Detroit Rock City
by Steve Miller
Da Capo Press
Before our auto industry collapsed and factories outsourced our livelihood overseas for five cents on the dollar, Detroit, Michigan was one of America’s most vital and prosperous cities. From a population high in the ’50s and ’60s of nearly two million people, the beleaguered city now only has a little over 700 thousand. The jobs, the people, and the city aren’t coming back, but at their height, the Motor City had it going on.
In this oral history, Steve Miller takes us from the early days of Detroit rock and roll to the present day, and it’s a compelling tale. Don Was (Rolling Stones producer, Was Not Was) relates growing up in the shadow of the auto industry, and Scott Morgan (The Rationals, Sonic Rendezvous Band) relates his time on the road with The Rationals, whose hit “Respect” was overshadowed by a young gospel singer named Aretha Franklin. This book is subtitled “America’s Loudest City,” and when you look at the some of the talent that arose from it, it’s no wonder. The MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger called Detroit home, and learned their craft on some mighty mean streets. Interviews with MC5 manager John Sinclair and Iggy Pop show both the fraternity and the ill will that were equally strong in the music scene (Sinclair on Nugent: “Everybody thought Ted was an asshole even then”). While Motown was equally influential and outsold the likes of the MC5 et al., the ripples cast by these ’60s and ’70s figureheads loom large over contemporary music and culture. One can hardly imagine the New York and England punk explosion without tracing it back to the Stooges, and the MC5 were early political activists. When their debut record opened with “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” it led to banning of the record, censorship, and a stalled career. When Sinclair was sent to prison for ten years for passing two joints to an undercover officer, it marked a turning point for the band and the city.
By the mid-’70s Detroit was starting to fade, and drugs, namely heroin, took hold. Iggy, Seger, and Nugent had left the city years before, and the once vibrant club mecca withered. It wasn’t until the garage bands, led by The Gories and The White Stripes in the ’90s, that the city could boast of a scene. But it was too little, too late. The Stripes broke up and Jack White now calls Nashville his home, and an emergency manager has been appointed to undemocratically run Detroit, presumably into the ground. While the state of the city is dismal, this book is anything but. Interviews with Wayne Kramer (MC5), Mitch Ryder, Niagara (Destroy All Monsters) and various members of The Romantics, among many others, show how this uniquely American city gave rise to a strong, take no prisoners form of rock and roll, hedonistic and driven. Full of anecdote and confession, Detroit Rock City is a testament to that once great city and the talent it produced. Kick out the jams, indeed.
Steve Miller: www.avalanche50.com