry Murals at the DIA. The workers come out well / Shinola, the calmest factory environment I’ve ever been in

FIVE WORDS FAIL
We drove to Detroit from Niagara Falls, where we sadly had no time to see Jefferson Starship (featuring Mickey Thomas) or BJ Thomas, or even to visit the Rock Legends Wax Museum.

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Thursday, 23rd July

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

misty

The sound of a saxophone drifts over Drapers Field in Leyton as I head to the Olympic Park. I walk into the playground and sit down nearby as I realise it’s “Misty” that he’s working things out on, looking down at his iPad for the sheet music. After congratulating him I walk off, only for him to start “Danny Boy”, which I have had on a car playlist for the last week, as essayed by the wonderful Ben Webster. Spooky…

EMINEM’S BOX OF WORDS
“I’ve got letters that look like this, and they’re all from crazy people”, says Anderson Cooper to Eminem as he contemplates his crate full of notebooks in a fascinating interview. I like it when Em reads a sheet that Cooper hands to him, and decides not to read it out, as he may “use that…”

eminem

EMERALD STREET FLAGS UP A MUSICAL MUST BUY
“It was meant as an insult. And she’s a theremin player! a friend once said, finishing her dismissal of another woman with venom. In the context of the rest of the speech this somewhat obscure swipe made sense: the theremin player was beautiful in a left-field way, frostily pretentious and given to sleeping with other people’s boyfriends. Her instrument of choice shared the first two traits. So, what is a theremin and what do they have to do with Us Conductors? A theremin is a musical instrument, where the sound is produced by moving your hands through an electric field. It sounds quavering, beautiful and faintly unearthly. Us Conductors by Sean Michaels is roughly based on the instrument’s creator, Lev Termen, a Russian engineer who, acting on the orders of Lenin’s government, took his invention to America in the 1920s. This timeline forms the first part of Us Conductors, remembered by Lev as he travels back to a gulag in his homeland. He addresses himself to Clara, a young American and his ‘one true love’. The American memories are full of starry parties with a Glenn Miller and George Gershwin soundtrack. (Michaels’ background as a music writer really comes through when describing concerts and improvisations.) They shimmer with early love and bootleg liquor, even as the Depression begins to bite. The second half of the novel is written in a simple and spare style, in keeping with its gulag setting. It’s harrowing and we are unsure if Lev’s love for Clara and for science will sustain him.”

THAT’S DOCTOR COOPER CLARKE TO YOU, SIR!
Great advert for the National Trust using a specially-commissioned poem by JCC, Nation’s Ode to the Coast. Listen to the bit where the “That’s where the sea comes in…” line repeats at the end, where he slips a wonderful drawled yeah… in the tiny crack of space between.

A big fat sky and a thousand shrieks / The tide arrives and the timber creaks
A world away from the working week / Ou est la vie nautique?
That’s where the sea comes in…

Dishevelled shells and shovelled sands, / Architecture all unplanned
A spade n bucket wonderland / A golden space, a Frisbee and
The kids and dogs can run and run / And not run in to anyone
Way out! Real gone! / That’s where the sea comes in

Impervious to human speech, idle time and tidal reach / Some memories you can’t impeach
That’s where the sea comes in / A nice cuppa splosh and a round of toast
A cursory glance at the morning post / A pointless walk along the coast
That’s what floats my boat the most / That’s where the sea comes in…
That’s where the sea comes in

ONE THING THAT SLIPPED THE NET
“She’s Got You”, by Rhiannon Giddens at Islington Assembly Hall, a couple of weeks ago. The great Patsy Cline classic, written by Hank Cochran, here stripped back to a choppy acoustic backing with added moaning cello, courtesy of Malcolm Parson. Giddens’ powerful voice is foregrounded, moving through a very straight and precise opening verse before gradually loosening it up. By the end, allowing a little vibrato and a little country sob to creep in, she turns bluesy and, tracked by the cello, brings the song home with a beautiful flourish.

SEEN IN COVENT GARDEN: SHOESIC?

shoesic

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