Tuesday, December 30, 2008


A jailed mayor; collapsing school system; collapsing industry; and a failed football team. Has any city been hit by so much bad news in one year?

Friday, December 12, 2008


Richard Shelby, Mitt Romney, Thomas Friedman, Mike Gallagher, etc. etc etc.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I was at a public event this Saturday evening, at the heart of the city, when the host mentioned the auto companies, and the large audience broke into strong, spontaneous applause-- myself included.

This is simply because we know this town is being beat-up by the rest of the country right now. This great city, with a tremendous history and legacy of so much value to the nation, is in the biggest crisis it's ever been in-- one not of its making. If the auto companies fold there will be nothing left. But if Detroit survives, it might signal a long-term bottom, from which, with the worst over, it can climb back upward.

Anyone raised here, as I was, has the auto industry in their soul. Cars are in our blood and I've realized since I returned it's not easy to get them out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


There's a huge contradiction in self-described conservatives who claim to be interested in America's defense yet are willing to flush America's industrial base down the tubes. This country's military might has been based on the "Arsenal of Democracy"-- its industrial power.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How to Go on the Offensive

To get a better shake nationwide, Detroit needs to vastly increase its media noise and leverage. Like Dorothy in Oz with her ruby slippers, Detroit has that power and has always had that power.

Bureaucrats or Pirates?

AT THE SENATE HEARINGS, Detroit's Big 3 execs should've ripped the Senators hearts out. This would've earned public respect. Instead they said nothing, looking to the world like incompetent stooges. In those hearings, THEY were their brand. Fast? Energetic? Forceful? Dynamic? These adjectives were nowhere to be found.

Detroit's problem is that it's a city not of free-booting entrepreneurs, AS IT ONCE WAS 100 years ago, but of tame ticket-punching office holders. I noticed the defeated attitude when I arrived back here a year ago, and I still smell it in the air. (Not just around Ford Field!) The city needs extreme dynamism, a go-to-war attitude if it's to survive.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Down But Not Out

Detroit is being kicked by the media and both political parties. Even John Dingell has been overthrown. There remain, however, ways to fight back, as I'll be outlining.

The Phony Liberal

Jack Lessenberry, defender of unions and workers, has never been so laughable as in trying to explain why he nevers buys a union-made car.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Defending Detroit

This morning I called in to the Bill Bennett national radio show (www.bennettmornings.com) in order to defend the auto industry against the know-nothing guest host, Kevin Wall. I was on near the end of the second hour of the program. Host Wall had his head handed to him.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Losses


Insanity is Jennifer Granholm, the Rod Marinelli of the nation's governors, being sent to Chicago to advise President-Elect Obama on economic matters.

A Loss

It's sad to see Beans and Bytes on Woodward Avenue go under. It was the only internet cafe in the city.

Defense or Offense?

Silicon Valley is now in the race to build the first economically viable electric car, moving hard into Detroit territory. Detroit needs to realize it's competing against other city-states and begin moving hard into their territory.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dream Cruise


Things are heating up downtown Detroit with the coming Jazzfest. Before any comment about that, first a belated story about the recent Woodward Dream Cruise.

I was working on the fourth floor of a downtown building one Thursday afternoon as pre-Dream Cruise activities began on the street below my window. Classic cars were on display, along with some live classic-looking "models" from the Motor City casino. I and a co-worker-- Mr. Jones-- took a fast break to check out the models of both varieties.

The event was being staged by the casino, owned by the all-powerful Ilitch family which also owns the Red Wings and Tigers sports teams as well as the Little Caesar's pizza empire. A stage was set up at which various musical acts-- some from the casino-- began to play.

Back upstairs in the office, I listened to the changing music. At one point the music became louder. A rock band of some kind, playing to about a dozen people. (The organizers of the event must've counted on an audience from the nearby Tigers game at Comerica Park-- but no one of the forty thousand suburban visitors stopped by after-- all presumably anxious to flee Detroit.)

The rock band was pretty good. After a time I realized they were great. They were playing magnificently, with tremendous energy.

The songs sounded familiar to me. Could it be-- ? Naw! No way would they be here at this tacky event playing for a handful of people. But their signature song began-- an awesome extended live version of "Get Ready."

The band was Rare Earth, who'd been known for their live sets as far back as the 1960's. They were legendary as the first and best white act signed by the Motown label. They lived up to their reputation.

When I left for the evening I joined the tiny crowd in front of the stage, as the band kicked into their finale, "I Just Want to Celebrate." Then they were finished and left the stage, as if they'd played to a stadium of people, like dinosaurs come back in a time machine. Timeless sounds and energy. Amazing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Staggering Ignorance

THERE ARE many other topics which I should be addressing here, but I have to comment about this week's column in Metro Times by Jack Lessenberry, which shows staggering ignorance about how commodity futures markets operate. (The problem with too many liberals like himself is that they spout off about subjects with which they have no knowledge whatsoever.)

The speculators he knocks, yes, are a way for producers to lessen risk, and therefore make necessary investment to increase supply of a good.

Farmers, for instance, are more likely to expand the amount of acreage devoted to growing corn, if they can sell that future crop far in advance, to ensure proper return; and guard against drought, storms, disease, and so on.

Speculators betting on the future price of corn allow the farmers to do this.

Futures prices move based on the underlying supply-demand fundamentals. Speculators can't go against the real situation without facing ruin.

If anything, their actions usually reflect the actual situation-- how the fundamentals play out. Speculators are individual investors who most often bet AGAINST the producers; against the oil companies, if you will, and are guarantors against price-fixing.

The idea that the "real" price of oil is $65 a barrel, as Lessenberry affirms, is nonsense. No, the real price is the market price-- the spot price; what is actually paid to the suppliers. All speculators have to eventually get in line with the real price, as futures contracts near expiration. They can't fight reality. All they are doing is expressing the actual reality. And so, if four months ago they were betting that $140 barrel oil reflected the actual supply-demand situation, they were absolutely correct. If the price should be $65, the futures price, if anywhere, would show this. Speculators would be pushing the price down.

If speculators are wrong, all the producers need to do is call their bluff-- by selling their oil. As I'm sure they're doing to every extent possible.

What the futures price also allows producers to do is to drill in areas previously unprofitable-- and thereby bring more supply to the table, which is the way (along with decreased demand) to bring down the price of oil.

This is basic stuff.

Yes, the price of oil has exploded far greater than wages, inflation, et.al. The reason for this is the REAL story which Lessenberry misses.

What happened in the interim?

Only a costly war that needs to be paid for. Financing the war has caused the value of the U.S. dollar to plummet. Since foreign oil producers receive payment in U.S. dollars, this means the cost per barrel, for U.S, buyers, has to increase to a corresponding amount. If the dollar drops by half, the price of oil for us doubles. Duh!

This happened once before-- in the 70's when the dollar was greatly devalued by Nixon to pay for the Vietnam War. History has repeated itself, that's all-- with the added factor of increased subsidized demand by countries like China. So the price went up. Markets are self-correcting. As people drive more fuel-efficient cars, and more oil supply is brought on-line, the price will go down. This is certain. Markets are living organisms which have to be allowed to move, to breathe, to fluctuate. Speculators, greasing the machine, allow this. The other option, to allow government or big business to determine the price, free of the markets, will lead only to economic disaster.

This is a very brief explanation of a complex situation. Unfortunately, economics is a complex subject-- and shouldn't be approached from a total lack of knowledge, as in this case.

Many of my ideas could be considered to come "from the Left," but at the same time I loathe most liberals because of their dishonesty and inconsistency. Lessenberry is a good example, and lately he's been blundering to an abnormally high extent-- as in another column where he claimed to be a defender of civil liberties while arguing for the banning of cigarettes and firearms. Uh, liberty is liberty. Either we have Big Brother regulating us or we don't.

(As for the oil companies, what we should be arguing against is the government subsidies they receive, over and above wind, solar, et.al. We should argue AGAINST government intrusion into the marketplace which allows the dominance of big oil, which in fact has an incestuous relationship with government which has nothing whatsoever to do with speculators. We should also be arguing against currency manipulation, the lack of a stable currency-- the ability of the Fed to print money at will, which enables the fighting of foreign wars; is the only way to enable such wars.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Missing Ingredient

I listened to an interesting discussion on a Detroit public affairs radio show this weekend which featured Rick Rogers of the College of Creative Studies. Mr. Rogers made some good points, promoting the idea of a creative corridor in Detroit's old Cass Corridor. Through million-dollar panel studies, Rogers has come to many of the same conclusions I've reached simply by being a bohemian: the need for density of artists in a metro area; artists serving as a magnet for population and investment; and so on.

Missing from his talk was one key ingredient: low rents! Too much low-rent housing stock may have already been allowed to burn down in the Corridor the last twenty years, accidentally or intentionally, for Roger's vision to happen.

History shows that the creation of a bohemia has been the necessary spark for a city; from the Lost Generation in Paris of the 1920's; the Beats in San Francisco in the 50's, and the rock music hippies in the same city in the 60's; and punks in East Village New York in the 80's. In some respects, Fishtown in Philadelphia now. The artists and writers involved in every instance have been of the low-rent underground variety, living the kind of lives which become the basis of legend, of romantic p.r. for a city.

(Recommended about 1920's Paris: the book Geniuses Together by Humphrey Carpenter; the Keith Carradine movie "The Moderns.")

Detroit's Corridor was closer to the ideal fifteen years ago, when it had more population along with the whore houses and dive bars which give a bohemia its artistic character.

Cutting-edge writers, artists, and musicians have always been found living ON the edge.

If anything, Rogers seems opposed to bohemia. In his talk he disdained the idea of "starving artists living in garrets." Yet I'd wager that's how many of Detroit's artists live now, from Maurice Greenia to Yul Tolbert.

Rick Rogers has a tops-down, bureaucratic approach which is badly flawed. He wants his artists to be yuppies living in sterile, newly-built condos while working draining 9-to-5 jobs for the auto companies. To realize this, the Detroit boozhie class has bulldozed, in the form of old apartment buildings and houses, the very history and character that would make the Cass Corridor a magnet and inspiration for artists-- and has simultaneously driven out the lower class population whose stories and lives necessarily broaden the outlook, and deepen the sympathy, of the artistic temperament. It's madness!

Great art doesn't come from robots. It's spawned by merging oneself with the opposite of an antiseptic environment. This is what Detroit truly offers! The artist needs around him the ferment of life; life in all its variety; a city presenting the full scope of humanity. It won't happen by transplanting suburbia into the inner city.

You want art, Mr. Rogers? Then leave your high-status position. Become a Sherwood Anderson or a Paul Cezanne. Move into a Corridor garrett and bring your friends. Make the creation of art your full-time obsession. BE a model for those you want to follow you.

(And get that book and that movie!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Exciting happenings in Detroit last week. A week ago Monday I was at Hockeytown itself late after work with a co-worker watching the game. That night downtown was full of expectation that wasn't realized until Wednesday. Friday I saw the parade, among hundreds of thousands of people, white trash mostly, with a smattering of blacks and boozhies. On the edges of the crowd, vendors and scam artists proliferated. I thought of the crowd, "These are the people we have to get reading somehow, some way." Maybe with hockey zeens! The zeen scene has made inroads into the mass public in tiny ways, but needs more ideas.

These are the people who've never been into a Barnes and Noble in their life. Find a way to connect with them and the growth curve would be as explosive as dynamite.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Saving Detroit II

DETROIT AREA leaders seem frozen in the face of impending disaster, unwilling to take bold measures, relying on the same old tried-and-failed incremental steps to rescue them. They count on the survival of the auto companies, or on continued sports team success, or window dressing like the Jazz Festival and Hoedown to see them through. Newsflash: The Hoedown will not save Detroit! All economic and psychological arrows remain pointing down.

What's required is a bold move that will put the area on the offensive; new projects that will of themselves signal and enable a sea change in p.r. climate. Projects, moreover, that will be ridiculously affordable and easy to set up. They will work by utilizing leverage this area has RIGHT NOW which it isn't properly using.
Glance at my Wikipedia entry (see link on this page) and you'll see a portion of the noise I made on the east coast, including entries in "Page Six," America's number one gossip column, which many of Manhattan's highest-paid publicists can't get their clients in. I obtained press with a handful of rag-tag writers and a nonexistent budget-- through publicity skill alone.

Publicity: Detroit needs exciting writers and most of all it needs exciting publicity; a new face and new ways to market itself to the world.

Are you paying attention yet?

No? Have you given up? Don't believe I can back up my talk?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Saving Detroit


(The Goal: People moving into Detroit from other cities, drawn by the magic of the Detroit name.)

Until the beginning of this year I was Publicity Director for the Underground Literary Alliance, the #1 underground writers group in America. Last year, England's The Guardian, in an overview of literature, "Surfing the New Literary Wave," by Sam Jordison, named the upstart ULA as one of three major literary movements on this side of the Atlantic. Though centered in Philadelphia, the ULA was founded by expat Detroiters.

I returned to Detroit late last year to visit family and take care of personal business. I decided to stick around. My first week back I stayed at the Leland Hotel. The Leland is a metaphor for Detroit: a great seedy beautiful magnificent empty place waiting to be filled.

Compare Detroit's downtown to Philly's. Detroit has the infrastructure to be as vibrant as Philadelphia: the street layout; the buildings (like the Leland); the condos, bars, and restaurants. What it needs is people!

How to accomplish that?

The tops-down approach of stadiums, People Mover, and other big-money projects is fine, but can do only so much. This should be supplemented with activity from the ground-up, which would be quicker and cheaper. The process of gentrification taking place now on a large scale in New York City and Philadelphia begins with writers and artists. (See Williamsburg in Brooklyn; Fishtown in Philly.) If Detroit became NATIONALLY known as the home of a kick-ass underground arts movement, attention and people would follow.

New York City-- including traditional writers havens like the East Village-- has become too expensive for bohemians. Through its success, New York is destroying its roots.

Where are writers and artists going? Where will they go?

Many are moving to Philadelphia. The ULA has a foundation in its hippest neighborhood. Last year I was a guest on the city's #1 public radio show. BUT, the problem with the east coast is competing with extremely well-funded New Yorkers. There are more possibilities here.

(Next-- STAGE TWO: The Boldest Move.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Key Quote

"I lived downtown, in the East Village. . . . It was very funky. New York was going through a recession. It had a bankruptcy crisis that was bad for the city but great for the arts scene. Everything was cheap, and there were a lot of abandoned buildings. The punk independent film scene arose out of that. It was very atmospheric."
-Quote from director Susan Seidelman in the book Madonna by Lucy O'Brien.
This quote is a big part of the reason why I've remained in Detroit upon my visit back. No city so perfectly fits this quote NOW.

Unless we get into a more severe recession, money and artists will continue flowing into Philadelphia and that town will become a mirror image of New York. Rents have been climbing. The New York Times recently did a big profile on hip working class Philly neighborhood Fishtown, where the Underground Literary Alliance has a base of sorts centered around cool bookstore Germ Books. Action is happening-- people, money, and business following.

An even better candidate, however, is Detroit. No American city can match Detroit's atmosphere, its tough rep and street cred-- most crucial of all, its cheap rents.

The trick is not just to spotlight, nationally, this town's artists and writers, but to get the nation's best to move here. Particularly writers.

Why writers? Because, unlike (with exceptions) rock musicians, painters, and actors, WRITERS WRITE about what they're doing. They're walking publicity machines. They bring more artistic p.r. value, which Detroit needs. And, they write not only about themselves, but about other kinds of artists. (See the Lost Generation of Paris in the 1920's.)

Gentrification is sparked by artists-- it's the easiest way to make an area "cool" and get people moving full-time into the city-- making Detroit the coolest place to live., which I assume is a goal.

The objective of course would be not just to get writers here from overpriced Philly and New York, but to convert other artists across the board into writers, as we were doing in Philadelphia-- and thereby spark a full-scale internationally known literary movement.

Does Detroit want this? Let me know.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Why Detroit. . .


In downtown Detroit, a working class city with a collapsed educational system, at Borders bookstore in the Compuware building has stood for a week near the entrance a large display called "The Clique," for stacks of New York-produced books which celebrate not the values of Detroit, but of caste-based Manhattan, a city of extreme wealth, snobbery, and unprecedented inequality.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Scapegoat Mayor

There's a relief and an eagerness about the Kwame Kilpatrick scandals. Things haven't been going well in this city-- for forty years. Suddenly the reason is found. There he is! Fingers pointing; the populace up in arms with pitchforks and torches like in a Frankenstein movie. After him! A culprit has been discovered who can now be blamed for Detroit's many problems. It's all Kwame's fault!

People seem to think we need, and can have, a Mr. Clean mayor on the order of Philadelphia's Michael Nutter, when Detroit's problems are way beyond that. With the city facing even the disintegration of infrastructure, from schools to firehouses, the only requirement now is a person of talent willing and able to turn the city's financial situation around. That's it. Personal corruptions in a crisis situation are irrelevant. The area do-gooders look to the mediocrities of City Council for a replacement, which is no solution at all.
Throughout the discussion about the mayor, the suburban/city, white-black divide in this area remains as subtext. How could it not?

The liberal media feeds into the Subtext with their headlines without context-- with illustrations of the city's failure which fail to mention real causes. The stories sustain the Subtext, this area's gigantic Godzilla monster which overshadows all. On a scale of 1 to 10 of metro area problems, mayoral corruption is a 3, auto company stagnation is a 20, and the racial divide is 100.

An irony is that the conservative business community better understands the importance of the core city. They know you cannot have a hole of devastation existing at the center of your metro area-- a vacuum into which all else will collapse. Or if you do have such a vacuum, and we do, you'd better find a way to "spin" it, to turn devastation-- grittiness; authenticity-- into a strength.

Which is where I come in.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

East Coast Follies

THOSE who look in on my other blogs know I've been busy exposing the aristocratic focus of those who run U.S. print media from their Manhattan island. Entities like the Conde-Nast empire, which cranks out many millions of New Yorker Vogue GQ Vanity Fair et.al. magazines, are dominated by upper class Brits and wealthy east coast Ivy Leaguers. They know NOTHING about the rest of this country-- and don't want to know.

It's incumbent upon leaders in heartland cities like Detroit to redo their strategic thinking. To realize that the nation-- at least its D.C. and NYC power centers-- right now doesn't understand them, or care about them (largely disdains them) and will not grant them anything. In the new reality of the global economy, the thinking has to be in competing city vs. city-- until original American ideals are restored in this country. As long as Detroit is unable to create its own national media image, it's doomed to failure.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Hot Dog Vendor


A hot dog stand has appeared downtown at Cass and Michigan, across Cass from the Federal Building. It's an open stand with an umbrella; is run by a black woman. Please frequent so we don't lose this hot dog stand!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


WHEN ONE returns to Detroit after ten years living elsewhere, it's like entering a bizarro universe.

Case in point is the article in yesterday's Detroit Free Press by Dawson Bell, detailing how an already-broke Michigan state government will be paying out-of-state filmmakers huge sums of money to make movies here. On a $100 million flick, the state will pick up $40 million of the cost.

This would make sense only if the filmmakers were building infrastructure here-- such as soundstages-- and relocating lock, stock, and barrel, including offices, including headquarters. No mention of this in the article. Without this, as soon as the massive payoff ceases, the individual movies complete, the moviemakers are gone.

This project will be paid for by a state treasury which right now contains only dustballs.

(See www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080331/NEWS06/803310344&imw=Y)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day


I've never seen so many people downtown Detroit since I came back as right now. Several bars are already full. It's obvious that the city is being sustained by bad rock bands and by sports.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mayors Aren't Important

At least, not all-important.

Who remembers the mayor of Paris during the Lost Generation of the 1920's, at which in that town congregated a host of great writers like Pound, Stein, Joyce, Hemingway?

Who remembers the mayor of San Francisco during the Beat movement there in the late 1950's? The city, if anything, was hostile to writers like Rexroth and Bob Kaufman. But what do we remember now from that place and time?

Writers and artists make a city-- not mayors.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Detroit has the infrastructure for a downtown comeback, which is vital for the area as a whole to come back. It hasn't solved the problem of how to get enough people to occupy all those condos, lofts, and office buildings.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Who Wants Change?

To change, to be at the forefront of change-- the new in business or art-- a city has to want to accept the risks which come with change. It has to want to be the best. It needs a nothing-to-lose attitude.

What I see from the media in Detroit is not the desire to change, but its opposite.

For instance: an article in the Detroit News, February 29. Front page. Headline: "GM, Ford reliability improves."

Look closer and you see that the two companies are still behind foreign automakers in quality and reliability, according to Consumer Reports. The News said, "--Asian automakers continued to dominate the magazine's best-in-class and overall rankings."

In fact, only 64% of Ford vehicles were recommended, as opposed to Honda's 100%. GM was at 30%. GM and Ford ranked ahead of only one foreign automaker, Suzuki. Chrysler, meanwhile, was dead last, tied with Suzuki at 14%.

Improvement, according to some, no matter how incremental, is improvement. The U.S. automakers are closing the quality gap, and have been closing it for thirty years. They're like the greyhounds chasing rabbits at the dog track who never catch up.

Incremental change is no change at all. Yet the Detroit area continues to think in terms of increments, when an entirely different mindset is called for.

The question remains: Who wants change?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Solution

WITHIN DAYS of returning to Detroit last fall I saw its solution, while walking downtown. It's why I've stayed around, when my original intent was a visit of a month or two. I'll be explaining the solution, first laying the groundwork for the explanation. The plan is completely do-able. I'm one of the few individuals who can carry it out.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


There's something uniquely pleasant about the first hints of spring when one has survived-- been beaten-up but survived-- a real winter, as in Detroit.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Madonna and Detroit

IT WAS INAPT for Detroit to embrace Madonna so much as one its own. She left Rochester right after high school and never looked behind her. Madonna, in fact, was the quintessential New York artist. She like so many went there to live in poverty, then "made it"-- that early Madonna best captured in the "Desperately Seeking Susan" movie. Of course, that was a different New York City from today's.

It IS apt though that Madonna has been inducted into a white-elephant museum. As an industry and a growth art, pop/rock music peaked at about the time she came on the scene. The market since has been saturated. The move is over.

The overwhelmingly majority of Detroit's artistic energy now-- 95%-- is going into music, a non-growth field. In that sense, another auto industry. Once again this area is behind the times.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hanging On

One gets a sense that this city, this area, has the mentality of "just hanging on"-- hoping for a miracle rescue to drop from the sky; in the meantime putting hope in incremental measures such as an uptick in the Big Three. There's no sense of crisis, though the area IS in crisis. Everyone is walking lethargically through their paces or waiting around.

Empty shops in the city and burbs; proprietors behind the counters waiting, waiting. . . .

The shame of it all is that Detroit has potential-- TREMENDOUS potential. To realize it the area will need a total shift in mental outlook. For starters, it needs radical new strategies for marketing itself.

Who here has the imagination to grasp this? Anyone?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hemingway's Michigan

The Michigan Humanities Council is sponsoring "The Great Michigan Read 2008," their choice of book being The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest hemingway. (See www.greatmichiganread.org) Many of the stories are set in Michigan.

To celebrate this event, the Detroit Free Press included in one of their issues a supplement with photos of Ernest hemingway, as well as one of the Nick Adams stories, "Big Two-Hearted River."

A narrative of a young man on a camping trip, it's not so much a story as a word-painting. Through patient accummulation of impressions and details, hemingway creates a three-dimensional world around the reader. the reader finds himself surrounded by the tent, pine chips, grasshoppers, axe, backpack. In that corner: the boiling pot of coffee. There: the canvas bucket of water hanging on a nail. Nearby: the ice-cold river. The reader experiences what the character experiences. There's pleasure in simplicity.

Too many literary writers without Ernest Hemingway's talent and intelligence, and without his commitment to authenticity, have clogged their narratives since with unselective details about everything-- a pathological mass of furniture and furnishings: trivial garbage. There's an inability to get to the point, and the reader snoozes off or tosses the magazine aside in disgust long before he's finished the story of artistic lethargy and dust. The New Yorker in particular with its audience of exclusivity has a fondness for such "fictions." Embracing the inaccessible is an important part of snob appeal.

Today's worst practitioners of literary Detail Disease include lauded names like Alice Munro, Jonathan Lethem, and Jonathan Franzen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

To Writers

I'll be refocusing on this blog upcoming-- have been busy writing a series on the publishing industry at
which you may wish to read.

Literature in America today is in the throes of stagnation, not unlike the stagnation of the U.S. auto industry. Its cause is the same: the built-in inertia of the bureaucratic mentality.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


The Main Detroit library on Woodward Avenue, across from the DIA, has a great exhibit of the paintings of Nigerian artist Timothy Orikri. Fabulous work-- wonderfully colorful. I felt I could lose myself in the paintings when viewing them. His work will be on display there (on one of the upper floors) through March 29. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Ya gotta love it.

RIP Doug Fraser

The last of the labor union giants; longtime sidekick to the great Walter Reuther.

Ultimately, for all the successes, the battles, the sweat and blood invested-- which I heard about at the feet of my auto worker father (went into the plants myself for awhile)-- the labor movement of the last century has to be judged an overall failure, in that the condition of working men, women, and children (see illegal sweatshops) in this country has returned to that of 100 years ago. Monopolies, now global, are more powerful than ever.

The big mistake: assuming a static universe.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Adage: "The first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one."

THE WINTER BLAST and similar affairs are fun and bring needed money into downtown, but in the long run they're detrimental because by masking the problem they allow an unreal complacency-- the bizarre forced happy face mentality that is the trademark of this town. You know what I mean-- or should.

The most obvious manifestation is the way the media treats the auto industry. Reading the daily articles one would believe the Big Three are on the rebound, doing things right!; making steady progress and exciting the public. They're the same kind of articles which have been written in this city for the last thirty years. (Who knows-- maybe the exact same ones, recycled from the back room with a few name substitutions.) Meanwhile, the Big Three have consistently-- consistently-- lost market share and no one calls them on it. (Well, occasionally one guy at the News.)

The same thing applies to downtown. I've recently returned from nearly ten years on the east coast and I'm not easily conned about what a healthy downtown looks like. Yes, Detroit has a beautiful downtown, at its core. Along the river, better than Philly. But it's kind of a neutron bomb downtown in that one thing missing is people!

I'd wager there are less people, less cars, less businesses downtown compared to ten, or certainly fifteen, years ago. I don't remember such empty streets, or so many vacant office buildings, which are everyplace. The Free Press is still optimistic, it's good to see, but their building is shuttered! They had a nice little diner on the ground floor. I'd stop there on my way to a job near the riverfront west of downtown.

The media is schizophrenic; on one hand announcing that "the whole world is watching" Detroit because of the auto show. (Uh, not.) On the other they engage in the standard neo-liberal do-gooder cannibalism with blazing headlines day after day after day flagellating the mayor because he had an affair and fired someone. Headlines to delight suburbanites who don't realize that by destroying the mayor they're destroying themselves.

In Philly, ALL the politicians are corrupt. It's how they do business. It's a shame; it shouldn't happen; it's covered daily and politicians are occasionally forced out of office-- like the councilman who threatened to jump from the William Penn statue atop City Hall-- but it's so rampant and known that no one gets hysterical about it and the city continues on. People live and shop downtown.

Where was the Christmas shopping rush downtown Detroit this year? I looked for it and couldn't find it. No mobs to push aside, unless you count pigeons.

The point of this rant: Detroit COULD be as vibrant as Philadelphia. It should be as vibrant. It could be better. I look at them as sister cities-- have since I was a kid and we'd visit family in Philly-- because they're roughly the same size with similar rivers and similar problems.

Detroit now is a happy face mask covering a pessimistic frown. What the city needs is a more realistic attitude; a realistic optimism, and it needs a new strategy. I can provide the second part, and will, on this blog.

Disagree with what I say? Let me know.


I've figured out why automakers have been so slow to manufacture environmentally-friendly vehicles. It's impossible to live in Detroit and believe in global warming.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fantastic Detroit


The story behind the creation of Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" is one of the more amazing in the history of art.

Berlioz, a young composer, in 1827 attended a performance of "Hamlet" given in Paris by a traveling English troupe and fell in love with the cast's Ophelia, Harriet Smithson. Though he'd never met her, he bombarded the young actress with insanely passionate love letters. She thought he was nuts. Berlioz had a dream about her, which he turned into the famous symphony. Smithson then married him. (It didn't last.)

The story Berlioz wrote into the symphony is as insane as his passion. It's about an artist; opens with an opium-induced dream; ends with his eventual beheading on the guillotine(!), and closes with a dance of witches. Obviously an amazing piece. When I learned it was coming to Detroit's Orchestra Hall I obtained a ticket in the balcony-- for January 25th, a Friday.

Beforehand I stopped at the Main Library, up Woodward Avenue from the concert hall, then had time to kill before the concert at eight. With the sun disappearing from a bleak, purple-gray sky, I walked into the Cass Corridor to check out a long-ago hangout of mine, the Bronx Bar on Second. I ordered a Pabst and burger from the bartender, Charlene.

I'd been a regular at the Bronx ten years or more prior. None of the regulars remained. It'd been a seedy place then, Detroit-style real. A guy named Steve would bring in his large dog, which would sit at his feet, barking at strangers. Now the place was inhabited by college people-- a suburban young prof telling a colleague he was selling his house. Yet much of the place's seediness remained. Despite redecoration, atmosphere was embedded in the saloon, in the outside streets and the occasionally arriving street person come inside to sit at a table for a few minutes of warmth; asking customers for change before being shooed off by a glance from Charlene.

A local couple stepped into the bar, recognizable as locals by their tough visages. In their way they were an attractive couple. They could've stepped from Berlioz's 19th-century Paris-- been Berlioz and Smithson themselves. He was tall, with black wavy hair and dark moustaches. The woman, in a tight brown jacket, had glowing amber hair. She was quite pretty, despite the veneer of hardness on her round face-- ruddy in the barroom's yellow light-- until she laughed and I saw as with so many city people, here and in Philly, her missing and disarrayed teeth.

I walked then through the Corridor to the concert hall, receiving into my psyche familiar impressions of the neighborhood.

The sky was vast, dark, and frigid. On one of the coldest nights of the year, orange light from windows of stray brownstone apartment buildings reached out to me; the buildings standing as narrow corridors of refuge'd life within the Corridor. They were the remains, along with a warehouse here; or there, a sooted church; of one of the nation's great neighborhoods. To my mind, a fabled place.

In this empty environment, the towers of downtown far away, I came upon the venue as if it were a concert hall on a prairie. All around it looked abandoned. Wind blew, and ice covered everything.

Which made 98 year-old Orchestra Hall more of a special destination. A uniformed man on the sidewalk, ushers within, welcomed me through the doors, scarcely glancing at my ticket. I strolled about the Max Fisher addition; a lobby with bartenders at round tables serving drinks. Warmth returned to my face. Then I walked up stairs, rose through the many-levelled modern atrium-- artworks on all sides-- found the magical old hall itself, its uppermost reaches, and took my seat. I had a great view of the hall's intricate ceiling. Seats filled around me.

But, the concert. The concert! Increasing drama as the symphony warms up, lights dim, and the conductor stides out, slow-paced, upright, and regal, like a king. All is anticipation.

Highlight of the first half was a Ravel piano concerto by French pianist Jean Phillipe Collard. It was a night for the French. I was reminded this was once a French city. For one evening they recaptured it.

I'd never seen Ravel's "Concerto for the Left Hand" and hadn't realized its difficulty. I was frankly amazed at the precision as white-haired Collard's left hand moved about the keyboard. One hand!-- creating a rush of music as the right hand seemed to watch in futility, wanting to help but not allowed. Tom Brady playing quarterback is a grade-school achievement compared to the concerto's demands of accuracy.

Ravel wrote the concerto for a pianist who lost his right hand in World War I. It's a moody work; a lonely piece fitting the loneliness of Orchestra Hall; the loneliness of Detroit. The pianist Collard was alone with his left hand. During pauses in his play, while the orchestra put forth trumpet-blares of melancholy, his right hand touched the tiring left, as if to rub it, or in sympathy. Then the left went back at it. All focus in the hall was on that hand.

It's a difficult piece-- and Collard nailed it! His performance was painful and triumphant, full of accuracy, stamina, power, and tremendous emotion. The notes were light and then dynamically strong as the orchestra's accompaniment welled and Collard's hand shook-- that left hand pounded the final notes. Echoed feeling: the aftermath of war is imbued in the piece. In 2008, very appropriate.

As the last note drifted away; as Collard's perspiring face turned toward the audience: ovation after ovation.

When Collard stood, the conductor made a point of shaking the man's left hand, then raising it.

During intermission I strolled through the lobby. Murmurs of amazement around me. How could this be topped? Next up: the Fantastic Symphony.

With the piano and pianist gone, we watched the conductor, Charles Dutoit; dark-haired, chin up, chest out. The baton raised. . . .

The symphony began slowly. I noticed the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's two acknowledged stars, Concertmaster and First Violinist Emmanuelle Boisvert, at the front toward the left, and First Cellist Robert DeMaine toward the right. If this were a football team, they would be the team's Pro Bowlers. Blond-haired and beautiful, Boisvert carries herself like a star and plays with more intensity than the other string people, always on the edge of her chair. As high-strung as her violin. DeMaine on the other hand, young and squat, is more relaxed, but plays with no less power. Noticeable beneath his black suitcoat are the arms of a bodybuilder, creating sound that, with Orchestra Hall's fabulous acoustics, reaches out to a listener even at the uppermost spot.

From above I saw how the DSO works as a team; Boisvert with her players on one side; DeMaine with his on the other, like opposing lines. Toward the rear, the assorted winds, oboes and the like; backed by an occasionally used brass section, and behind everyone, the timpani player, standing in back of an array of round drums in his jacket and tie like a waiter parked behind empty tables, waiting patiently and stupidly for-- something. Why is he waiting?

At the center of the activity moved Dutoit, the coach and quarterback, directing without a score, pointing this way and that, creating sounds with his fingertips, gesturing angrily then happily, driving the players on toward greater feats as the sound of the music increased.

The first movements of Symphonie Fantastique lull the listener. It's beautiful music. The audience becomes lost in its beauty, including from magical harps coming to the listener in a line of direct clarity. All has merely set the stage for the dramatic final act. Transcendently dramatic.

Sudden bells ring out; then: sharp drums. The timpani man is playing frantically, not alone but with fellows beside him, creating in the hall an alive, thundering sound. The entire symphony has joined in, surrounding them gloriously. Charles Dutoit meanwhile is like a man insane, jumping about the podium, stance like a fencer, sawing with his baton, prodding the team on, and on, compelling more intensity-- demanding it-- facing first on one side then the other, to DeMaine then Boisvert then back again. What sound! Tremendous sound.

It's wonderful music, bouncing and vibrant, a truly fantastic piece. I wondered why the audience wasn't dancing from their seats. THIS is what I came for, what everyone came for. People smiled. The machine that is the orchestra was itself insane, panoplies of instruments moving at once in a vision of clashing armies. Under the mad conductor's demands, playing at absolute peak.

The conductor's baton hovered over the symphony; sudden echoes; the baton still; silence; the musical experience complete.

"BRAVO!" a big-voiced man in one of the boxes yelled immediately. Everyone stood. Released enthusiasm. Endless ovations. The conductor genius faced the audience and bowed his head ever slightly.

I left the warm glow of Orchestra Hall and was back walking swiftly in the cold through Detroit's dark and moody streets.

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 et.al.-- 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. . . .