ln certain ways of course the competition is beneficial, as in certain ways all competition can be beneficial. But for the most part it represents a siphoning of energies that could be better used in finding creative joint solutions to community problems. If one goal is to get more outside money into the community, how much more effective bargaining could be done with a united front? Instead, rivalry lays both stations open to the kind of games that straight businessmen play so well. To use this country's perverse economic system for the community's good requires that one understand it; it is not enough to be assimilated by it. It's the difference between being a mechanic and being a tool. The stations have lost the forest amidst the trees and have been sucked into vindictiveness and competition of the most picayune sort, and all of them and ail of us are suffering from it. Essentially, the problem is one of non communication. How can people doing the same job in the same community not speak to each other?
They speak with pride of becoming more "professional," but what they have in fact done is succumbed to corporate consciousness of the most basic sort. It's one thing to read the rating services and think of ratings as a tool with which to manipulate corporate owners and advertisers, but to take them seriously, to take pride in rating superiority as an end in itself, to forget you want those numbers and to worship the numbers themselves is something altogether different. It's petty and stupid and boring and antithetical to what our community, supposedly their community, is all about.
Despite the absolute inanity of Brother John and the greasy LOVE format, WXYZ is making a valiant, though perhaps vain, attempt to improve its generally abhorrent programming. Since the Love format does not provide for any live, on-the-air shows it can't rise beyond a sort of pretaped mulch. But, if WXYZ is planning the experiments they say they are (and what they say isn't too definite, just that it'll be far out) it might be successful. After all, it is the most powerful of the three stations. And, whatever its defects, a tape recorder doesn't give a fuck who you ate dinner with last night.
Despite all that, and without questioning the veracity of everything above, Detroit still has the heaviest radio scene in Amerika. If that appears to be a contradiction, chalk it up to that youthful naivete we mentioned earlier. The dj's and station managers are young, under thirty for the most part, and there's still a whole lot of hope left; at least the music played is better than the Muzak one receives on the waves of AM. In a certain sense, in fact, Detroit's underground radio is a microcosm of its entire rock and roll culture.
When we talk about naivete in terms of Detroit/Ann Arbor's rock and roll community, we mean exactly this kind of naivete, which leads one to believe that you can play all the old games and get away with them, if you just change their names. And when we talk about an air of adolescence, the radio stations again point up what we mean; it's exactly that frustrating air of pettiness that makes them so impossible to deal with that is one of Detroit's greatest enchantments/faults. The radio stations are crude in the sense that we're crude; in trying to be suave, they often fall flat on their faces. And their simplistic ideas about what makes radio tick and their audiences are there reflect, again microcosmically, some of the entire community's favorite fantasies as to why certain things go on in this world. The currently favorite fantasy being the tendency of bands to think that record companies are set up to benefit bands. that all that front money's free. Whereas, in Amerika, nothing is free.
That's the essential problem with that ruling clique (and, to be sure, there's a tiny oligarchy which rules each and every segment of the Detroit scene). They tend to relate to everything, quite naturally, based on their own experience; and that experience, frankly, is not very, broad. It leads to things like the radio situation, the oftentimes abysmally poor choices bands make of which record company to sign with and the total communication breakdown between the oligarchy and the community.
We've mentioned some of the names of the rock and roll powers that be. The amazing thing is that the average Detroit band doesn't know who these people are. There are any number of kids who move in their circles, who hang out at their clubs; rock and roll kids. But with the exception of Russ Gibb, who has gone out of his way to make himself a public figure, most of our rock and roll moguls are inaccessible and unknown to the community at large, even to that special segment of the community whose lives are wholly given over to rock and roll, whose livelihood depends on rock and roll. Not a conspiracy, but rather a kind of spirit gap; the people who wield the cultural power are not of the culture, and for the most part keep their distance.
Detroit has a vigorous underground press, who might do much to bridge the gap, at least informationally, between the oligarchy and the community as a whole, but for the most part the underground press (The Fifth Estate, The South End, The Metro) is oriented towards the radical vanguard and not towards the community at large. Detroit underground newspapers are not rock and roll newspapers, even in our broad use of the term.
The Ann Arbor Argus is a rock and roll newspaper, and perhaps currently one of the two or three best underground newspapers in the country (like all underground newspapers, the Argus has monumental ups and downs), but it is fairly insular in its Ann Arbor orientation.
Ann Arbor is pretty much Detroit's Berkeley. Warmer than Detroit, smoother, more satisfying, Ann Arbor will get your clothes cleaner. And - it's biodegradable. There's certainly an overall Arbor/ Detroit sense of community, but the pace of the two places is different. Detroit people go to Ann Arbor to rest up; Ann Arbor people never go to Detroit, except on business.
Ann Arbor gave birth to the White Panther Party, our indigenous revolutionary operant; revolution for the hell of it. The WPP was originally pretty much a vehicle for promoting the MC5 as the first in a projected series of "guerrilla rock and roll bands." This is not to say that the political orientation was in any way a sham. But the original WPPA was, with YIPPIE!, a truly post-McLuhanistic political party. Originally the Party was pretty much a free-form endeavor, but of late, with repression becoming infinitely more real and immediate, the Panthers have begun to take themselves a good deal more seriously. Whatever one thinks of their ideology and rhetoric, the WPP has become an effective radicalizing catalyst in the Ann Arbor/ Detroit communities.
For one thing, it is around the WPP, and the imprisoned John Sinclair, that the STP (for Serve The People) coalition was formed. Imperfectly, but better than ever, the amorphous STP coalition, has united the diverse political and cultural elements of our community behind concrete projects. STP may well be the most important development of the past year.
Its first project was the two-day; John Sinclair benefit, which netted $8,000 for the Sinclair Legal Defense Fund, and it has now thrown its support behind Open City, the apolitical Detroit community service organization. Open City provides the much-needed medical, legal, housing and job aid that would otherwise be completely unavailable to the rock and roll community. Though the concepts of a switchboard and the individual services are not unique, the idea of having all of them under one roof is a step forward. Whatever its faults, Open City is the one project that you have to relate to in Detroit, if only because all of the work that it does is essential.
Like we said, this is a rock and roll culture. What about the rock and roll?
Musically, Detroit seems to have peaked out last summer, at least temporarily. No new bands of any particular significance have surfaced since, and the bands that have been around for a while have been getting sloppier and less innovative. It may be the Michigan winter, and the residue of ice and cancer it leaves in your guts; it may be that the tightening grip of the money moguls has taken some of the excitement out of the scene for the bands - very prominent rock and roll business personality, no matter what his principal occupation, owns a band, and uses his influence peculiarly in their behalf - but the bright promise of last spring has gone largely unfulfilled.
There are 400 rock and roll bands in Detroit and Ann Arbor, 1,500 union musicians under 25, and we used to be proud to say that a good many of them, in any given weekend, could blow any "national" act off the stage. You don t hear that boast very much any more. Detroit/Ann Arbor bands have always been people's bands - the only difference between the performer and the audience was the placement of the guitar, and everybody knew, dug it - and one of the great strengths of our community was its sense of itself, the pride we took, and were justified in taking, in our music. You don't feel that pride (and sure, it was sometimes just chauvinism, but so what?) very much any more. The local bands don't get the receptions they used to. Maybe the people are getting jaded - there's always been so much good Michigan music around, so accessible - but it's a well known fact that most top Detroit bands can't afford to play Detroit, because they can command much higher prices almost anywhere else.
The fact remains, though, that there's more rock and roll here than anywhere else; we probably are jaded. We may have lost our perspective, and this goes for the bands as well as the audience. On one hand, we've come to expect a tremendously high level of energy in our music; on the other hand, a lot of bands seem to have come to think that musical inventiveness consists of no more than turning up the amplifiers. It wasn't just volume that made the MC5 high energy, that has given Detroit music its vitality.
But we should make clear that when we criticize, we are dealing from strength. In Detroit we have all the elements of the most high-powered rock and roll culture in the country. Now and again we've proven what we can do; we'd like to see it sustained, and carried to a higher level. This means a more constructive sense of community, a higher level of awareness, a more reality-oriented approach to our situation.
This is the youngest rock scene in America; the music is younger, the musicians are younger and the audiences are younger. Members of rock and roll bands generally range in age from 18 to 21, or thereabouts. They obviously haven't had much experience in dealing with shysters and stickies and they obviously haven't had time to assimilate a lot of what the older musicians in other areas have. When rock and roll wasn't a viable musical form, they were too young to know it. For the most part they didn't turn to jazz or folk music, and then turn back to rock and roll, the lessons of the other musical forms assimilated; they never turned away from rock and roll in the first place. Our people are young, adolescent, naive; it gets us into a lot of trouble sometimes, but it produces a fresher, less self-conscious sort of music than can be heard anywhere else.
We must come back to the centrality of rock and roll to the life of Detroit's alternative culture. Our alternative community could not exist without rock and roll, because rock and roll is, like we said,, all we've got. Detroit's rock and roll kids are rock and roll kids like no kids anywhere else in the country; rock and roll is uniquely central to their lives. Again, their lives are based on rock and roll music. They listen to more of it, are more involved in it, have come to depend on it more than kids anywhere else. If you're a kid in Detroit you either hang out at a club or ballroom and have your free time filled by music, or you don't hang out at all.
We have to keep coming back to, and emphasizing, that central fact about Detroit; Detroit is such a unique hotbed of rock and roll because the kids are so deeply involved in it. Rock and roll is their whole lifestyle and they know no other. They've followed the bands around, hung out at the ballrooms, maybe played in a band or two and that's all they do. And, it bears repeating, that is because there is nothing else, at all, here to do. If you're not into rock and roll, you're not into anything; if you don't hang out at the ballrooms, you don't hang out. That trite old line about "his music is his life" applies here not only to the musicians but to the audiences. There is an integral association with rock and roll here, a nearly symbiotic relationship between the bands and their audiences.
Where do we fit into all of this?
Within the community, we ought to be the stuff that runs between the subatomic particles, the tightly bound power blocs that run rock and roll in this area. We should convey information and apply pressures that may rationalize their interrelationship, give each part a sense of the whole and spur them on to work for the good of that whole. We can also popularize, rationalize (in another sense of the word) our experience as a community for the rest of the alternative culture, in the hope that focusing attention on what we have been doing may benefit people both within and without Detroit.
Still, we're consciously more than a community newspaper, and the scope of our involvement with the alternative culture goes beyond the boundaries of the Ann Arbor/Detroit area. We're one of maybe five or six national magazines of the alternative culture, and as such we have something to say about more than just what goes on in our own neighborhood. Still, even within this broader framework we're a Detroit artifact. The style of the Detroit scene is our style. Our orientation, our self conception, our likes and dislikes are products of our experience as members of the Detroit/Ann Arbor community, and the kind of contribution we can make to the media on a national scale is similar to the kind of contribution that we feel Detroit/Ann Arbor artists can make to the overall music scene.
As we've said, our bands are people's bands. Similarly, we think of ourselves as a people's magazine. We want to be "professional" only in terms of our access to information and our efficiency in putting out our magazine regularly and consistently. We do not think of ourselves as professional journalists and we do not want to adopt that distant, oracular stance of professional journalists. We do not want to be another Rolling Stone. We are aware of the hazards of a self-conception. We would not turn CREEM into an in-groupish trade paper even if we could. We have seen the counter-productive effects of cliquishness on our community and we do not wish to export that.
We hope to bring a fresh, vital, high energy perspective to bear on our culture. We are a rock and roll magazine, with all that that implies. Our culture is a rock and roll culture. We are rock and roll people. We've been doing this for a year, and we're getting better at it, but we're nowhere near as good at it as we think we can be. We don't want to be slick, but we do want to get tighter and faster. That's what we want everybody to be, and we hope we can all do it.