mr. zilla goes to town

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

More mid-westerning

As I alluded to in a previous post, I spent a three day Thanksgiving weekend (with a day's road trip each way) out in the unwilds of Detroit and Michigan.

As we were returning to my friends hometown and staying with his parents, I received a full and enthusiastic dose of midwestern-momming. (It's kind of like back home, but without the pumpkin scones). I still have half an enormous apple pie in my fridge that was impressed upon me before departure. And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving with a turkey so big 16 people couldn't dent it. As we all lay about in tryptophan comas I swear I saw it get up off the table, smack on a few band aids and wander back to the farm, ready for next year.

Detritus Detroit. It's hard to imagine an inner-city quite so gutted. (Unless you've seen Robocop, of course). Fully one-third of the land in the actual City of Detroit is either a gutted low rise or vacant and often chain-linked land. Most cities have outskirts, Detroit has inskirts. The most expensive suburbs and sub-townships in metro Detroit are those furtherest away to the northwest. Whether through industrial design or the complete lack of public transport infrastructure, there is no obvious glue, no centrality, no vitality to slow the past 50 years of "white flight" out into the limitless flat surrounds. And the white flight isn't just white, for fifteen years at least I'm told it has been black as well.

And yet... and yet. In the last 20 years Detroit has given the world a unique style of techno music - an evolutionary futuristic urban sound a world away from railspike Chicago or skymanic New York. I think it was Richard Flanagan, author of Gould's Book of Fish who from his Tasmanian hideaway said that great culture comes not from the centre, but the edges where perspective lies upon the frission and the fixture. Here in the ruins were just a bunch of guys - Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Eddie Fowlkes - with a vision and a garage and a trunk of creativity, and they just went and did it. That's supremely cool.
It also makes me want to go back next year for the strangely opinionated Detroit Electronic Music Festival which has been running since 2000.

The weekend also held some "touch" gridiron on some snow-driven Michigan high school tundra. I'd like to say it was with some hardcore boyz from the 8 mile... but the real 411 is that it was a bunch of preppy jewish lads who complained that the damn aussie played too rough when they fell over in the mud... :-)

Finally the drive back to DC featured a 3-hour detour from the Pennsylvania turnpike to avoid a bunch of road accidents. Turning upland across through Maryland and down along the border of West Virginia... where the men are very menly... like the one who walked down the shoulder of the highway in an orange hunting jacket and a monstrous rifle over his shoulder... maybe America is out there, out there. From the size of that gun there certainly seem to be elephants.

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