In early January of this year, a Detroit rock icon passed away in Ypsilanti at the age of 62. He was born Stanley Zillifro, but, in the mid-1960s, as the Detroit rock scene took off, was reborn as Stanley T. Mad Hatter. And, it was under that monicker that he became famous, emceeing countless historic shows at the Grande Ballroom and elsewhere. This Saturday, a number of people will be coming together in Ypsi to commemorate his life with a parade of sorts. The following Q&A is with two of the event’s organizers, my friends Patrick and Keelan.
MARK: So, I hear there’s going to be some kind of parade this weekend in memory of Stanley. Can you share any details?
fPATRICK: We are planning a memorial gathering and parade in Ypsilanti for our dear friend, mentor, and spiritual adviser, Rev. Stanley T. Mad Hatter. Members of the Detroit Party Marching Band will be on hand – as well as members of the Found Object Orchestra and other local musical groups – to help us celebrate the life of this completely incredible human being. Folks will be meeting at High Noon at 217 S. Adams Street and building a float; afterward, we will march with the float to an as-yet-undetermined location and commit random celebratory acts in Stanley’s honor. I expect that we will have a large quantity of very inexpensive candy flowing from the aforementioned parade at all times as well. We will also be feeding squirrels and other wild beasts animal-grade bread in the Mad Hatter’s memory.
MARK: As he was your mentor, I was wondering if you could say a bit about what you learned from him?
PATRICK: One of the qualities that always impressed me about the Mad Hatter was his sense of generosity. He was an incredibly altruistic individual who never, throughout my experiences with him, sought recognition for his kind deeds. Stanley always carried homemade buttons, candy, and other gifts with him in case he ran into someone he knew and he always made time in his schedule to feed the squirrels, birds, and other wild animals who lived in his neighborhood. In fact, one of the last times we spent time together, he borrowed a friend’s truck and we drove to the Aunt Millie’s outlet on Michigan Avenue to purchase animal-grade bread (which requires the purchaser to sign a waiver stating that they will not use it for human consumption) for just that purpose. We listened to the Ludacris song “Get Back” on repeat all day and drove around to different dollar stores before we spent the afternoon feeding animals. Stanley was also a truly unique individual who never
capitulated to anyone else’s ideas about who he should be – he listened to all types of music (despite the fact that he was the Reverend of the First Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll), exposed himself to wide variety of experiences, and was friends with people from all walks of life. He had no problem putting on a 2 Live Crew cassette and following it with a J. Geils Band record. I never saw him back down from anyone and I never saw him disrespect anyone who hadn’t disrespected him. He inspired me to challenge myself and to be a fearless, creative person. He also taught me how to ride the bus for free, how to pay toast prices for a grilled cheese sandwich at Eastern Market, and where to find a decent ice cream cone.
MARK: For those that didn’t know Stanley, can you share a little of his history?
PATRICK: I met Stanley in Ypsilanti in 1999 or 2000. At the time, he was living in a house on Michigan Avenue near the plasma donation center. The Hatter was still working (doing lights) at the Nectarine (now the Necto), which was formerly the Second Chance. Stanley frequently shared stories with me and my friends about his time as an emcee at the Grande Ballroom and the Cinderella and other venues, and was especially interested in regaling us with stories about the Detroit riot of 1967. For whatever reason(s), the events that took place that summer were very important to him and something he wanted our generation of weirdos to know about. He was a celebrated high school wrestler who became a legendary character in the Detroit and Ann Arbor music scenes, emceeing hundreds, if not thousands, of shows in Detroit and being involved in several different aspects of musical performance. He was also something of an archivist – he had an incredible collection of rock posters from other memorabilia from the 1960’s and 1970’s that he (literally) kept in piles in his bedroom.
MARK: So, what else can you tell us about the parade?
KEELAN: Details include meeting at high noon to eat food and craft a float, which then be paraded through Ypsi on a mapped route. We are going to pass out candy and gorilla garden as we march.
MARK: I’d heard about the feeding of animals, and the handing out of candy, but I wasn’t aware that you’d be doing gorilla gardening. That’s cool. Was Stanley a gardener?
KEELAN: He was not so much a gardener. We had talked about planting a fruit tree just something to give to the community but we were having a hard time deciding where to plant it. I had a lot of leftover seeds so we decided to just plant as we parade. That way there will be many flowers and vegies throughout the neighborhood for the community to enjoy. Stan was very community oriented he loved to give no matter if you were a friend or stranger. One thing I defiantly admired and learned from him was how to be humble. I feel he also carried this essence about him which was live is to short so stay happy and always do well unto others and in that you will find happiness. I think I only saw him mad once and that was at Totally Awesome Fest 1, when his hat had been stolen. We knew he was upset because no one ever saw him express those types of emotions. He was just a happy human always giving whatever he could to people wether it was candy or a hug.
MARK: Was his hat ever located? And, if so, where is it now?
KEELAN: I believe the hat was found later a some random person’s garage sale.
Immediately following Totally Awesome Fest 1, Chad put together a fundraiser for a new
hat. It was a success, and enough money was raised to get Stan a new hat!
PATRICK: I know that some folks were petitioning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame to display Stanley’s hat but I don’t know what (if anything) came of it. It was displayed at the New Dodge Lounge in Hamtramck during the memorial that was held in his honor this past January.
KEELAN: If anyone knows where the hat is now, we would love to have it so that we could bathe it in bronze.
MARK: Speaking of Stanley’s hat, have you ever wondered what would happen if you put it on a snowman?
PATRICK: I have a feeling that if we placed Stanley’s hat on a snowman, it would probably hand us a piece of candy and a joint and start telling us a story.
MARK: Is there anything that you’d like for people to bring out, to contribute to the float?
KEELAN: People should defiantly bring any sort of memorabilia they would like to include.
MARK: How about other stuff…. like balloons, fake flowers…
PATRICK: Yeah, people should bring any materials they deem float-worthy to the float construction party. And candy. Lots of candy.