Movin' fast, doin' 95
Hit top speed
But I'm still movin' much too slow
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(thanks Shawn Wilson)
“Detroit, Rock City,” a hair-metal period-piece, tells the story of a city that no longer is. Released in the heyday of hard-edged rock in Detroit in 1976 on the KISS album Destroyer
, “Detroit, Rock City” describes a typical Detroitian youth’s angst-filled Saturday night antics: “First I drink, then I smoke, start up the car and I try to make the midnight show.” Sadly, this song was a tribute written to a kid that died on the way to one of their concerts. This underlying sense of melancholy is reflected in the starkness of the lyrics, like mundane urban snapshots of a world before smart-phones and laptops, where youths had to roam around in their cars on a Saturday night for kicks (drinking and driving, no doubt), and their favourite song on the radio was a momentous occasion. “I hear my song and it pulls me through, comes on strong, tells me what I gotta do.”
It’s difficult not to draw a comparison between the scenes described in this song and the brilliant coming-of-age cult film America Graffiti
(1973, directed by a young George Lucas), where all the kids do during the whole movie is roam around in their cars at night listening to the radio. Unlike American Graffiti
, which won a Golden Globe Award, “Detroit, Rock City” didn’t make great waves in the charts, although it has become a retrospective fan-favourite.
Unfortunately, Detroit is no longer Rock City any more than it is Motor City. Between 1950 and 2013, Detroit has depopulated by over 60%, a figure that is inevitably rising with each passing day. Considering that Detroit isn’t even the murder capital of the U.S.A. anymore, we can assume that these statistics are due to people migrating out of the city. There are so many derelict buildings in the Detroit area that even plans to demolish these abandoned buildings have been abandoned. By a 2013 estimate, there are 70 000 derelict buildings in Detroit, and these ruins have become objects of fascination and attraction for photographers, giving rise to the term “ruin porn” to describe these ominously beautiful pictures. Needless to say, the photographers don’t stay very long in Detroit after taking their not-so-happy snaps.
The Fox Theater in Detroit
“Rock City” has become a perfect example of a modern-day ghost town, and I don’t think KISS had depopulation in mind when they sang, “Get up, everybody’s gonna move their feet. Get down, everybody’s gonna leave their seat.” The question is, how did Detroit turn from a Rock City into a ghost city? The answer is: recession. As the industrial age sputters to a halt, manufacturing centres like Detroit (the birthplace of the American car industry) are the hardest hit, transforming into bitter urban wastelands reminiscent of sets from Mad Max
(1979 , directed by George Miller).
When you think of Michigan, think Great Lakes – Michigan has the longest stretch of freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world, and is hemmed in on three out of four sides by four out of the five Great Lakes. In fact, Michigan literally means “large lake” in the Chippewa language of the indigenous people (this language is also known as Anishinaabemowin – now try saying that with a mouthful of popcorn).
Among the funereal accounts of the city as it now stands, let us not forget that Detroit, in the good times, was the home of Motown, a prominent cultural centre for musicians signing the likes of the Jackson Five, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. After this ‘60s and ‘70s explosion of beautiful people and the moving of Motown to Los Angeles in 1972 in anticipation of the city’s decline, Detroit-based rockers took over with a harder edge than what was being heard or performed elsewhere. “America’s Only Rock n’ Roll Magazine,” CREEM
, was established in Detroit, coining the descriptions “heavy-metal” and “punk rock” as this new wave of angry rockers flooded the scene, with Iggy and the Stooges, Alice Cooper and KISS at the helm, re-establishing this city’s musical reputation in Motown’s wake.
Although Detroit is considered the birthplace of the genre of techno, we will try to overlook this tragic musical blunder and focus on the rappers, of which Eminem, Insane Clown Posse and Kid Rock are the most prominent. For a city of just over half a million people, where the remaining population are either packing their bags or dodging murderers in derelict buildings and dark alleyways, this isn’t a bad list of important names, and Detroit should be given due credit. But going from Motown to techno in less than a decade? Really? With the exception of the White Stripes, clearly all of the good people had already left the city by this point, leaving Eminem, Kid Rock and some “boom-boom” makers to fight it out amongst themselves. It’s enough to make you cry.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
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