Rock ’n’ roll tour of Amer­ica

Detroit is still rock­ing on de­spite tough times, writes Mary Bolling

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - News -

DO not go to Detroit,’’ the warn­ing came, like some sort of Daft Punk lyric on a re­lent­less loop. ‘‘But what about Mo­town?’’ I’d wail.

‘‘You will be stabbed,’’ was the re­ply.

‘‘But I love the White Stripes so much!’’

‘‘You will have your shirt robbed from your back.’’

‘‘What if the Detroit Co­bras are play­ing?!’’

The an­swer was al­ways the same: ‘‘I have never been there, but I know be­yond doubt that Detroit is hell on Earth.’’

Detroit’s par­tic­u­larly bad rep­u­ta­tion has come with Amer­ica’s par­tic­u­larly bad man­age­ment of the car in­dus­try.

Known as Mo­tor City, the Michi­gan metropo­lis is home to the ‘‘big three’’ – Gen­eral Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Long-time lo­cals have seen a magic show of jobs dis­ap­pear­ing to ro­botic pro­duc­tion lines or to Asia, and the global re­ces­sion has also seen Detroit’s job­less rate sky­rocket to 22 per cent, triple the na­tional av­er­age.

In a match­ing graphic, FBI crime statis­tics have traced Detroit’s climb to the most danger­ous city in the United States.

And yet, here I am. While the meek shall in­herit the earth, on close in­spec­tion of this rock ‘n’ roll town, I would much rather in­herit Detroit.

Alice Cooper was born in Detroit. Iggy and the Stooges formed just out­side in Ann Ar­bor and Madonna is also from close by – Bay City, Michi­gan.

The ‘‘ MC’’ in rock band MC5 stands for their home of ‘‘ Mo­tor City’’.

Eminem grew up in Detroit’s tough neigh­bour­hoods and did noth­ing to im­prove the city’s rep­u­ta­tion with his semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal film 8 Mile.

Jack and Meg White, of the White Stripes, are from this rock­ing town, which, thanks to the Kiss tune of the same name, is also dubbed Detroit Rock City.

So what caused such im­pres­sive rock pedi­gree in Mo­tor City?

Ask the folk at Detroit’s Henry Ford Mu­seum, they’ll tell you: cars and rock stars go to­gether like the pedal and the metal. And their Rock Stars’ Cars and Gui­tars exhibit can prove it.

More than 20 custom ve­hi­cles from pri­vate mu­si­cians’ col­lec­tions and 50 of their most beloved gui­tars are on dis­play, in­clud­ing a Bar­bieesque pink Buick Sky­lark, with a cus­tomised-to-match ESP Xtone gui­tar and amp.

Sounds like its straight off the Brit­ney tour bus, right? Ac­tu­ally, hard-rock­ing Me­tal­lica’s James Het­field is the proud pink-loving owner.

Rock ‘n’ roll, how­ever, was not the first love of this town. Alice Cooper was still lit­tle Vin­nie Furnier, play­ing with his mum’s make-up when acts such as Ste­vie Won­der, the Supremes, the Four Tops and the Temp­ta­tions were top­ping the charts, with the help of Detroit’s fa­mous Mo­town la­bel.

Short for Mo­tor Town, the la­bel com­bined soul and pop and, from its 1959 in­cep­tion, saw some of the first chart suc­cess of black acts in the US.

In fact, the down­town Detroit build­ing that housed the la­bel and stu­dio saw so much record­ing suc­cess with songs Danc­ing in the Street, Reach Out, I’ll Be There, It Takes Two and the en­tire Jack­son 5 back cat­a­logue, it was later dubbed ‘‘Hitsville USA’’ and its mu­seum is guar­an­teed to get you danc­ing.

For the Detroit sound of to­day, head to pop­u­lar venue the Magic Stick, part of the Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel.

Host­ing a wide range of lo­cal and na­tional acts, it’s a packed crowd for home­com­ing he­roes the Detroit Co­bras. They’re known for their loud garage ap­proach to soul and blues clas­sics, but front­woman Rachel Nagy is also known for start­ing bar fights. (This bar is also where Jack White was charged with as­sault­ing Ja­son Stoll­steimer of the Von Bondies.)

And yet, with all that vi­o­lent his­tory, there isn’t a sin­gle punch up.

Rid­ing a bor­rowed bike about 3km to meet friends af­ter the show, I don’t get mugged.

While de­serted, burnt-out houses, offices and even the im­pres­sive but aban­doned Michi­gan Cen­tral Sta­tion loom men­ac­ingly through oth­er­wise pretty streets, the threat is only in my head.

What is real, though, is the good folk of this city.

De­ter­mined to prove all the stereotypes just that, Detroi­ters wel­come vis­i­tors like long-lost fam­ily.

The city hosts a never-end­ing cal­en­dar of free mu­sic, cul­ture and fam­ily events, with en­ter­tain­ment on the pretty Lake Saint Clair water­front.

Times are tough in Detroit, but it takes a visit to re­alise lo­cals are tough enough to keep on rock­ing.

Mu­si­cal town:

A band en­ter­tains vis­i­tors at a Detroit mar­ket, in keep­ing with the city’s fa­mous live mu­sic scene.

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