ISSUE 13   FALL 2002
page 14 of 16




photo from




An emo journal by Brad Sonder

Took a Wednesday off from work and went to Detroit on Tuesday afternoon. Saw the Charalambides and Windy & Carl play at Stormy Records, a store in the city of Dearborn that Windy & Carl own. Even though record stores usually aren't the greatest venues for bands -- performance energy doesn't conduct very well in a room designed for browsing, and it's often like watching a band play in a hallway -- the Charalambides played a haunted quiet dreamy set that made these sorts of things irrelevant. I can still hear Heather Murray's unaccompanied pedal steel solo, in which she kept doing these dives/lifts, each one of which rearranged my imagination. Windy & Carl played one long instrumental piece that actually reminded me (no drugs) of lush vegetation and/or a painting that looks deceptively simple but reveals more detail if you stare at it. Both bands did music that could non-ironically be described as beautiful. Noodling it was not.
       After the show we needed to come down to earth a bit; it was time for some food and lodging. We got a room at the Mercury Motel, only a few blocks down the street from Stormy. Windy herself told us that it seemed to be a reputable joint, but had never stayed there. Reputable, sure, fairly, as well as being kind of run-down and overpriced at something like 57 bucks for what amounts to about a 35 dollar room. Our first room was more like a 30 dollar value -- our feet actually hung off the end of the bed and the TV didn't work -- so we got a different one. It was better, more like 40 bucks, so it evened out to 35.
       In the morning we drove into Detroit proper to see the Heidelberg Project, where artist Tyree Guiton has taken a run-down block and covered all the houses and empty lots with his distinctive brand of crazy-quilt montage/assemblage painting and sculpture. Apparently the city or neighborhood decided to tear down most of the houses that he had painted, so now he's covering the empty lots with art instead. I can see why houses were torn down, because it is a run-down neighborhood, but no new houses have been put up, so what's the point? Apparently the only person interested in actually revitalizing the neighborhood is Guiton, besides some guys around the corner who were putting a new roof on a house, even though it seemed to be barely standing itself.
       From Heidelberg we decided to drive downtown and just look around a little bit. On my previous visit to Detroit, almost seven years ago in 1995, the downtown had struck me as completely abandoned, and I spun dystopic descriptions to whoever would listen. (Mostly Mrs. Sonder.) These tales included each of the following mythical images: 1. an abandoned skyscraper (complete with boarded up and broken windows) 2. a steady presence of homeless people (walking the street in a daze exactly like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead) 3. small geysers of steam pumping out of every grating in every street (as if the diseased city was literally choking out smoke) and 4. (as if sent by a humorous God mocking the city's 'ghost town' status) an actual fucking tumbleweed blowing through the sparse city traffic.
       This time it wasn't really like that at all. Either my initial visit was on a Saturday or a Sunday, when the downtowns of most cities are relatively quiet, or Detroit has undergone some revitalization in the last seven years. Perhaps both. Either way, this visit was on a Wednesday, and there were quite a few people walking around downtown who obviously had some legitimate work-week business going on. The geysers of steam were still plentiful, but no tumbleweeds, and none of the skyscrapers seemed to be abandoned. I was quite disappointed because I had always remembered Detroit as one of the most impressive real-life science fiction landscapes I'd ever seen. Now it just looked like another slower-paced second-tier Rust Belt metropolis.
       A quick look through the Cass Corridor neighborhood yielded much the same results. Back in 1995, my band played a show in said neighborhood, very close to the Wayne State University campus, at a now-defunct coffee house called Zoot's. It was a coffee house in a bad neighborhood, and it felt more like a bunker, a place to hide out from the night of the living dead. Still, feeling cooped-up and adventurous about twenty minutes before dark (and at least an hour before our turn to play), Chris Heine and I walked to a corner grocery store two blocks away. It was packed with gangsters and bums shouting at each other, and we were aggressively panhandled every step of the way to and from. I still remember the exact words and delivery of a line I got from one business-minded Yaphet Kotto-lookin' mug: "Give me a dollar so I can buy something to drink like y'all have." I knew we were almost literally next door to the Wayne State University campus, but if the neighborhood was a student ghetto, I sure wasn't seeing too many students (although it did seem like Heine and I were about to learn a lesson). Perhaps the Cass Corridor was more of a student ghetto in 1965, when it was the home of the TransLove Energies movement, a rock 'n' roll/poetry movement centered around Wayne State students like John Sinclair, whom you can read much more about in Cary Loren's half of this issue.
        Now, the Cass Corridor is neither a student ghetto or even a just plain ghetto; it's a student shopping mall. It looks like any mildly cheesy college-town city center, complete with Kinko's and Subway. Stand at Woodward & Warren and you just know that within 2 minutes you could buy a baggy sweatshirt with a college logo on it for 59 bucks. On my last visit such a thought would've been, well, unthinkable. Ah, but even with college sweatshirts and lo-cal fast-food on display, Detroit is still a run-down, mean, dirty city. Wayne State and the Downtown are two islands in a vast shanty-town morass. Mrs. S commented more than once that the neighborhoods, such as those in and around the Heidelberg Project, resembled those of a poor southern town...not even a city, but a small town. (Although the Cass Corridor has some short bursts of nice, early 20th century big-city row houses.)
          And now for the "music angle": as we were going south on Gratiot, in between the Heidelberg and Downtown portions of our trip, we saw a sign for something called "The Eastern Market." We thought this might be some sort of open-air Turkish street market, like the one me and Margie visited in Berlin, Germany, and we wanted to get some of that food. Ah, but the "Eastern" only referred to East Detroit, and it turned out to be just a big parking lot/pavilion kind of area, surrounded by a cluster of antique shops, and eateries that were surprisingly close to brewpub. Marge has been keeping her eye out for good used furniture, so we parked and got out at one of the bigger antique stores. Didn't catch the store's name, but they had a very large stone fountain out front, which passers-by kept asking about. "Does the fountain work?" "It's got a big crack in it, but it works," came the answer from the guy in charge, several times. He was a calm guy with a mesh desert-style sun-drape hanging down from underneath his baseball cap. Didn't catch his name either. He had a beautiful mint condition Califone-brand record player sitting out front on a table, the kind that have a built in speaker and fold out of their own built-in carrying case. All you have to do is take it anywhere and plug it in. I asked the guy with the drape if it was for sale, and he smiled and calmly said, "Hell naw."
       It was windy outside and the sun was warm. The classic windswept midwestern parking lot. Just another frontier outpost, far from the great coasts. Could've been Omaha or Kansas City. A lady, who had been standing outside when we got there, was talking to the guy in charge about a friend of hers who was going to meet her there. This friend, who was an actress in the TV show Roc, had been introduced to her by Martin Luther King's daughter. The chronology seemed plausible, and I found myself thinking, "Well! Six degrees of separation indeed!" I mentioned this to Marge later. She responded that she had also heard the woman talking about her interesting friends, and had assumed she was delusional. Marge is always right; of course the lady was delusional. And I fell for it!
      After the lady was done talking for a bit, the guy with the drape turned to me and drawled, "I did just buy a whole bunch o' records. 45's, if you want t' see 'em. Zalot o' good ones in there." I said I definitely wanted to see them, and he ambled over to his truck and unlocked the door. On the passenger side were a couple of boxes filled with plastic bags that were filled with stacks and stacks of old 7-inch singles, one right on top of the next, with no sleeves or paper covers in sight. "They was in a closet in a houssat burned down, but th' dude pulled 'em out an' cleaned 'em up and they still alright. I mean, lookadis," he said, pulling a couple out, "Izzgot some marks on it, from the smoke, buh-thass clean, mm play good."
       With that, he walked over to the Califone and put one of the records on the turntable. Three or four people came walking up. One man was big, in his fifties or sixties, wearing a nice suit. The sound of very scratchy vinyl came into the air, turned up loud through the small Califone speaker, followed by a beautiful wash of horns, strings, and a funky guitar groove. Just as the music surged, an angelic falsetto voice sang out "Keep on truckin' babe...." and the big man in the suit said, triumphantly and in a deep voice, "Eddie Kendricks!" Hell yeah, I thought. The song was beautiful, and looking through more records, I realized I had my hands on a treasure trove, with records by James Brown, B.B. King, Marvin Gaye, and Parliament mixed in with lots of promising obscurities. There were lots of smoke rings, or dust rings, or something rings on them, but the guy in charge said, more than once, that he was gonna give 'em all a good cleaning before they were all for sale.
       He had talked to a dealer about him stopping by to take a look and maybe buy the whole stash. I asked him how much he hoped to get, and he said, "Well I know what I got here, so he can't gimme nothin'!" By this time he had followed up the Eddie Kendricks single with a scratchy version of "People Make the World Go Round" by the Stylistics, a song from 1977 that I knew from a pristine CD version on the soundtrack to the Spike Lee movie Crooklyn. This sounded different, and it wasn't just because of the scratchy vinyl and analog soul. "The Stylistics?" I asked the guy, demonstrating at least some street cred. "Naw, zuh remake!" he answered.
       Meanwhile, the man in the suit was also checking out some of the titles. "A lot of interesting stuff in there, I bet..." "Just reading the titles is interesting," I said. Right then, he unearthed a B.B. King record. "B.B. King," then he read the song title: " 'Mashing the Popeye'. Okay! That's interesting, all right!" "Mashing the Popeye???" I said. "Not one of his bigger hits." After this exchange, I sidled up to the man in charge. "How much for that Eddie Kendricks?" "Two dollars," he said. "Two dollars a record." I surprised myself with my rejoinder, because I've never been much of a haggler. "How about two for three dollars?" He accepted without hesitation. I had already found a good ten or even twenty obscure soul records that looked well worth taking a chance on, but I'm no professional DJ or hip-hop producer. I was gonna narrow it down to just a couple good ones. The Eddie Kendricks was a must . . . I already had it in my hand. Pretty soon, while the man in charge talked to other customers, I was over there manning the Califone myself, playing stuff like instrumental James Brown b-sides, and "Close The Door" by Teddy Pendergrass, which I vaguely remembered from its brief stint as a Top 40 pop hit when I was young. I ended up getting four singles for six dollars, an altogether pleasant consumer experience. They were:

Eddie Kendricks "Keep on Truckin (part one)" b/w "Son of Sagittarius" (Motown Yesteryear Series, 1973)

A-side, as alluded to above, is fucking beautiful and should be one of the all-time classic soul tracks. It already is among tons of people, but it has yet to be revived by nostalgia radio. In a way I hope it isn't. On Side B, submerged under the stormy crackle, is an only slightly more rote tune that sounds like blaxploitation soundtrack stuff. (Title has that aura as well.)

Teddy Pendergrass "Close The Door" b/w "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose" (Philadelphia International, 1978)
I actual remember this song from when it was a minor FM radio hit. It was 1978, and I was seven or eight years old. I also remember, not too long after that, Teddy Pendergrass having an accident that left him paralyzed. Then, in the 80s, there was Eddie Murphy's routine about how just a few notes sung by Teddy would have the women in the audience tear off their panties and throw them onstage in a hysterical frenzy. After all, according to, "[Pendergrass's] 'For Women Only' concerts make Luther Vandross shows seem tame in comparison."
        Then, in the 90s, I bought the self-titled 1973 album by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes from a used dollar bin. I had never made the connection that it was Teddy Pendergrass, here just the young frontman for Melvin's group, who originally sang "If You Don't Know Me By Now," the song made famous in the 80s by British pop darlings Simply Red. But, spinning the album, I made the connection quite heartily: the man can sing.
        "Close The Door," being from a few years later, seems to bear the influence of Larry Carlton and the Brecker Brothers, a harbinger of "quiet storm" and "smooth jazz" radio formats. Still, Teddy Pendergrass is a lot like the George Jones of R&B; he has a deep, totemic voice that stamps any and all maudlin backing tracks down. Flip side is a more upbeat number, slightly reminiscent of the Jacksons' single from the same year, "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," but not possessing all of that song's top-notch cartoonish joie de vivre.

Lenny Williams "People Make the World Go Round (Mono)" b/w "People Make the World Go Round (Stereo)" (Atco, 1972)
The aforementioned cover version. Pretty effin tight -- a less MOR, more street version of the Stylistics hit, with a more struttin' bass line and lots of wah-wah gtr-application. (Dig the synth solo too.) Same song on both sides, one a mono version and one a stereo version. I can't really tell the diff between the two. I'm not really a big audiophile. How could you be with all the crackle on these weather-beaten sides? The stereo side skips a lot more, that's for sure. Anyway, who is Lenny Williams? Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, he was signed by Atlantic and recorded his version of this in-demand Thom Bell/Linda Creed composition (the young Michael Jackson also did a version). Unfortunately for Williams, the Stylistics got their version out first, and it became a hit, stealing all of Williams' thunder. It didn't set him back, though; he joined Oakland's mighty Tower of Power and sang on some of their most classic material, such as "What is Hip?" And his version of "People" kinda rules, so he should have no regrets.

Brother Jack McDuff "Black Is!" b/w "Win, Lose or Draw" (Cadet, 1968)
A funky struttin' instrumental single by the legendary organ maven. Makes me think of a time when it was actually worthwhile for groups to record a quick number like this and get it on radio in Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, etc., and make money doing it, because the instrumental caught people's ear on the radio in between the vocal sides, and they said things to each other like, "Who's this, Brother Jack McDuff??," and then they went out and bought the 45 to play at parties. Does anything like this happen today? Is this how DJ Shadow's career works? Dunno. Side two, appropriately enough, is a serviceable party number but a little less distinguished.


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Confessions of a Social Alcoholic