Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free Sandwiches


AS I was walking to a part-time job Sunday in near-zero(F) temperature, through the Cass Corridor, Salvation Army "Harbor Light" vehicles scouted the area for homeless people. Not finding any on the streets-- or anybody at all, except myself-- a small truck pulled up near me. A window rolled down and a middle-aged white woman handed me two sandwiches wrapped in a sheet of paper. She might've had stacks of them in the back. "God bless you," she said, and drove off.

When I arrived where I was going I ate one of the sandwiches, gave another to a co-worker, and read the letter they'd been wrapped in.

Of course, part of the deal of accepting aid is receiving a sermon. The letter contained a sermon, centered around the fact baseball player Ty Cobb, with the highest lifetime batting average, got a hit one out of every three times at bat. The story encouraged the reader to change his definition of success. "This story touches your heart because you'd like to make good all-the-time too." "--you're not a failure! Don't lose hope in yourself-- call on the Name of Jesus. . . ."

The sermon was centered on the ideas of failure and success, and, concerning Jesus, seemed to be missing the point. An itinerant preacher subsisting largely on handouts; crucified between two criminals, his movement at that moment shattered, Jesus was hardly a worldly success in his own lifetime. He strove not for "success," but for Truth.

I examined the flyer. It wasn't from the Salvation Army after all, but a place called "Ja' Noah House" in Livonia. Maybe they were affiliated. Maybe the woman was a Samaritan free-lancer.

Why did Harbor Light Mission shut down in the Cass Corridor anyway? Complaints from the gentry? Homeless are still in the neighborhood. They didn't go anywhere. Harbor Light is gone, but contrary to what you hear, the boozhies are still not moving into the area in droves. "Name it 'Midtown' and they will come," someone proclaimed. They're not coming.

So ends my own sermon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Entreprenurial Spirit

LATELY, as the temperature dropped, I've seen several crude hand-painted signs strategically placed about the lower Cass Corridor advertising "ROOM AND BOARD," and listing a phone number. On one of the signs, extras were mentioned, including free food. Cheap residence for the area's homeless? The other day i finally spotted the advertisied abode: an abandoned building with plywood panels erected from the inside to fill in the structure's holes from its knocked-out windows. An effort I could appreciate-- someone becoming an entrepreneur with no money and few resources.

Global Warming Prematurely Announced

No signs of it in Detroit right now.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What Is a Growth Art?

A growth art is an art or sport which is new or has been stagnant for a long period and is positioned to explosively grow.

Arts can be charted, roughly, as one would a commodity, an industry, or a stock. The cycles tend to be long term, analogous to a commodity like gold.

Sports in America first exploded in the 1920's, because of the appearance of charismatic athletes like Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, but also because the times were ready for them.

As pointed out by Roger Kahn in his 1999 book, A Flame of Pure Fire, boxing led the way, when after the Great War many of the prohibitions on the sport were lifted. The Dempsey-Willard crowd in Toledo, Ohio in 1919 of 20,000 was the largest ever. Within ten years crowds for major fights exceeded 100,000.

Golf's first surge occurred in 1960 with the rise of Arnold Palmer, soon accompanied by golfers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as talented as he was. A second bounce came ten years ago with the arrival of Tiger Woods. Because comparable golfers have yet to follow, the sport now, for all its success, looks to be a "sell."

Arts behave in the same fashion. Popular music became an unstoppable force with the onset of rock n' roll in 1955. It peaked artistically in the late 1960's; in business terms, and its position in society, somewhat after. The periods of innovation are over. (A sure sign that Rock is Dead is that every music critic alive is stuck in the past.) One sees across the landscape thousands and thousands of bands, singers, acts-- a relentless bombardment of recycled sounds and poses.

The field I've been promoting is the essential art of oral and written language known as literature, whose role in the culture has been declining for eight decades, since the Golden Age-- Hemingway Fitzgerald Sinclair Lewis Dreiser Dos Passos Dorothy Parker of the 1920's. It's due for a rebound. One has started. I've positioned myself to be at the forefront of that move. (No one-- NO ONE-- stages and promotes more exciting literary shows than myself.)

Whereas, because of the era, in the 1960's Jim Morrison was persuaded to change from poet to rock star, I advocate the reverse, recognizing that the talent and charisma which will rescue literature will be found not in sterile college writing programs but among young creators of rock n' roll, whose current art is at a dead end and who need to pick up paper and pen instead. Musicians, put down your guitars!

Exciting days are ahead.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Arts Will Save Detroit

Detroit's business leaders need to quickly get out of a 20th century mindset and realize this is 2008 and we're IN the future. Sustaining the auto industry is fine, but thinking in terms of old-fashioned physical industry is not how this city will survive. Failure to adapt to new realities is why this area is stagnant.

What Detroit needs to do first is stop playing defense and go heavily on offense-- HEAVILY, directly at other cities' strengths in areas where Detroit can compete and win.

I recently returned to Detroit after living and working the previous years of the decade in Philadelphia and New York. I know what those cities are doing right and I see where they're vulnerable.

Where is their industry? Why are they thriving?

The 21st century will be a battleground not of physical industry but of media and mindset; of culture and the arts. Detroit needs to quickly get up to speed and start competing in these areas, which it's not doing at all. Positioning for the future is happening NOW. Cities need not just physical plants but to plant their names in people's heads, which is done through art, media, and culture.

In these areas New York City appears dominant, but I've walked its streets and felt its vibe, seen its changes, and tell you it's vulnerable. It's already peaked, has nowhere to go but down. It has killed its artistic roots, its pools of new artistic ideas and talent. It's become too expensive to live for all but the rich and so original artists are fleeing New York. Artistic stagnation is everpresent; in New York's air. For the first time in 80 years America's capital city of the arts is vulnerable.

Detroit's strength is in the strength of its name; in the world-renowned street-cred and edginess of the Detroit name; a tremendous resource waiting to be exploited.

The city's ability to realize its potential lies in exploiting the Detroit name, in creating and promoting Detroit art, Detroit culture; BUT-- the push has to be in growth arts, undervalued arts, and the arts pushed have to be transformed and transformative. Or: not the same-old same-old. No genteel comfort zones. The future lies in finding and announcing the new; representing, as a city, NEW art, new literature, new culture.

I'll be more specific about this in future posts.

Observation #3: Michigan vs. Detroit

As the very competent host of the Beaner's event read an essay about searching throughout the state for the perfect cup of coffee, I saw in stark contrast before me the different images of "Michigan" and "Detroit."

"Michigan" is quaint, homespun, and boozhie; a reservoir of safety-- a mild kind of rurality-- no dark Faulknerian characters or Blackolive outlaws-- more a melding of rural and city; a woodsy suburbia. Which is nice and pleasant and safe but hardly saleable.

What sells in the global marketplace isn't "Michigan," but "Detroit." DETROIT! What the world wants from this area in cultural terms is Detroit: uber-tough factory spawned hard-edged and dangerous authenticity. Detroit's hardship is its selling point.

Which is why all attempts to bring "Michigan" into "Detroit," into the great tragic mythic history of Detroit, to make this colorful spot into Anyplace USA, is to kill your greatest asset. THAT will be real failure.

Unless. . . .