The inside track on local Roller Derby… brought to you by a member of the Ypsilanti Vigilantes

    I had the opportunity a few days ago to chat with Jenny Hansen, the public relations chair for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, our hometown roller derby league. She contacted me to let me know that their last bout of the season would be coming up on October 18, at Buhr Park, when the Border City Brawlers and the Windsor A-Salt would be coming over from Canada to take on our Brawlstars and Vigilantes. Well, once we got to talking, and I learned that Hansen skated for the Ypsilanti Vigilantes (under the name Susan B Slamthony), it occurred to me that we should probably just do a formal interview… So, without further ado, here’s our discussion on everything from the Depression era origins of full-contact roller skating to the feminist underpinnings of the modern derby movement.


    MARK: Before we get into stuff, I was hoping that you might be able to give me a little background on roller derby. Do you know much about its origins as a sport? Would I be right to assume that it first started becoming popular sometime around World War II?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: You’re correct. A few years before WWII, roller skating races, which had been going on for a while, became full-contact. And that was essentially the beginning of roller derby. Then, after WWII, they started televising the matches. That’s what a lot of people remember – watching co-ed teams flying around banked tracks on black and white TVs. It was one part sport, one part show – much like professional wrestling is now. In the early 2000s, the game evolved to about what we consider “modern” roller derby to be today, which is a women’s only sport that primarily takes place on a flat track. (A few derby leagues still skate on banked tracks, but they’re rare.) In the last few years, men’s derby leagues have begun to spring up as well.

    MARK: I wasn’t aware that early roller derby was co-ed. Did men and women play different roles on their teams? And at what point did men exit the sport?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: My understanding is that, when it was co-ed, men and women played on the same teams, and there weren’t different roles assigned by sex. Somewhere in the evolution, though, I believe they’d have a jam of all men, followed by a jam of all women. But I’ve also seen versions where men and women shared the track. I’m not sure when the men exited, but, when the 2000s revival happened, it was explicitly a women’s sport. Even now, we refer to ourselves as “roller derby,” and men’s roller derby as ”men’s roller derby.” So it’s become female by default. Men are definitely getting back in the game now, though, especially in the last two years. There are a couple of men’s leagues in Michigan, and you can find several co-ed scrimmages every year in the area.

    MARK: You mention men’s jams, and women’s jams. What, for the uninitiated, is a jam?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Each derby game (also known as a “bout”) is broken into two 30-minute halves. But we don’t skate constantly for 30 minutes at a time. Each period is broken up into multiple jams. Jams can last up to two minutes long, but they can be called off earlier as a strategic move by the jammers (the skaters who score the points for their team). Once a jam starts, additional players can’t enter the track. So basically, before a jam starts, each team fields 4 blockers and 1 jammer on the track. The Jammers can score points for their team by passing the hips of the opposing skaters. Blockers have two goals- prevent the other team’s jammer from getting past them, and help their jammer pass the skaters from the other team.

    Brawlstars vs Lansing Derby Vixens photo credit Mega Hurtz(1)MARK: How far does the tradition go back here in Ypsi-Arbor? Have you found evidence of earlier leagues that operated here in the past?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Next season, we’ll be celebrating our fifth year. The Dimes will hit a Nickel! Before the Dimes started skating here, though, the nearest leagues would have been in the Detroit area. The Detroit Derby Girls have been around since 2005. Before that, as far as I know, there wasn’t a league in Michigan. There was a derby league in the 1970s in Chicago, but nothing up here, at least that I know of.

    [photo right: Brawlstars vs. Lansing Derby Vixens (photo credit Mega Hurts): Fracture Mechanic engages with Lansing blockers. They try to make her fall down, but that's just not something she does.]

    MARK: OK, I’ve been trying to do a bit of research, and it looks as though, by early 1936, Leo Seltzer, the man credited with inventing the sport, had “Transcontinental Roller Derby” teams competing in Chicago, Miami, Louisville, and Detroit. From the sounds of it, they were essentially endurance races, in which two-person, co-ed teams would go head-to-head against each other over the course of days, logging up to 3,000 miles a team, or the number of miles you’d need to travel across the continent, from New York to Los Angeles… hence the “Transcontinental.”

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Wow, you’re beating me with your derby history! I knew that, in the early years, they were doing that in big markets, but I was unaware that Detroit had a team.

    MARK: And, later, there was apparently a team called the Detroit Devils. This would have been after the sport kind of morphed into something akin to professional wrestling, though. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate it if you’d watch this video of the Detroit Devils taking on the Los Angeles Thunderbirds and tell me what you make of it. According to the YouTube comments, it’s from 1964.

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: First off – man that announcer! He sounds like an old-timey baseball announcer. “HOLY NONCHALANT ELBOW!” And clotheslining! And punching! I used to ref for derby and all I can do is mentally call penalties to myself as I watch this. Yikes. Play like this in modern derby would have you expelled from the bout and potentially from future bouts as well.

    This is the image that I know a lot of people have in their minds about modern derby, and that kind of makes me sad. We’re rough and tumble. We knock each other down and fight as hard as we can, but we aren’t a blood sport. We’re athletes who want to outplay each other, not just be better at surviving, beating or cheating. Our sport takes strength, agility, and the ability to recover, not just the ability to skate through a concussion.

    I also have no idea how this score is working. It seems like they’re getting points when the jammers are on the track alone, or when the jammers are skating through the middle of the pack. And, while I see lots of moves against the jammers, I’m not seeing the blockers engaging each other, which is very strange for modern derby.

    MARK: You talk about their moves like you don’t think that this was all scripted. Is your sense that this may have been somewhat real, and that the truly scripted stuff came later?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Ugh, I hope this was scripted, or you’d have had a lot of broken cheek bones. My teammates have broken legs, noses, wrists and ribs playing modern derby… I can’t imagine how many injuries these shenanigans would have caused if they weren’t scripted.

    MARK: What do you think accounts for these shifts in how we’ve seen the sport played over the past several decades?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: I think there are both social and economic reasons. First off, derby before 2000 was something that promoters developed – it was a sport run by people looking to sell tickets, not by athletes who were just looking to compete. Having women on the teams was cool, and it was a real crowd-pleaser to see pretty ladies in little outfits. Modern derby, in contrast, is usually skater-owned and operated. Since it’s the athletes pushing it, we aren’t having the silly “villains.” We aren’t engineering spectacles in order to fill seats. And I think some of it is because we want to be taken more seriously. We’re all volunteers. We all have jobs and lives outside of roller derby. But we are devoting 4 to 10 hours a week to practice on our skates, plus the time it takes to keep in physical shape off skates (cross training), and the time and effort it takes to make the league work. With that much dedication, you want to be taken seriously. As a sport, we’re becoming more organized as well. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), of which we are a member, is a sort of an organizing body and resource house for derby. And it wasn’t created until 2004. So, while we had lots of people interested in derby before that, we were still getting our feet wet up until about 2009.

    MARK: Before we leave this earlier period altogether, I’ve got another video of the Detroit Devils. This one, I’m guessing, is from the mid 70s.

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Welp. That definitely reminded me of watching WWE. There were some moments on skates when I saw glimmers of derby, but it seemed to be mostly about grandstanding and hitting people’s faces. There wasn’t that much skating! Heck, the last half was just about the manager hitting faces, not the derby players.

    Ever heard of the movie Kansas City Bomber? My dad bought it for me after I started playing derby. I tried to tell him that it’s nothing like what we do, but I think he’ll need to see us play in person before he believes me.

    MARK: I know that you’re probably always battling this stereotype, so I don’t want to keep talking about the past era, but I do find it fascinating that there’s kind of a thread connecting you to these women who skated before, albeit it for much different reasons, in much different times.

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: I read an interview with one of the “oldtimers”, and she spoke about feeling like modern derby wasn’t much of a sport compared to her old way of playing derby, and that she didn’t respect modern derby players much. I definitely give them credit – if they hadn’t played derby and made it popular, no one would have remembered it, and we wouldn’t have derby now. And, back then, it was a different story when it came to women and athletics. There was no Title 9 – women hadn’t been encouraged into sports the way women my age have been. So, while our sports look really different (at least to an insider like me), I give them so much credit for paving the way for us, and showing people that women could compete against each other, and men, and be just as tough as anyone else.

    MARK: Have you ever spoken with any oldtimers personally… women who used to skate back in the early days of the sport?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: One of our trainers, back when I first started with the Dimes, had been a derby girl for years, going way back. Man, could she skate! I also once shared a cab with a guy whose mom had been a derby skater in the 70s.

    MARK: Any interesting stories?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Just a lot of advice and warnings – never get up from a fall without making sure that no one is behind you, or you’ll end up with a roller skate in an uncomfortable location.

    MARK: So, how many local teams do we have now in southeast Michigan?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Tons! Like I said, we’re members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Those are the leagues with alot of organization and focus on the sport. There are five full WFTDA leagues in Michigan; the Dimes, Detroit Derby Girls, Lansing Derby Vixens, Grand Raggidy Roller Girls and Killamazoo Derby Darlins. In addition to that, there are about 25 other teams in Michigan. There’s also a handful of Junior Derby leagues, and one or two men’s leagues.

    MARK: I’ve seen a few Derby Dimes bouts, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Ypsilanti Vigilantes. When did you launch? And what was the impetus behind it? Was there just so much interest from skaters that another local team needed to be added under the Derby Dimes umbrella?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: The Vigis are a newer team – but not really. When we first started our league in 2010, we had just enough people for a travel team, the Brawlstars. In 2011, we had more skaters in our league, and were able to create two teams – the Huron River Rollers and the Tree Town Thrashers. We continued that way for a while. When we had our home games, the Rollers would play the Thrashers, and the Brawlsters would play a visiting league. We decided in 2013 to recreate the model, which is what many derby leagues were doing. We maintained our Brawlstars as our A level travel team, created a B level travel team (the Arbor Bruising Company) and created the Vigis as our home team. Since the requirements for the home team are lower (less practice time required before they’re able to bout), the Vigilantes have the largest membership of the three teams, with about double the number of skaters as the other two teams.

    MARK: In your opinion, did the Drew Barrymore film Whip It help or hurt the sport? As I recall, having talked with a few of the local derby girls at the time, there was some controversy.

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Good question. There’s a joke in the derby community that roller derby is nothing like Whip It… and that derby is exactly like Whip It. If you’ve never heard of derby before, Whip It can at least open that door for you. In that regard, I think the movie did a good job of publicizing the sport, which is still young, and often in a niche market. But, Whip It showed a very stylized picture of derby – a bank track, skating while blood drips down your face (ewww, can we say biohazard), shoving with the hands, punching, etc. That doesn’t happen in modern derby. Like I said, we skate on a flat track, we have a thick set of rules (74 pages!), and, while we might compete heartily, we are all supportive of each other off the track. Whip It touched on the themes of skater-sisterhood and the support we give to each other, as well as empowering women through athleticism and finding strength you never knew you had. There was plenty that wasn’t idea, though – the stories of skaters trying to sabotage each other to get ahead, the focus on a single skater instead of a team, the lack of diversity in body shapes on the track; but i don’t think the film hurt the sport.

    MARK: Speaking of body types, I’d heard through the grapevine that some of our better local skaters weren’t encouraged to participate as extras because the didn’t fit the Hollywood mold, which kind of runs counter to the message of empowerment, right?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: I don’t know much about it. Whip It was filmed before I got into the derby scene, and before the Dimes were formed, so all I know is hearsay and rumor. I can say that, from watching the film, there’s a lack of diversity when it comes to body type, at least compared to the skaters I’ve encountered. One of the things I hear from my teammates is that they love the way that derby is for everyone, regardless of body type. Big girls, little girls, tall, short, whatever. Derby has a place for everyone, and every body type can give you a different sort of advantage. I’ve always had wide hips, and a correspondingly wide posterior, and for a while I didn’t like that about my body. Now, I look at girls with narrow hips and think, “Poor thing, she can’t take up much space on the track with a booty like that.”

    Screen shot 2014-09-18 at 9.56.04 PM

    [pictured above: Arbor Bruising Company vs. Lansing Derby Vixens (photo by Mega Hurts): Susan B. Slamthony holds back the opposing jammer, assisted by teammates Upzette and Midnite Vulture while a Lansing blocker bridges and Jadzia Smax tries to break through the Lansing wall up front.]

    MARK: So, how’s the league structured? If you do well, is there some kind of national tournament?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: All three of our teams invite other teams in the region to come skate with us, or we go to them. Even the Vigilantes, our Home Team, is willing to travel a few hours to skate. The two travel teams have been known to travel to other locations in the midwest – Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio. We also participate in the Mitten Kittens tournaments with other leagues from across the state. As our Brawlstars continue to succeed on the track, we are hopeful that they’ll be invited to skate at some of the bigger tournaments in the coming years. There’s a national tournament for roller derby, the WFTDA Championships, which are going to be held soon in Nashville (October 31 – November 2nd). We’re still some distance from being able to skate on that stage but, “Woo, it would be nice to get there some day.”

    MARK: Would I be right to assume that you weren’t born with the name Susan B Slamthony?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Right, although it would have been cool if my parents had named me that. Lots of the women and men in the derby community take on “stage” names. It goes back to those 1970s roller derby teams and their showmanship. Some people say that derby names are part of what keeps our sport from being taken seriously. What network is going to air Suzy Hotrod going toe-to-toe with Olivia Shootin’ John, right? Well, Sports Illustrated was willing to make Hotrod one of their featured athletes a few years ago in their body issue, so why wouldn’t ESPN start showing us just because we use fun, often punny names? Most skaters pick their name because it means something important to them – like how I picked my name in honor of a personal hero of mine. Some skaters pick something that describes them or their personality, or some just come up with hilarious puns.

    MARK: Coming up with a good pun… I could see that being a lot of pressure.

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: It took me months to come up with my name. My dad even came up with a great one – Auntie Social. It was perfect – I like to talk to people, I’m a social worker and my sister had a baby just as I was getting ready to take on the name. Too bad someone in Pennsylvania already uses that name. Such is the curse of derby.

    MARK: What happens to a derby girl if it’s found out that she knowingly ripped off a name? Is there some kind of ceremony where you remove the wheels from her skates, and rip the number from her uniform?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: In the past, we had a website ( that kept track of all derby girls from around the world. You submitted your name and you waited to be “validated”. You might be told that Riot Girl was too close to Riot GRRRL so you’d need to change your name. Your league would encourage that, and our league had a policy of only accepting names that had been validated by the website. Now derby has gotten so big that most people generally follow the guideline that you don’t use a name that’s being used by anyone you might possibly play someday (so while you shouldn’t take the name of another local skater, taking the name of a skater in California isn’t so big of a deal). I don’t know what will happen going forward. I spent a lot of time googling all the different derby names that I was interested in before I felt safe to say that no one else was Susan B. Slamthony, though.

    MARK: Who, in your opinion, has the best name in the league?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: That’s a tough choice. Like choosing between beer and pizza. I’d have to say Jadzia Smax, because I wish I’d come up with a good Star Trek reference for a derby name. I also do love that our league has both a Lezzie Arnez and a Lucille Baller.

    MARK: Let’s talk injuries. I suspect everyone’s prepared for the possibility that something bad might happen, as broken bones come with the territory, but I’m curious as to how people deal with it when it actually happens. I imagine it’s pretty devastating for folks, given the expenses associated, lost work, etc. Is that the main reason that people end up leaving the sport?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: You’re right – this can be bad. I’ve seen three or four people break their tibia/fibia during derby bouts or practices. Lots of skaters have to take time off to heal from major injuries, or from more minor ones that just don’t seem to heal well. We do lose some people permanently that way too. They can feel that their body just isn’t healing well enough to skate again, or they don’t want to put themselves and their families through the cost of another injury.

    But we only lose a small percentage of our skaters to acute injuries (like breaks or ACL tears). Probably double that we lose to chronic injuries – an ankle that was broken, and just doesn’t feel great on the track two years later, or old injuries that hurt for days after a game. The majority of the time, we lose skaters because of life! Derby takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment and isn’t cheap. Unless you love it with all your heart, it’s hard to commit that much to it. And as life happens and priorities change, people leave derby to go on to new adventures.

    MARK: Is insurance pretty prevalent?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: We’re re required to carry skater insurance, but it’s a second payer system that waits until you’ve put in a certain amount already before it kicks in. The cost can be tough, and we, as a league, do what we can to take care of each other. We’ll put money into GoFundMe campaigns to help cover costs, or we’ll show up at your house to mow the lawn or walk the dog. We’re constantly sharing job postings and helping folks make employment connections. Our league even has a “sisterhood fund” for when skaters absolutely can’t pay their dues.

    MARK: Would you be in a gang if not for derby?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: If by gang you mean feminist collective plotting to overthrow the patriarchy and establish an egalitarian society, totally. But, no, I’m not very aggressive by nature. Derby is the first full contact sport I’ve played.

    The first bout I ever watched, I remember thinking the women were so cool and so tough and I could never be like them. Then I started reffing for the Dimes and, a few months later, after watching other people who didn’t know how to skate at the beginning either, I began to think “If she can do it, I can do it.”

    I know some derby players say that they love getting to go to practice after a long day and get out all that aggression by hitting people as hard as they can. I actually love to go to practice because derby takes 100% of my focus. I can leave all the frustrations of work and life behind and be entirely focused on what I’m doing–what’s the strategy we’re implementing, making sure my body is positioned perfectly for what I’m trying to accomplish and working hard.

    MARK: So, what’s your record so far this season?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: The Vigilantes are 4-2 this season. Wait, derby is the only sport I play… 4 -2 means we’ve won four, and lost two, right?

    MARK: Yes.

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Then we’re 4-2. The Bruisers are 4-5. And the Brawlstars are 5-5. The Brawlstars are also currently ranked 104th in the USA. Not bad!

    MARK: You mentioned earlier that the local league is skater-owned. Is that not the case elsewhere? Are other leagues started up by entrepreneurs who just hire the girls for their teams?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Most derby leagues these days are skater owned and operated. There are a few out there that are owned by a third party – a promoter or a business. They usually form their own leagues that just bout each other. We really do promote ourselves as “skater owned” because of that history of being owned by someone else – someone who had the potential to trade the skaters to another team or retire you because you’re not selling tickets like you used to. We also take pride as Dimes that we’re self-coached. We’ve hired outside coaches in the past, and we’ll continue to bring in guest coaches, but we’ve found the model that works best for us is to train each other, and teach each other as a unit.

    MARK: Are there teams out there that have a reputation for being too rough?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: There are some. I mentioned earlier that we play by the WFTDA’s rule set. There are other leagues out there that play by other rule sets, including one called Renegade Roller Derby. It looks a lot more like those videos of old-timey derby – flying tackles, punching, dragging people to the ground. One of our skaters said once that she’d be interested in having us try out their rules. I told that that she could just start an on-skates Fight Club and have the same effect. Most derby leagues won’t play with other leagues that use renegade rules. Even if they say they’ll use WFTDA rules, there’s a chance they’ll forget the 74 pages of rules we follow, and go crazy on the track instead. Frankly, I find it embarrassing to even watch renegade derby.

    That said, there are a few leagues who have reputations for not understanding the rules clearly enough and just liking to hit people without regard for the sport. Our league has simply agreed not to schedule any games against those leagues. Wedecline invitations from them.
    But, there are lots of leagues with reputations of hitting HARD! That doesn’t make them “too rough,” it just means that you know you’re going to go home with lots of bruises.

    MARK: Is there any push within the sport to move it one way or the other? Are there people out there, for instance, who want to see the professional wrestling side of things come back in a big way, nationwide? Or, on the other side, are there pushing for you all to lose the puns and make a push to become an olympic sport?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Almost everyone is pushing harder to make it a legitimate sport – one that could be in the Olympics some day. There are a few that prefer the renegade track – if only because games are more action packed, and less time is spent on officials calling penalties and reviewing plays. I think that’s why you’ll see some very different personalities on the track in our league now than you would have seen three years ago. Our skaters used to wear face paint, tutus, and other silly costumes. Now we wear uniforms and we’re much more focused on how we play during the game than on how we look in the pictures.

    MARK: Are there real rivalries?

    SUSAN B SLAMTHONY: Friendly ones, heck yes. Our Brawlstars just skated against the Lansing Derby Vixens. Last time we played them at their rink, we lost by one point. You could feel the electricity between the teams this year (our girls pulled out the win in the last few jams). But we also saw hugs after the skaters finished as well as at the afterparty. Last month the Vigilantes lost to the Mitten Mavens, but I spent the after-party sharing beers and stories with their players. The upside of being such a small community is that even when we come from different teams, we have more in common than we have differences. It is not unusual for skaters from other leagues to visit one another’s practices and share tips with each other. Within our league, there are friendly rivalries that happen all the time, but at the end of the day, we’re all family.


    Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Other, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    ISIS and the Christian right are in agreement on evolution

    According to CNN, ISIS has announced their K-12 curriculum in Syria, and certain elements sound surprisingly familiar.

    In swaths of Syria now controlled by ISIS, children can no longer study math or social studies. Sports are out of the question. And students will be banned from learning about elections and democracy.

    Instead, they’ll be subjected to the teachings of the radical Islamist group. And any teacher who dares to break the rules “will be punished.”

    ISIS revealed its new educational demands in fliers posted on billboards and on street poles. The Sunni militant group has captured a slew of Syrian and Iraqi cities in recent months as it tries to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, spanning Sunni parts of both countries.

    In the letter, ISIS said alternative courses will be added.

    It also said teachers must erase the phrase Syrian Arab Republic — the official name of Syria — and replace it with Islamic State, which is what ISIS calls itself.

    Educators cannot teach nationalistic and ethnic ideology and must instead teach “the belonging to Islam… and to denounce infidelity and infidels.”

    Books cannot include any reference to evolution. And teachers must say that the laws of physics and chemistry “are due to Allah’s rules and laws”…

    I know I should just be thankful that our religious fundamentalists in this country aren’t fond of cutting off the heads of disbelievers, but I do think it’s worth pointing out the fact that a certain degree of commonality does exist between the fundamentalists in Syria and those here at home. One would hope that this fact alone would be enough to motivate the Christian right in America to rethink their stances on issues like evolution, homosexuality, and birth control, but, given the interactions I’ve had with fundamentalists over the years, I don’t have a lot of faith. I just know that, if I ran, say, a restaurant, and there was another restaurant down the street that had an almost identical look, and feel, and menu, only they were known for decapitating their diners, I’d probably drop everything and begin a pretty extensive rebranding campaign.

    One last observation about this newly rolled out ISIS curriculum… Given the realities of the world in which we live, is really likely that you could build a state capable of taking on the United States when you’re not teaching your boys math, and not teaching your girls at all? Is that really a tenable strategy? I mean, I guess you can cut heads off without knowing math, and hack at people with machetes, but that’s about it, right? I’m not complaining. I think it’s a great strategy, and I’d encourage all of our enemies around the world to stop educating their kids. I just found it interesting that ISIS, after horrifying us with gruesome decapitation videos, chose to follow up with a promise not to educate their kids. That, to me, is like a bully punching you in the nose, and then announcing, “I’m going to go home now and cut off my legs.”

    And this image, by the way, was not produced by ISIS.


    Posted in Civil Liberties, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

      I hesitate to do this, as I know it’s exactly what they want, but fuck Urban Outfitters


      I know that I should just keep my mouth shut, as everyone else is already talking about this, and as I know it’s exactly what Richard Hayne, the far-right CEO and chief provocateur of Urban Outfitters wants, but I can’t help myself. I keep putting down my computer, and trying to walk away, but I just can’t seem to do it. As disgusting as many of the stunts pulled by Urban Fitters have been over the years, I never thought the’d go so far as to make light of a tragedy like the Kent State killings… killings which happened, by the way, just as Hayne was launching Urban Outfitters in 1970.

      Following, for those of you unaware of the history of Urban Outfitters, is a clip from my interview last year with Hayne’s ex-wife, the founder of the Business Alliance for Living Local Economies (BALLE), Judy Wicks.

      …I started the Free People’s Store (which would later become Urban Outfitters) in 1970 with my first husband (Richard Hayne), my 5th grade boyfriend. We were 23 at the time and were very aligned politically as anti-war, anti-corporate progressives. The store was a sixties kind of place with progressive books, houseplants, new and used clothing, and hip house wares – a sort of department store for the under 30 crowd. We even campaigned for George McGovern out of the store. I left the marriage and the business in 1972 because I wanted to seek my own path for a number of reasons. As I continued my progressive views and learned to use my business to express those views through the educational programs at the restaurant as well as my business practices, I was unaware that my ex-husband had changed his views until about 10 years ago… We don’t talk politics or business when we do happen to run into each other…

      It’s hard to imagine how a man who once considered himself to be an anti-corporate progressive, could now be running a corporation that takes every opportunity to shove its thumb into the eye of progressive America, but I guess, when you have money, all you want is more. And apparently, in the case of Hayne, $1.8 billion isn’t enough.

      So, the next time you’re out shopping for crap, like a disgusting shirt urging young people not to vote, or a racist board game, keep in mind that your hard-earned dollars are going right into the pocket of Hayne, who has a record not only of selling products that are calculated to offend the sensitive left, but of giving generously to those politicians like Rick Santorum who promise to rid our country of things like gay marriage and abortion.


      For what it’s worth, the folks at Urban Outfitters are claiming that the blood spattered Kent State sweatshirt wasn’t intended to be offensive. Here’s the company’s statement.

      Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.

      The folks from Kent State, it would appear, don’t believe them. Here’s their response.

      May 4, 1970, was a watershed moment for the country and especially the Kent State family. We lost four students that day while nine others were wounded and countless others were changed forever. We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today. We invite the leaders of this company as well as anyone who invested in this item to tour our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened two year ago, to gain perspective on what happened 44 years ago and apply its meaning to the future.

      Posted in Corporate Crime, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

      Being there for The Replacements Minneapolis homecoming

      replacementshmecoming2I spent this past Saturday with an old high school friend in the suburbs of Minneapolis… The trip had been in the works for over three years. It started in early 2011, when I scored two hard-to-get tickets for the big Stooges reunion show at the Michigan Theater commemorating the passing of Ron Asheton. I offered to give one to my friend Dan, on two conditions. First, he had to find a way to get himself down to Ann Arbor from St. Paul. And, second, he had to promise that, if The Replacements ever got back together again for a reunion show in their hometown of Minneapolis, he’d return the favor, and get a ticket for me. And that’s why, on Saturday night, I was crammed into the soon-to-be demolished Midway Stadium, along with 14,000 other diehard Replacements fans, jumping up and down to Takin’ a Ride like we’d just been transported back to the ’80s.

      For those of you who don’t know the background, The Replacements haven’t played in their hometown, where they formed in 1979, in over 23 years. Most folks never thought it would happen, but, in 2012, when guitarist Bob “Slim” Dunlap suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed, founding members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson came together to record a four-song EP as part of a bigger fundraising effort. (Dunlap had replaced original Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson in 1987. Stinson, a long time alcoholic, had been forced out of the band in 1986.) So, one thing led to another, and Paul and Tommy decided to reform the band for short tour, which is scheduled to end in Texas next month. The Minneapolis show, where I saw them, sold out in ten minutes.

      Here, for those of you who weren’t with me on the field of the run-down minor league ball park Saturday night, is a little video.

      I was going to write about the show, but, as the folks at the Star Tribune did such a nice job, I’ll just share what they had to say.

      …(M)ostly the new ’Mats just took care of business. Like their 10 previous shows since the first in Toronto a year ago, they opened with a batch of fast, snarling oldies. “Favorite Thing” and “Takin’ a Ride” kicked off the first-round assault, and an all-too-appropriate “Don’t Ask Why” delivered the first knock-out moment.

      After switching modes for two melodic, sophisticated late-era fan faves, “I’ll Be You” and “Valentine,” the guys slid back into several more rowdy, gritty, snotty rockers, including “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Take Me Down to the Hospital” — both altered to great effect. The former was stretched out by tacking on a minute or two of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun.” The latter was stretched out by Westerberg either intentionally or unintentionally dropping some of the lyrics, forcing some musical improv that bounced back ferociously.
      No surprise that the rockiest rockers were tight, bouncy and wicked, as has been the case at the other shows, with Freese appearing to be the primary culprit. “Left of the Dial” and “Alex Chilton” both came off exuberantly in the encore. What really made the hometown show feel special, though, were the quieter, more introspective moments.

      Westerberg sang with unusual tenderness — soft, raspy, sadly beautiful — in the mid-show highlights “If Only You Were Lonely” and “Androgynous.” He once again botched the lyrics at the end of “Androgynous,” but his smile after hearing the crowd fill in the words suggested he perhaps did so on purpose.

      There were two more unusually lovely and emotional turns at show’s end, as the band added in two songs yet to be played by the new lineup: “Skyway,” which Westerberg played by himself to kick off the first encore, and “Unsatisfied,” which they saved for the one-song second encore and turned into the most perfect part of the night…

      And here are a few photos I picked up by looking around various online fan sites as I waited for my $75 plane ride back to Michigan on Sunday morning. The first one, shot by someone identifying himself as Darin K, shows original Replacements Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson hugging one another.


      Westerberg also kissed Stinson midway through their song Kiss Me on the Bus.

      Speaking of Westerberg and Stinson, there was only one spoken exchange between the two men that I recall hearing. Early on, Westerberg said something to the effect of, “I’m sorry it’s taken us so long to come back and play for you,” at which point Stinson responded, “No you’re not.”

      I was expecting more banter. I was expecting Westerberg to talk more about the early days, perhaps noting the passing of former bandmate Bobby Stinson, who passed away in ’95, or acknowledging that Chris Mars, their first drummer, still lives in the area. Aside from the kissing, there wasn’t a lot of sentimentality, though. The show was still incredible, but they just didn’t take the opportunity to reflect, at least publicly, on this tumultuous journey that they’ve been on. I suspect, however, that went on behind the scenes… The following image was anonymously posted to a fan forum shortly after the show.


      Here, thanks to a photographer by the name of Nate Ryan, is a shot of the boys in action.


      And, lastly, for all you hardcore fans out there, is the set list, thanks to someone by the name of Caryn Rose.


      All in all, I’d say it was a pretty awesome time.

      Oh, and I’d like to thank Dan’s wife Jen for driving us to the show and dropping us off in the parking lot, where we’d planned to meet up with some of Dan’s fellow middle-aged high school teacher friends. (It was like we’d traveled back in time a few decades, and his mom was dropping us off for a show somewhere, telling us to be safe and have fun.) And, for what it’s worth, you haven’t lived until you’ve tailgated in a desolate St. Paul parking lot with a few high school English teachers and a guidance councilor.

      Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

      The failed experiment of privatization in Michigan

      Our friends at Progress Michigan have just done something good. They’ve invested in a Robert Reich sound-alike to explain, in easy to understand terms, the true costs of privatization in Michigan. As fond as I am of my painstakingly-detailed and painfully-long rants on the subject, like my recent piece on the privatization of Michigan’s prison food service industry, the truth is, a four-minute video is infinitely more effective when it comes to conveying the importance of the subject matter, and the threat we’re facing from those, like Governor Snyder, who would like to see all public services privatized. And this, of course, is in spite of the evidence, which shows that, more often that not, costs have risen, quality has dropped, and corruption has increased, when we’ve handed these critical parts of Michigan’s infrastructure over to private hands… Here’s the video. If you like it, please pass it along to your friends.

      Speaking of Aramark, the prison food vendor that was recently found to have been serving maggot-contaminated food to Michigan’s prisoners, it’s now being reported that the Snyder administration quietly forgave the $98,000 fine that had been levied against them by the State. And Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, among others, is wondering why. In fact, Schauer is requesting that Snyder release all emails relating to Aramark, so that we might have a better understanding of what happened. “Schauer also called on Snyder,” according to the Detroit Free Press, “to immediately disclose whether Aramark Correctional Services of Philadelphia or any of its officials had donated to the New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify (NERD) fund, a Snyder nonprofit fund that accepted undisclosed corporate donations and which Snyder announced in October he was disbanding.”

      Could it be that Snyder quietly forgave the $98,000 penalty because Aramark had been depositing big checks in his super secret NERD fund in the run up to this November’s race against Schauer, who, coincidentally, is now beating him in the polls? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, though, I think it’s safe to say that Snyder has been dishonest at best, in that he’s given the impression that his administration has been taking a hard line against Aramark, to the tune of $98,000, when, in fact, that wasn’t the case.

      In related news, Snyder has refused to set a time to debate Schauer, which, I think, speaks volumes.

      [It should be noted that, while the $98,000 fine against Aramark was descended, there are still other fines against the company that have not been.]

      Posted in Corporate Crime, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


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