We're a year old this month and a year older. The alternative culture is a year older too, a year further out of adolescence or a year deeper into it. Whatever, we thought to take stock of the home front as we see it; where we've been and where we are, and maybe we can draw some conclusions as to where we're going.
The alternative culture in the Detroit/Ann Arbor community is first and foremost a rock and roll culture. Whatever movement we have here grew out of rock and roll. It was rock and roll music which first drew us out of our intellectual covens and suburban shells. We got excited by and about the music and started relating to each other on the high plane of energy that has come to be associated with our community; it is around the music that the community has grown and it is the music which holds the community together.
The reason is simple: there isn't anything else here. It isn't a street people's community because there are no street people. We're too spread out for that - it's forty miles from Detroit to Ann Arbor and the northern Oakland County area that is the present hotbed of teenage upheaval is equally distant. And it's not a dope subculture, not at its core. A dope subculture is based on transcendental experience, rooted in the mystical and dwells on the aspects of the sublime, but the sublime could never catch on in Skonk City, USA. It's not that it isn't attractive, it's only that it isn't relatable. Life in Detroit is profoundly anti-intellectual. If you live in San Francisco or New York, the traditions are there, and even if you reject them wholly you've been shaped by them. Detroit is completely lacking in that climate; our institutions are industrial and businesslike, not cultural or intellectual.
Detroit has never been accused of being a fashion center; the new waves are only ripples in the midwest. People aren't drawn to Detroit, though thousands came to work in the factories. Chairmen of the Board aren't intellectuals, they're merchants. The top intellectual stratum, for the most part, is made up of engineers.
But too often fashion centers are fad centers too. This or that may be derivative, but what we've made ourselves is as real as the foul breath of the Ford plant or the scum in the Detroit River. But all of these things are subconscious; we're really not aware of the things we missed and we do seem to get by all right with what we've got.
And, like we said, all we've got is rock and roll. Rock and roll gave us immediacy, energy, release; what we were looking for. And it taught us to prize those qualities above all others and to look for them in everything else: media, politics, everything.
So we call it rock and roll culture and apply it to everything; "Zabriskie Point" is a rock and roll movie (above and beyond the soundtrack) and 'Woodstock Nation' or 'Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me" are rock and roll books. We've carried rock and roll beyond a mere musical form and made it a lifestyle.
The lifestyle, like the music, is naive, crude, adolescent, simple and simplistic. Those are the reasons that we have the reputation that we have, those are the reasons that we fall into the traps that we do and those are the reasons this is occasionally the most vital music scene in Amerika. Our youthful exuberance is at once our primary asset and our greatest fault. A year ago it seemed to us as though Detroit/ Ann Arbor was going to be the next nexus of the alternative culture. It wasn't.
We were giving a party, but nobody showed up. And all those extra hats and everything. "A year ago Detroit was the most vital music scene in Amerika. Nothing was happening in New York, San Francisco was dead or dying and Chicago hadn't had anything going on since Bloomfield and Butterfield were jamming at Big John's and Mother Blues. And now it has a reputation as being a sham, it ain't together and people can't even work with each other," said Bob Rudnick, who at one time or another has been a disc jockey and journalist in New Jersey, New York, Detroit and Chicago, and Minister of Propaganda for the White Panther Party.
What's been happening with us this last year?
The Grande Ballroom, which was the first ballroom outside of San Francisco, and a year ago was the oldest continually operating ballroom in the country, has closed and reopened and reclosed and reopened so many times in the past year that we finally stopped writing about it. At present it's closed, but we can't really be sure. Russ Gibb, the disc jockey-turned schoolteacher-turned entrepreneur-turned disc jockey who started the Grande has moved into the eight month old Eastown through an on-again-off-again-on-again partnership with local Bob Bageris and Chicago's Aaron Russo (the intricacies of which we've also stopped reporting) and the Birmingham Palladium, a reconstituted municipally-owned suburban teen club, (in partnership with Punch Andrews, who also owns Silverbell and Something Different, two smallish teen clubs, rumored to be folding), and a revitalized Walled Lake Casino (once an amusement park/greaser hangout), in partnership with Gabe Glantz, who owns fifty percent of everything Gibb does. If this smacks of oligopoly, it ought to; the music business in Detroit is at present in the hands of a tiny group of neo-moguls. None of these men are evil, or even particularly venal, but they are surely willing participants in a capitalist system which tends to concentrate power in the hands of a very few. Moreover, they are clearly not of the people who form the community/ audience.
In the classical model of oligopoly, an industry tends to become more closely held and made up of fewer producing units as the rigors of competition and the economies of scale dictate merger, consolidation and clandestine cooperation. Just so in the Detroit club and ballroom scene. The effect of the original Detroit merger was that the Grande, which had moved down the street to the Riviera Theatre, closed with the Eastown remaining open as a partnership venture. The old Grande then re-opened only to close a couple of months later because it was too much competition for the Eastown. Couple this with the near-disappearance of the Midwestern club, once a phenomenon in itself, and the result is that emergent bands have damn few places left to play. This, for years, was one of the ways in which so many bands could survive; a heirarchical scale had been developed, which bands moved up and down on. Only the better local bands could play the Grande but, until they got that good, they had loads of other jobs. And now they don't.
The teen clubs have folded as a result of too much competition, both from the local ballrooms and the large-scale pop festivals which, last summer, drew hundreds of kids from their own communities almost every weekend. Couple this with the soaring prices of rock acts and, again, you have a classical capitalistic situation. You simply can't compete with a room that can double or triple your capacity and can pay prime prices for talent as well. And the people have come to expect the Big Show, the one that will cost the club owner prime prices.
A parallel situation exists in the local booking agencies. The big shot booking agent until three or four months ago was Mike Quatro; Quatro was forced out of the booking business due to the fact that he was taking commissions on the concerts which he promoted, a tactic which is considered illegal or at best unethical. Quatro's agency was sold to Diversified Management Associates (the agents are Quatro's old employees) which has, at this point, managed to obtain "exclusive Michigan booking" rights to fifteen major Michigan bands.
The only other booking agency of any consequence is Jeep Holland's A2 Agency, which at one time had a monopoly on Grande bookings and exclusively booked almost all of Michigan's top bands. Jeep himself has recently ceased booking groups, leaving it up to his subordinates so that he can concentrate on management. But the effect of the situation is that most small bands are not dealt with by DMA, which books both of the large ballrooms, at least in terms of local acts. Just another hardship in the development of local talent.
The one organization that should be able to control any excesses in other areas of the music business, the union, is controlled in Detroit by the left-over 1930s dance band musicians. Detroit's Local 5 was the scene of the one power play by rock and roll musicians in union history. Dennis Day, a former band manager, had become a union business agent interested in unionizing rock and roll groups. "The union had no one who knew rock," Dennis said.
In 1967 he joined the union as a replacement for Jim Cassilly (presently managing Teegarden ∓ Van Winkle), trying to institute programs for rock bands. "The only avenue we had to eliminate the bullshit," Dennis said, "was the union."
Day organized the clubs and began to set up the Junior Guild; lower initiation fees, special scales and a whole program of business and technical advice were to be offered to musicians. Unfortunately, the New York office of the Union had declared those kind of programs illegal; "You couldn't be half a member of the union, you had to be a full member" and the Junior Guild was considered a sort of half membership due to the reduced Initiation fees.
But Day pressed ahead with the program, helping others set up the program (Local 47 in Los Angeles, notably). The union was freaked; they realized that rock was taking over but they had no idea of how to deal with it. They moved in to squelch the work that Day was doing; their very power base was threatened. "25 rock musicians could take over the Ann Arbor union," Dennis said, "In Lansing maybe 50; here in Detroit it'd be 500."
By early last year Day had become exhausted; he decided to take a leave of absence. "When I went to pick up my last check, it wasn't there. They'd locked my briefcase and all my personal possessions in my office after I'd given them back the keys. They implied that I had taken union money, illegally - never said it outright, just implied it. I had to come back on Monday with my attorney, John Levy to get my money and my briefcase."
It was obvious harassment; "the unions are very political," Day noted and went on to add, "they actually let me take more stuff than I actually should have."
Day was replaced by Dave Kimbler, whose father is president of the Pontiac local. "Kimbler destroyed the Junior Guild and he was fired," Dennis said. "Then they hired Gar Paskell, 'Who's really fighting; but he's running into the same things I did."
What the Junior Guild was to provide was an educational process with its own rules, regulations, teenage scales, a four track studio for learning purposes only and audition nights to let business people in the community hear new bands. It never happened; at least, it never happened the way Dennis had envisioned it.
Last summer at the union's national convention, the emasculated Junior Guild was approved by the national union. Dennis feels that he was made a fool. "I believed in a principle that was not being executed on the bureaucratic level."
But the Union has now introduced the audition nights, which points up the internal problem within the rock community; at first, the response was great but, as time wore on, attendance became very sparse. Rock musicians as Dennis puts it, "are bitching musicians. But they won't get up on Sunday morning to vote."
His attempt to organize the rock and roll musicians on a statewide level was a dismal failure. The rock and roll musicians just don't understand power in those terms (another case of our classical naivete) and the powers-that-be don't have any idea of what their power could be, Dennis thinks. "The unions could control every aspect of the music industry. Every aspect - record companies, ballrooms and clubs - all of it. But they don't.
"Everything's wrong with it and nothing's right with it...the principle is right but the people instituting the principle are wrong,"
At this point it looks like the rock kids will continue to get shafted, continue to support the union hierarchy with their work dues and continue to complain and do nothing. "They could easily take over the union," Dennis says, "but they never will."
While the union may not be attuned to the community, Detroit's underground FM stations are well geared to their audience. Progressive rock FM stations are by now an established phenomenon in this country; the unique thing about Detroit's stations is their close relationship with the community they serve.
A year ago it was safe to say that WABX held the undisputed lead in FM broadcasting in the Motor City; WKNR did garner many young listeners with Russ Gibb's weekend shows and their greater transmission power. WXYZ, the ABC-network LOVE station, had even greater transmission power but little else to attract listeners. But, abundant as progressive rock was on Detroit's airwaves, WABX was still king of the hill.
WABX attained its position through its total assault on the community. They had one of the prime air personalities on either AM or FM in Dan Carlisle and it was Carlisle who came up with several of the promotional gimmicks which led to ABX's position. The station also had, last spring, a short-lived program which featured John Sinclair. Sinclair was on the air with Jerry Lubin, to make certain the irrepressible John didn't get too far out of hand. The Sinclair,/ Lubin affiliation folded rather quickly, however, due to the management's inability to relate to Sinclair's just emerging politic. Politics and radio in Detroit seemed to be rent asunder at least temporarily.
In the spring, though, Bob Rudnick and Dennis Frawley, a pair of media gypsies from New York, arrived with an already established program which had been recently scratched at WFMU in New Jersey. The Kokaine Karma show was one of the better utilizations of air space in radio history; besides the music, which ranged from Fats Domino/Little Richard segues to whole sides of Archie Shepp, the show also had Bob's acid tongue and Dennis' laconic wit to comment on some of the more controversial aspects of the alternative culture's contemporary affairs. As the summer wore on, and despite the 2 to 6 a.m. time slot, the Karma show became more familiar in Detroit.
WABX as a whole was basically continuing with its past efforts to support the community; the station has, since its inception as a rock formatted station, provided free advertising to local organizations who are throwing benefits and the like. It also placed great emphasis on music produced by local bands. (In fairness it should be noted that these precedents have been followed up by both WKNR-FM and WXYZ- FM). They had a complete series of summer concerts planned for the city's parks, which were remarkably successful, a series of free movie previews and weekly rock and roll news, a series of half-hour cultural news segments.
By August several developments had occurred. For one, Carlisle was being wooed away from WABX by WKNR-FM. More significantly, Rudnick and Frawley were in danger of losing their show; Rudnick claims to have been told that they were "playing too much jazz" and his heavy-handed blasts at innumerable sacred cows, both local and national, weren't going over too well at the management level either.
Then, in one incredible day, Rudnick and Frawley were fired, without much explanation from WABX, and Carlisle resigned. Dan's resignation said that he was quitting because of "WABX's refusal to offer a competitive salary" and because of "the firing of Rudnick and Frawley." Carlisle chose, of course, the proper move to make at the proper time; it's clear that Dan would have left, regardless of whom the station fired or hired. He made that clear to the area in an article in CREEM at the time. But his resignation did have one remarkable effect. John Detz, WABX station manager, offered Rudnick and Frawley their jobs back; Dennis accepted. Rudnick, who's not exactly known for his lack of pride or ability to exist in a restricted situation, didn't. Whatever, the war of the radio stations was on.
That war quickly descended into pettiness. It's almost impossible to say who struck the first blow; at any rate, the whole thing has been blown out of proportion until now the stations resemble warring feudal duchies. The effect on the information getting out to people was about the same as those wars for the serfs; if you speak to a staff member of one station, you're treading on thin ice with the other.
OFF TO PART 2!