Posts Tagged ‘Michigan


Rock and Rubble in the Motor City

There is a fantastic little site that everyone with an interest in urban decay should check out. It is called The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.

It is a particularly delicious oxymoron, because they are in fact fabulous — in their grandness and in their sadness, documenting the “agonizing path” of the city through the ’90s.

As the site itself asks: “What went wrong?” and “Where to do we go from Here?” An entire online community has risen out of this site to debate these questions — the DetroitYES project, a discussion forum about the city’s problems and its future.

I am from the suburbs, but I call Detroit my home. I am not a baseball fan, but I wear a Tigers ball cap, because it is a piece of home, and it connects me in a real way to a place I have not lived for more than 13 years.

My home town has seen some rough times. Anyone with family there has heard stories of the fabulous 50s, the riots of the 60s, white flight and the decay of the following decades. Detroit city government is a mess and has been for decades, with one bright spot: the term of my last great hope, Dennis Archer. It is rife with cronyism, loyalism and blind racism, all at the cost of the citizens, who number fewer and fewer year by year. And the latest exploits of its current mayor, effectively stopping the course of local government, are not helping matters much.

But it’s a tough old town. Down, but not out, as they say. What fueled this site’s inception, and the community that has grown around it, is a clear love for the city. Not just the city of Detroit, but “the city” as a concept. It is worth saving and it is worth remembering. And in looking back at the former grandeur and pride of Detroit, we can begin to draw inspiration, and we can begin to hope that a phoenix will one day rise from the rubble.


I Heart Sufjan Stevens

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There are three I’s in Illinois

I am developing a small obsession with a folk musician from Michigan. I hear him all the time. But the problem is I just don’t like his music.

I want to like it. I really do. Critics roundly praise him. Public radio certainly loves him. (Find him on or or And I love public radio. So, there’s something, right?

But I’m just not feeling it. So I must be a joyless freak for not adoring him, I guess.

I bought Jeff his album Greetings from Michigan for Christmas. <!–(Take one look at Jeff, and you’ll see why.) –>The best thing about it is the cover art and the song titles — clever, promising numbers any Michigan nerd would love such as “Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid),” “For The Windows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti,” “Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!,” “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!,” “They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For The Homeless In Muskegon),” and “Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?).” But listening to it in the car driving from Detroit to Saginaw was a rather depressing experience.

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More than a pretty picture

I like his guitar playing. I like his 50-state idea — the album after Michigan is Come on Bring the Illinoise. (I hope he makes it through all 50.) And he’s a total cutie-pie.

See? –>

But his music always leaves me with the feeling of having been at a high school music recital. There’s always a weird, unconnected brass arrangement or xylophone or something. His voice is cute but … shall we say unadorned. A whisper. A shadow. He uses layer upon layer of instruments and noise, but somehow it comes off sounding as flat as the Michigan sugar beet fields. It all adds up to a unique, very specific, practiced amateurish sound.

A sound I just can’t love.

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Sufjan Stevens and the Michigan Militia

But I will continue to try to love it. He’s more than a pretty picture; he’s clearly talented and prolific and musically versatile. Whatever he’s doing is deliberate, and that’s very cool. He is unique. I wouldn’t deny that I respect him. And I’m delighted that he’s getting so much attention.

The bottom line, I guess is: He’s a fellow Michigander — born in Detroit, raised up north. So I remain loyal to him. I wish him boundless success. I hope that I will begin to like his work very soon. And above all, I dream of the day he shows up at my doorstep, having been caught in a sudden rainstorm, his steaming t-shirt clinging to his lean, lithe body, asking me for a towel.

Let’s get you out of those wet clothes, shall we, Mr. Stevens?


Left on the Tracks

I often wonder about the stuff that gets lost on the subway tracks. Not the bottles and bags and wrappers — who cares? But a child’s shoe? A stuffed animal holding a heart that says “I Love You”? A wrapped bouquet of flowers? These things meant something to someone at one time. Maybe they meant the wrong thing. (I’d like to see how the flowers ended up down there.) But they meant something.

It’s kind of crazy, the things we place emotional value on. When I was a little kid, I had a wooden toy dog on wheels. The axles were bent, on purpose, I think, to make the dog wobble as you pulled him along on his red string. His little plastic ears hung down on swivels and swung forward and back as he hobbled along.

I used to have recurring nightmares of dropping that dog into Lake Michigan (technically, the Straits of Mackinac) while crossing the Mackinac Bridge on foot. I’d dangle it over the edge and watch it swing. You know that way kids take risks with their toys — or their lives — dangling things in dangerous places. Some of us as adults continue to do this.

I’ve never been on that bridge on foot, and I don’t know if it’s even possible to dangle anything over the edge. (Though I’ve been on it plenty of times in a car, and I do know it’s possible to get knocked off that bridge without dangling anything.) Nonetheless, it was horrifying for me to consider.

the untallied hours