October 14, 2007

Digital Detroit: Chapter 5. Notes

Filed under: detroit,writing — jrice @ 10:03 pm

I’ll tell you what I’m regretting. Throwing out all of my Creem magazines years ago. From the desk of “You don’t know when you’ll need that,” I’m wishing I had all those back copies of Detroit’s premier magazine. What did I know when I was 18 or 19 or whenever I said good-bye to all these wonderful reads? Nothing. I knew nothing. Otherwise, I’d still have those magazines.

Chapter 5 of the Detroit book will deal with music. This chapter’s focus is 8 Mile (each of the five chapters is on a Detroit space within the network). As I’m doing research for this chapter, music is a pattern that I keep finding. I’m getting interlibrary loan to send me photocopies of Creem essays I want back, but I still wish I had those mags as I continue to do research. Granted, they’d be ripped up. Like any teenager, I ripped pages of rock stars out so that I could tape them to my wall.

From an MC5 Dave Marsh essay circa 1971 (and sent via the University of Arizona’s collection):

“To anyone who is familiar with the first album, the Five’s political premise would seem to be musical, in the first place, not rhetorical. They weren’t talking revolution, they were making it (as far as they were concerned), and the only ‘political’ song they cared to put on Kick out the James was John Lee Hooker’s ‘Motor City is Burning.’ And if that makes a Marxist revolutionary, then both Hooker and Gordon Lightfoot can be hung on your bedroom wall next to Mao and Huey� (“MC5 Back on Shakin’ Street� 38).

8 Mile and revolution is intriguing. But I think the chapter will be more about borders (8 Mile is the imaginary border between Detroit and the suburbs). Borders are an important trait of networks; where are they, where do they begin, where do they end? From “Ontology of Networks,” Kai Erikson writes “Therefore, it is thinking of a relation without an interior, or communication without a centre, that seems to constitute a key to the ontological field that network has occupied in the era of vanishing unambiguous borderlines.â€? The MC5 as not rhetorical? As not political? The MC5, then, as without center. The “revolution,” of course, is also a networked series of statements, aphorisms, desires, promises, and icons. It seldom has a center. It is a generic statement used in a variety of contexts. It is borderless. Its soundtrack is often rock and roll or other forms of popular music.
8 Mile’s musical legacy is tied to the recoding studio at 8 Mile where Eminem first recorded. And it is tied to the theme of Eminem’s hit movie by the same name. From “Lose Yourself”:

His soul’s escaping, through this hole that is gaping
This world is mine for the taking
Make me king, as we move toward a new world order
A normal life is born, but superstardom’s close to postmortem
It only grows harder, only grows hotter
He blows it’s all over these hoes is all on him
Coast to coast shows, he’s known as the globetrotter
Lonely roads, God only knows
He’s grown farther from home, he’s no father
He goes home and barely knows his own daughter

Two moments of the political. The first, Marsh mocks. The second speaks to a contemporary politics also found in the MC5. Superstar evoking change. Personal change and, following Jameson, allegorical change. We know the topos: Detroit must change. Marsh’s lament is that the the 5 are musical, not rhetorical. The claim doesn’t make much sense, for he proceeds to explain the rhetoric of the 5. “If the MC5 have taught us anything,” he writes, “it should be that we can’t lean on rock and roll any longer, that we’re going to have to do it ourselves” (46). Marsh, like any good 1970s music critic, leans too much on hyperbole. Still, I’m holding on to this moment. I have an “intuition” that this moment might be useful later on in my work. The “we have to do it ourselves” is there in 8 Mile. Rabbit has to rely on himself. He walks away from the rap victory to go back to the monotony of the factory. That feeling of “do it yourself” is there in Creem as well: the rock magazine that settled, in of all places, 1970 Detroit. Just three years after the riot. If music was anywhere in 1970, it wasn’t in Detroit. Creem, led by Marsh, wanted to do succeed on its own terms. That feeling is there in contemporary networking and music: P2P. The homegrown “do it yourself” response to the music industry. “We have to do it ourselves,” Jack Lessenberry writes in a 2005 Metro Times article on the city’s financial collapse. Having no center can lead to such declarations. But those declarations are not anchors in the network. They are only nodes.
All convoluted still. But that’s why these are called “notes.”


  1. I have a piece in JAC sometime next year (I think) that looks at rock and roll in the city (new garage rock as social movement) as embodiment of counter-intuitive urges: the agonistic rhetoric of “I’m through with White Girls” by Dirtbombs whose lyrics counter liberal ways of talking about identity.

    A text that helped me think on counter intuition is Paul Clemens’ ‘Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir’ which I’ve blogged before. Not sure if you’ve read it, but he’s got this chapter “Right to go Left” that views the Michigan left-hand turn as a metaphor for understanding various things about the city.

    Interesting post. Makes me wish we had started a Detroit writing group while you were still here. When the book comes out, I might skip right to ch.5 to get to the music parts!

    Comment by Bill — October 17, 2007 @ 11:01 am

  2. I really liked Clemens’ book. I was reading it right about the time we were waiting for Vered to be born. So, I read it outside of Detroit, in State College. The book gave me this connection back to 8 Mile….

    I love the opening sequence where he and his father chase the kids stealing their car and make it to 8 Mile…in fact, maybe I’ll begin the chapter with that section. The supposed border….

    I’ll be sure to look for your JAC piece. And I learned today – I don’t think I knew it – you were in the seminary!

    Comment by jrice — October 17, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  3. The seminary–another connection to Clemens (“ethnic Catholicism” figures heavily in my story, like his). And we both spent part of our youth considering the priesthood.

    Seminary = my earliest connection to Detroit. I spent five years in seminary. Four years in “minor seminary” high school program. One year in “major seminary” program that sent its students to…U of D. That’s how I ended up doing my undergrad. work there. When I left the seminary, I stayed at U of D. The program I was in had/has a formation house/rectory on Quincy Ave., right by campus. I lived there during my first year at U of D, which was also my last year in seminary. Loved living at 6-Mile and Livernois, so I stayed at the university.

    Comment by Bill — October 17, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

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