The Oakwood Seed

    Earlier this month, in a post about the first annual MarkMaynard.com Ypsilantian of the Year award, I mentioned several people who had been nominated for the distinction. One of those was a 9 year old named Juna, who publishes a small newspaper called the Oakwood Seed. She was nominated by Rob Hess, the man behind Go Ice Cream, who found a copy stuffed in the mailbox of his home on Oakwood Street one afternoon. Here’s what he had to say about it. “It’s a newspaper of love and imagination,” said Hess. “The little photo-copied paper was illustrated with pictures of her bunny and her cat, along with pictures of a peace sign, a recycling symbol and an anarchy symbol. I love that we are the kind of town where kids are encouraged to do things like this. Finding and reading this little story from a kid I don’t know was one of my favorite things of the entire year.” Well, since posting that, I’ve had three requests from folks who asked if I knew where they might be able to pick up a copy. And, as I didn’t have an answer for them, I reached out to Juna’s parents, who helped her scan the two issues that she’s already produced, and put them on line. If you’re interested in checking them out, you’ll find them on Juna’s website.

    When asked how the Oakwood Seed came about, Juna said, “I got the idea to start a paper while reading a book, and thought it would be fun.” The second issue, she said, came about because so many people seemed to like the first.

    OakwoodSeed2

    Posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Danny Fields… the man who signed the Stooges, discovered the Ramones, and changed the world

    Almost a year ago now, I received an email from a reader of this site by the name of Bob Nolan, who, knowing of my love for the Ramones and Stooges, suggested that I talk with a friend of his named Brendan Toller. Brendan, he told me, had been working on a film about Danny Fields, the man who, among other things, got the Stooges signed to Elektra in 1968, and later went on to become the co-manager of the Ramones in 1975. “Brendan’s been spending a lot of time sleeping on Danny’s couch these last few years, just scanning memorabilia and going through tapes,” Bob told me. “And he’s got some amazing stuff that Danny had even forgotten about… a few bombshells.” He went on to say that he didn’t know how much Brendan would want to say before the movie came out, but he passed along his contact information, and a conversation was begun… And, now that the movie is officially out, here’s my discussion with Brendan Toller, the director of the new documentary Danny Says.

    DannyAndyLou4

    MARK: That was some pretty great coverage in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Congratulations.

    BRENDAN: Oh, thank you. Quite a nice Christmas miracle.

    MARK: How did you first come to know Danny?

    BRENDAN: I was working on my first feature documentary, “I Need That Record!”. The film chronicles the indie record store lull of the early 2000s, what made it so, and why these stores are so significant in keeping music culture alive. I interviewed Danny Fields for the film, but we barely graced the subject of record stores in our conversation. There was just too much to be awestruck by. Danny became a fan of “I Need That Record!,” a confidant, and out of that grew a friendship which eventually conceived “Danny Says.”

    MARK: Assuming the idea was initially yours, was he immediately receptive to the idea of a documentary about his life, or did it take him some time to warm up to the idea?

    BRENDAN: Warhol [seen at the top of the page with Lou Reed and Danny Fields] originally wanted to “tape his life story.” Andy talks about it in his diaries, but he would pass away just months later, in 1987. As for how I approached the idea, I was very calm about it – the ball was in Danny’s court – and, fortunately, he said yes.

    MARK: What was it about Danny’s life, if you know, that resonated with Andy? And, when you say he wanted to “tape” Danny’s life story, do you know what he meant by that?

    BRENDAN: I can only answer these type of questions with conjecture. I’m not Danny, I’m Danny’s Boswell. I think it may have been at a point where Andy’s life (late 80s) had been far removed from the excitement and whip-it-up Factory days of the mid-60s. Danny probably brought a lot back to him in that short instance of running into him late one night at a party for Dolly Parton.

    MARK: I’ve yet to see the film, but Bob mentioned to me that you had unearthed a few “bombshells.” Did any of them make it into the finished film?

    BRENDAN: Finding the tape of Lou Reed listening to the Ramones for the first time with Danny was a jaw-dropper. There are also a good number of phone conversations, from ‘between ‘68 and ’71, of Danny and Iggy, that are just mind-blowing. Same goes for Nico. Danny’s photography is also incredible. Of course, Danny’s recollections are so vivid, punctuated with humor and brilliant word-play. He holds nothing back. It’s a cliche, but “Danny Says” is a film that no one’s seen or heard before, truly. [Below: Iggy Pop and Danny Fields]

    Iggy pop and Danny Fields, Danny Fields Archive

    MARK: Can you give us a sense of one of these taped conversations with Iggy? Is there a specific exchange that comes to mind?

    BRENDAN: There’s a full tape of Iggy playing the rough mixes of Funhouse over the phone to Danny. An edited version can be heard in the film.

    MARK: Assuming all of these taped conversations between Danny and the likes of Iggy and Nico didn’t make it into the finished film, is it conceivable that you might be releasing them in some other format? I’m thinking, for instance, that it might help drive attention to the film if you started releasing them online, right?

    BRENDAN: Yes, probably on the soundtrack, if one happens. And perhaps in short form online videos.

    MARK: I’m just imagining how awesome they could be animated… I’m thinking of that piece that was done a few years back with audio of LBJ buying slacks over the phone.

    BRENDAN: That’s hilarious!

    MARK: What was the most difficult thing for you to cut from the film?

    BRENDAN: Danny yelling at Bob Rudnick for talking about the potential of Elektra signing the MC5, Danny hearing an acetate of “A Day In The Life” with Eric Anderson and Brian Epstein at the Waldorf, Danny’s aunt Ruth, Cream, and rememberances of Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont. I could have made three films.

    MARK: Damn. That all sounds incredible… Was Danny in the habit of recording all of his conversations?

    BRENDAN: Yes, it was a Warhol practice – they are a treasure!

    MARK: I knew that Warhol was in the habit of documenting conversations, but I wasn’t aware that others in the scene had taken it up as well. Just how long did Danny do this? How many tapes did you have to make your way through?

    BRENDAN: Let’s just say it took me two years, on and off, of digitizing. The dates range from ’68 and beyond. [Below: Danny Fields]

    Danny Fields Portrait, Danny Fields Archive

    MARK: I know I should ask about the events surrounding Danny’s listening to “A Day In The Life” with Brian Epstein, but I’m intrigued by the fact that you’ve included “Danny’s aunt Ruth” in this long list of incredible, important moments in rock and roll history, and I have to ask… What’s so great about the “aunt Ruth” interview?

    BRENDAN: We interviewed Danny’s aunt Ruth in New Jersey. A real deal yenta. She had very funny observations about Danny being an opinionated child from age three. “The only place to buy clothing for men is Brooks Brothers. And if you can’t afford it, you should arrange [your life] so you can afford it.” Proves that, like Danny says, “You’re only born with what you got” in a certain sense.

    datebookMARK: Speaking of the Beatles, Danny claims to have been at least partially responsible for their breakup, given that it was his decision, as editor of the teen magazine Datebook, to play up John Lennon’s “(We’re) more popular than Jesus” quote in 1966, bringing it to the attention of folks in the Bible belt. Danny feels as though this act of his led to the protests and death threats against the Beatles, which ultimately led to their decision to stop touring, and their decision to break-up. Is that, in your opinion, the story of a life-long PR man looking to insert himself into rock and roll history, or do you think he really feels as though he brought about the downfall of the Beatles?

    BRENDAN: To say Danny broke up the Beatles is, as Danny says, “to sell a candybar in twenty words or less.” He got the ball rolling, he got the conversation started. By ‘66, people in the public eye were starting to get in trouble for saying the right things. The 60s, as we now know them, were starting to emerge through the expression of artists like Bob Dylan and Lenny Bruce – provocateurs in a sense. Danny was publishing front-page headlines like, “It’s a country where anyone black is a dirty nigger” [Paul McCartney on the United States], or “Message songs are a drag” [Bob Dylan], to stoke the fire. Unfortunately, it was too much too soon, and, as with most situations in his life, Danny was way ahead of his time. Politically-revealing headlines are rarely seen on the newsstands, nevermind on the covers of a magazine geared toward 11-year-old girls in the 1960s. Danny’s spent his life defining a platform for the fringe. In ‘66, the Beatles were the biggest band in the world, but what about the Who? The Kinks? The Byrds? The Velvet Underground? Danny has always shined a light on the outre and obscure.

    MARK: Regardless of his culpability in the breakup of the Beatles, it makes for a great story that the man who gave us the Ramones and Stooges also killed the Beatles… And, who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have had the Ramones or the Stooges had the Beatles kept making records. Maybe one thing had to happen to make room for the other.

    BRENDAN: Danny always encouraged those that he admired and gave artists authority to tip the mainstream in an immensely influential way. The Beatles influenced a wave of kids to pick up guitars, but now it seems the Stooges, Ramones and Velvets are the template for contemporary music – a second wave. [Below: Danny Fields and the Ramones]

    Danny Fields and the Ramones, Danny Fields Archives

    MARK: Danny, by all accounts, was a brilliant young man. Assuming the historical record is correct, he was already at Harvard Law at 20, when he decided to drop out and return to New York. (Some sources give the year of birth his as ‘39, while others give it as ‘41.) Assuming you asked him, I’m curious as to why he dropped out and moved back to New York when he did. What was happening at that time, around 1960, that pulled him back? As he’s often credited with being one of the first publicly gay men in the music business, my guess is that it had something to do with the acceptability homosexuality within the New York arts scene, but I suspect there may have been other factors.

    BRENDAN: Boys. Greenwich Village. Fabulous people versus monotonous work that would ultimately lead to a lucrative, but rather dull existence in all likelihood. As for Danny being out, he was never in. Sexuality never defined him as it defines so many today… The sooner we can get away from phrases like, “Oh, meet my friend Charlie, he’s gay,” the better. Independent thought, defiance, humor and (even on the shallow end) physical features are more interesting than sexual preference. There was a secret camaraderie amongst people who gravitated towards members of the same sex in New York for sure, but let’s also not forget it was illegal. People were arrested.

    MARK: Is it upon returning to New York that he changed his name from Daniel Feinberg to Danny Fields? Did he talk with you at all about why he decided to make that change?

    BRENDAN: Danny started work for a theater PR man and decided he was beginning a life in show biz. Gracie Fields. W.C. Fields. It was that, and to signify a break from the values of his parents, their morals and expectations. He was leaving the ivy life.

    MARK: I’m not trying to make a comparison between the two, as Danny was clearly operating a much different level, but I recently watched the documentary Mayor of Sunset Strip about LA radio personality Rodney Bingenheimer, who seems to have had a knack for being at the right place at the right time and facilitating connections between people in the indusry, and I was wondering if there might be some commonality between the two men. Bingenheimer, as I suspect you know, was obsessed by celebrity, and was drawn to the music industry because, although he wasn’t a musician, he was compelled to be a part of it… And I’m just curious if there’s any of that motivating Danny. And, by saying that, I’m not suggesting that he was just a glorified groupie. He clearly wasn’t. But my sense has always been that that he was more a fan than just an industry guy who saw an opportunity to make money off of these people. Would I be wrong about that?

    BRENDAN: “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” is a great doc! I think Danny was motivated to be in approximation of fabulous people that surprised and stunned with their talent or beauty. He has a knack for seeing someone’s potential. His medium is people really. There are many in his orbit who never blossom, but those who have, with his prodding and confidence, have made miracles. Iggy is a miracle a hundred times over.

    MARK: What would have happened with Iggy, do you think, if not for Danny?

    BRENDAN: I think he may have been the “forgotten boy.” I mean, literally Search and Destroy, one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, would not exist if Danny had not insisted that Iggy meet Bowie.

    MARK: I wasn’t aware that it was Danny that made that introduction.

    BRENDAN: Paraphrasing the film… Iggy was watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at Danny’s apartment. Iggy was in town specifically to make career moves as the Stooges had been denied a recording option by Elektra records. The Stooges were sort of imploding. Danny was out, probably at Max’s, and called Ig three times. “David Bowie is here, he wants to meet you, you could do yourself some good.” The rest, as they say, is history…

    MARK: In ‘68 or so, Danny became a DJ at WFMU, and it was there, according to legend, that he was told by another DJ that he had to check out the scene around Detroit, setting in motion a chain of events that would bring both the MC5 and The Stooges to the national stage. I’m curious as to what he may have told you about that first trip he took to Ann Arbor / Detroit.

    BRENDAN: Danny had actually been out to Ann Arbor previously. He wrote a bad check to follow the Velvet Underground. Danny saw the Velvets play the Student Union Ballroom at the University of Michigan, where, just years later, he would see the Stooges for the first time. He was tipped off by Bob Rudnick and Dennis Frawley, who had a show called Kokaine Karma on WFMU, that the 5 were a hot band. I know Danny was taken aback by the energy and endless will of John Sinclair and the 5; barking orders off the toilet, women serving men food, pounding on the tables like Vikings, printing presses. It was its own self-contained focused, politically-driven, hype machine years before bands did all their copy and publicity. [Below: Danny Fields and the MC5]

    Danny Fields and the MC5, Danny Fields Archive

    MARK: I’d known that Danny and Warhol were acquintances, but I wasn’t aware that he’d made the trip to Ann Arbor with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. When did Danny and Warhol become friends?

    BRENDAN: Danny met Warhol at the San Remo bar. Every group of people had a name. Danny was in the YJS – the Younger Jewish Set.

    MARK: That was Warhol’s designation?

    BRENDAN: I’m not sure whose designation it was.

    MARK: Speaking of the Warhol crew, do I also understand that Danny was roommates with Edie Sedgwick during some of this period?

    BRENDAN: Yes, Edie came down from Cambridge with her best friend Tommy Goodwin. She crashed a few nights with Danny and just stayed for a few months. It was an interesting time… They were bringing down first batches of Timothy Leary’s acid – keeping bottles in Danny’s refrigerator to drop on sugarcubes.

    MARK: Back to the Stooges, what, if anything, did Danny tell you about that first show that he saw in Ann Arbor?

    BRENDAN: When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.

    MARK: I’ve heard Danny say in other interviews that Iggy was pissed at him for listing him as “Iggy Stooge” on the first Stooges album.

    BRENDAN: Danny claims that wasn’t his doing. But, yes, Iggy told us he was pissed for Iggy Stooge.

    MARK: According to accepted Ramones history, it was Dee Dee’s idea to take the surname “Ramone.” The story goes that he did it first, and then convinced the others to follow suit. Given that Iggy thinks it was Danny who stuck “Stooge” on the end of his name, however, I wonder if he may have played a role in it. Do you know if the taking of the “Ramone” surname predated Danny’s tenure as their manager?

    stoogeselektraBRENDAN: Danny denies that he had anything to do with giving them all the Ramones surname, but Iggy thinks he may have had something to do with it. The Ramones were very clear-cut, uniform, both in their music and the way they dressed. It made total sense for everyone to have the same last name, so who knows when and how it was instated… they were already headed down that road.

    MARK: I’m curious as to how Danny approached the Ramones about becoming their manager, and how Linda Stein, the wife of Sire Records head Seymour Stein, came to be their co-manager. How, if you know, did that arrangement come about? I’m curious about their relationship as co-managers.

    BRENDAN: Legend has it Danny saw them perform at CBGB’s to get them to stop calling him at 16 Magazine and Soho Weekly News, where Danny was stoking the fires at the time. With a name like the Ramones, he assumed they were a little south of the border. After the 20-minute set, he took them out onto the sidewalk and asked to be their manager. The Ramones needed new drums, so Danny flew to Florida and asked his mother for $3,000. Danny knew Linda Stein from chasing Elton John for 16 Magazine. Elton was a bit uncooperative with photos and material so he befriended Linda, who was Elton’s confidant. Danny knew Linda liked rock ‘n roll and Linda convinced Seymour to sign them to Sire. I never met Linda, but I hear Danny and her were like brother and sister; in touch almost everyday for 30 some odd years until her tragic death. Linda Stein did more for the Ramones than we’ll ever know.

    MARK: Was it Danny’s idea to take the Ramones to England in ‘76, changing the course of history forever?

    BRENDAN: I’m sure he was all for it, but I’m guessing the idea and insistence came from Seymour Stein’s international guise.

    MARK: I don’t know what I’m basing this on, but my sense is that Danny perceives his biggest failure in life to be the fact that they Ramones never had a hit. Is that the case?

    BRENDAN: I don’t know if Danny measures his life in greatest or worst anything. You wake up and deal with what greets you everyday. Danny certainly tried his best to get the Ramones in the best position possible. Hits are illusive and the first to march to war are always the first to get shot down.

    MARK: At what point was the decision made for Danny to leave the Ramones, and how painful was it?

    BRENDAN: The Ramones fired him. They wanted a radio hit and thought they had better options with another manager.

    MARK: In addition to the Ramones’ song Danny Says, where else has Danny cropped up in pop culture? I’ve refused thus far to see it, but does he show up as a character in the recent film about CBGBs?

    BRENDAN: I think Danny Says was probably the most public nod to Danny Fields. He did write the liner notes to the original Hedwig movie soundtrack. No cameos in the CBGB film. I thought the CBGB film was pretty funny.

    MARK: I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the Doors, who Danny also worked for as a publicist, as I’d rather talk about the Stooges and the scene at CBGB, but I’ve heard on few occasions that Danny hated Jim Morrison. During your time with him, did you get to the heart of that? What was it that made them dislike Morrison? Or, if it’s not true, why is it that this idea continues?

    BRENDAN: Again, more Boswell conjecture. I think Jim Morrison was an asshole in the presence of Danny Fields. There are many stories. Some detailed in the movie, some not. There’s one story where Jim pissed in a wine bottle at Max’s Kansas City and gave it to a waitress. “Oh, the wine tastes so good tonight, why don’t you take it home with you, from me?” I think Danny, as his press agent, didn’t appreciate Jim’s rather difficult persona. This was a star the public had never seen before. Weird, dark, twisted, sexy. Jim wanted to be known as a poet first, which is, er, a little hard to market when you have this incredibly sexy wild frontman in a rock ‘n’ roll band… I also think Danny thought his poetry was quite sophomoric and inane.

    MARK: Having spent several years having gone through Danny’s archives, I’m curious as to what your favorite artifact was.

    BRENDAN: A Ramones x-mas card to Danny. The enlarged pic of Fred Sonic Smith’s tush. The potential Lenny Bruce photograph/suicide note. There’s too many to name. There was a point where I was so stunned, I wasn’t shocked by anything anymore. [Below: Lenny Bruce’s note to 16 Magazine’s Gloria Stavers]

    Lenny Bruce Note to 16 Magazine's Gloria Stavers, Danny Fields Archive

    MARK: I hear that a lof of Danny’s collection is now moving to an archive somewhere.

    BRENDAN: Yale University. What Danny calls “the sexiest of all American universities.”

    MARK: I’ve heard that Danny has told reporters he has no desire to see the finished film. Why do you think that is, and does it bother you at all?

    BRENDAN: Danny gave me complete access to interview anytime, obsessively comb the archives, talk to his friends– the entire film is carried by his voice. But not many people love seeing themselves on screen exactly. I’m sure he’ll see a completed version.

    MARK: You launched a $20,000 online fundraising campaign to make Danny Says happen. What was that process like, and what did you learn, having gone through it?

    BRENDAN: Crowd-funding is a 24/7 job. Proceed with caution. It was a rollercoaster. We had great support from Kickstarter, Village Voice, Flavorwire. Judy Collins put us over the goal. Serendipitous because the first time she met Danny she sort of saved him from a bad acid trip. So thank you Judy for saving our Kickstarter with just days left! [Below: The Ramones’ Christmas card]

    Ramones Xmas Card to Danny Fields, Danny Fields Archive

    MARK: So, what’s next for you and the film? Have you secured any kind of distribution?

    BRENDAN: We’ll announce some official screenings very soon. It’s a thrill. And, in terms of distribution, we’re free agents at the moment.

    [Note: With the exception of the Datebook cover, all images in this post come courtesy of the Danny Fields Archive, including the following, which is an image of Fred Sonic Smith’s butt]

    FredSonicSmithButt

    Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Detroit, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

      The Saturday Six Pack with Mark Maynard: episode two

      saturdaysixpack2b

      The second episode of the Saturday Six Pack on AM 1700 was, by all accounts, a success. I was kind of dreading it going in, as I didn’t have much planned for the 7:00 hour, but, as is usually the case when you open yourself up to serendipity, everything just kind of unfolded in a naturally, beautiful, organic kind of way. If you have a chance, I’d recommend listening for yourself. The first hour is a pretty intense… a lot of local history, not all of it pleasant… but then things take a turn for the weird once I open the door and put out the word that I need help finishing the six pack. If you listened at home, or called in to talk with me, or stopped by to talk in person, thank you. You’ll find my rough notes below. If you feel like actually listening for yourself, though, you can do so here.

      [If you liked that, just click here to listen to episode one and hear ho it all began.]

      OK, first things first… For those of you keeping track at home, this week the beer of choice was Fat Tire by New Belgium Brewing, and it took us two hours, six minutes, and thirty-seven seconds to finish all six off.

      Now, here are my notes, for those of you who refuse to hit the button above and listen for yourselves. [images courtesy Kate de Fuccio]

      We started the show with a theme composed by my old friend Dave Miller, who now lives in Portland. I didn’t listen to the track in advance, as I’d wanted to be surprised… and I was. Dave, who also happens to be in my one-day-a-year band, The Monkey Power Trio, had created a disturbing soundscape featuring the sounds of babies crying, and children screaming, under audio of me mumbling and sluring lyrics which, for obvious reasons, never made it onto Monkey Power records. Dave called in after we played the theme to talk about it. He said he’d been imagining it as the track that would accompany a memorial slide show at my funeral. He then told us that he was talking to us from the side of the road somewhere in Portland, delaying his daughter’s arrival at her fifth birthday party. You can hear the track here, if you like.

      Right after Dave’s daughter asked him to stop talking on the phone, and take her to the party, I introduced our first guest, local historian Matthew Siegfried, who I’ve interviewed here on the blog before about Ypsilanti’s Native American past and the lives of former slaves in Ypsilanti. Our discussion, in part because of the calls that we were fielding, was kind of all over the place. From the University of Michigan’s questionable past with regard to Native Americans, to the lives of the “factory girls” who worked in Ypsilanti’s mills before the turn of the century, we really jumped around. One minute, we’d be talking about the Henry Ford’s enforcer, Harry Bennett, and the next we’d be talking about the life and times of escaped slave turned university president, HP Jacobs. (And, by the way, I was completely serious when I said that I wanted to raise money for a historic marker for Jacobs in Ypsilanti.) We talked trade unions, strikes, historic incidences of sexual harassment, and black communists in Ypsilanti’s past. We also talked a good long while about how the landscape we still see around us today was dictated by the all-controling, crypto-fascist Henry Ford. It’s all good stuff, and I’d encourage you to listen to the first hour if any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you. Here’s Matt talking about how he’d like to vandalize every statue of Henry Ford that exists, by adding true facts about the man.

      siegfriedsixpack2

      Peter Larson of Bulb Records fame, who’s probably our only listener in Kenya, wrote a special song for this episode of the Saturday Six Pack and sent it in. The more I listen to it, the more lovely I think it is. Listen for yourself…

      [And now I’m thinking about asking other bands to write songs specifically for the show. That’s a good idea, right?]

      The rest of the show is a blur. Things just started happening. It was like I was caught in an undertow. I remember there being a call from a guy who said that he was in bed. He said that the Saturday Six Pack was the best show on the radio, and, to prove it, he began turning the dial of his radio, so that we could hear what a lot of other stations were playing at that very minute. It was pretty persuasive evidence. Another guy called in to say that he’d been talking with me in his dreams. I asked him to come and visit me in the real world, and, a few minutes later, there he was at the door. And he’d come with a gift – a copy of his zine, Ypsi Underground, which we spent a while talking about. Here he is. His name is Colin Moorhouse.

      collinsixpack2

      At some point there was a lull, and I said something to the effect of, “I’m going to need help finishing this six pack.” A minute or two later, I saw a man that I hadn’t seen for a few years approaching the door from the darkness. As I don’t think he lives in Ypsi, he must have been sitting outside somewhere, listening to the show in a car or something. He sat down, I handed him a beer, and we talked about being duped by John Edwards. Not too long after afterward, a family of four would come in, bringing us sweet potato fries from Red Rock. The father of the family, Ann Arbor-based photographer Peter Smith, told us that it was his wife’s birthday, so they’d chosen to celebrate at a restaurant close to the radio station, which is really surreal to me… the thought that our little show is actually driving commerce in Ypsilanti. Who would have thought?

      There was lots of other stuff, but I don’t think I’ll give it all away here. I’ll just leave you with this photo of me, once again smiling uncharacteristically.

      MarkHappy

      Lastly, I’d like to thank AM 1700 owner Brian Robb for opening the station to me and allowing the weirdness to flow through it… and, of course, for playing the Flaming Groovies when I needed a bathroom break. If you get a chance, like AM 1700 on Facebook. I know that would make him happy. And he deserves to be happy.

      Posted in History, Mark's Life, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

      “It would be like the nuclear arms race, but with cock-like structures.”

      I uttered this sentence last night, and I thought that it should be recorded for posterity…

      Every year or two since 2003, when Cabinet magazine named Ypsilanti’s historic water tower the winner of it’s World’s Most Phallic Building contest, a website somewhere decides to post a story about the our beloved “brick dick.” Most recently, it was an online travel site called Roadtrippers. Judging by the fact that at least three people outside of Michigan wrote to me about it, the article must have been a huge hit on social media. Here’s how it begins.

      watertownroadtrippers

      Ypsilanti’s water tower, for those of you who might be interested in more than just its shape, was erected in 1889, and provided water to Ypsilantians between 1890 and some point in the 1950s. The tower, which is located on the highest point in the City of Ypsilanti, is 147 feet tall, and cost a whopping $21,435 to construct. It’s comprised of Joliet limestone, and, when full, holds 250,000 gallons of water. For those of you who are more interested in girth than length, its base measures 85 feet. William R. Coats was its designer. To my knowledge, there is no record of him having explained why it is that the tower has to resemble a painfully turgid cock. [I’ve never looked, but how cool would it be if every building designed by William R. Coats looked like a giant sex organ? Boob houses. Vagina-shaped pools. Testicular monuments.]

      The following, concerning water rates at the time in Ypsilanti, comes by way of Wikipedia.

      An ordinance passed on April 14, 1898, established a yearly rate schedule for residences with running water. Rates were based on the number of faucets in use, the type of business that customers operated and the livestock they owned. A residence with one tap was charged $5.00 and a private bathtub cost an additional $2.00. Saloon keepers paid $7.00 for one faucet, $3.00 for each additional faucet and $1.00 for each billiard table. Each cow a person owned cost $1.00. People who failed to pay their bill were subject to a $50.00 fine and ninety days in the county jail.

      Back to my quote at the top of the page… As much as I love the fact that we live in a community with the most cock-like building, I feel as though we should encourage others to attempt to take the title from us. It’s criminal, I think, that the most cock-like building in the world was constructed 125 years ago. Has there really been no development since then that would allow for a more lifelike cock of a building? I suspect, without too much trouble, someone somewhere could put up a factory with a rigid dick of a smokestack that would put us to shame. And then the battle would be on. We’d stucco on a foreskin. They’d add some testicle shaped buildings at the base of their smokestack. We’d add a vein down one side of the water tower… On and on it would go… We’d be locked in heated battle until one of us had created a super-realistic dong rising up out of the ground. How incredible would that be?

      watertowernew

      As for the water rates at the time, here’s something interesting that just came my way from local historian Matt Siegfried. It comes from the April 26, 1902 edition of “Appeal to Reason,” published in Girard, Kansas… Apparently, even back then, people with money were trying to privatize pubic utilities, promising lower rates and better service, only to deliver neither.

      waterannarborypsi

      Posted in History, Ideas, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

      Ann Arbor’s proposed “Ambassador” program, while laughably stupid, is the best thing to happen in Ann Arbor in a long, long time

      mmambassador

      I realize that the Ann Arbor DDA’s uniformly mocked “Ambassador” program is likely going to die on the vine, given the overwhelming backlash that we saw last week, but I refuse to just let it go. This is the first spark of life I’ve seen in Ann Arbor in a long, long time, and I’m not willing to just walk away from the glowing embers. This is a conversation that Ann Arbor has been needing to have for well over a decade, and, while I’ve taken some pleasure in mocking the Ann Arbor DDA for suggesting that we collectively hire a platoon of smiling, paid “ambassadors” to travel across the city on Segways, opening doors for the well-to-do, removing show flyers from light poles, and ensuring, among other things, that “street people” don’t interfere with commerce, I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for sparking a real, substantive debate over the future of Ann Arbor. As someone who has been ranting about the increased “mallification” of downtown Ann Arbor for some time, it makes me incredibly happy to see the people of Ann Arbor rising up, pretty much unanimously, agains the DDA, and clearly articulating that they value authenticity, community and sense of place over sterile corporate blandness. I suspect, when we look back in years to come, we’ll see this as a defining moment in the local culture wars… and I am proud of my friends in Ann Arbor for making it happen, and demanding that their voices be heard above those of a few influential business owners.

      My advice to you, if you’re reading this in Ann Arbor, is not to let this opportunity pass. Demand a seat at the table. Propose a series of open meetings on the future of Ann Arbor. Make it a point to attend all of the meetings of the DDA. And keep this momentum going, even if the DDA backs down on the Ambassador program… because, you can be sure that, if you don’t, it’ll come back in some other form. Given what I’ve heard, if the DDA does back down, they won’t necessarily be doing so because they feel as though the idea itself is bad, but because it’s been brought to their attention that Block By Block, the Lexington-based vendor that they’ve been working with on this, is pretty much toxic. (Block By Block is a “faith-based” private security firm with a history of union busting, among other things.) In other words, if the DDA backs down, I wouldn’t take it as a sign that they’ve come to see mallification as a bad thing. I believe it’s probably more likely that they just realized that Block By Block is the wrong vendor, given the politics of Ann Arbor.

      The image at the top of the page, by they way, was something I posted to Facebook yesterday, and it resulted in one of the more epic social media threads of all time, as dozens of people came out of the woodwork to offer their ideas as to how the Ambassador program could be undermined if the DDA, despite the public outcry, moved forward toward implementation. If I have time later, I’ll try to post some screen captures in the comments section. In the meantime, here’s a little something from 1972 unearthed by our friend Edward Vielmetti.

      psychrangers

      Yes, apparently there was a time in Ann Arbor’s past when it wasn’t the wealthy business owners pushing for their own private security force, but the young people of Ann Arbor, who wanted to replace the cops with their own “Psychedelic Rangers.” One wonders how the DDA might respond to a counterproposal, suggesting that the $900,000 they were planning to hand over to Block By Block be instead given to John Sinclair to bring back the Rangers.

      Posted in Ann Arbor, History, Ideas, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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