Monday, August 5, 2013

People in Detroit Are Still Alive, Know That Grand Rapids Exists

I was in Detroit this weekend and guess what: The city was still in the same shape that it was when I left so many months ago, bankruptcy withstanding. Growing up just north in Roseville, I had a friend whose father would bring us downtown in a beat-up van with car parts flying this way and that. We'd go to that oh-so-scary city south of 8 Mile to see bands and, eventually, to see himself and my close friends play together. Years have gone by and he's still playing; instead of the family band he once fronted, he's now representing his own id through a primeval state of Neanderthalic garage rock (Caveman Woodman). Another one of my close childhood friends is part of a band (Phantom Cats) that just dropped their first album, with every bit of their complex, crisp instrumentals in tow. While they played music, the consensus for most of the rest of us was to move away, one as far as Washington, D.C. So when the nation's capital let him come back to Michigan, I decided I would revisit the cities that helped make me who I am today.

Besides affirming my hunch that the news media was lambasting the city once again with its coverage of the bankruptcy, my weekend let me realize something astonishing: People in southeast Michigan actually know that Grand Rapids exists! Before I moved to the west side of the state, I had no idea what was going on over here. I'd never been out to the region--which I often refer to as "a different state entirely"--but after coming here, I fell in love (obviously). We all have our reasons for being here and for staying. What's glued me here is a hodgepodge of ingredients, loosely summed up in the following, unordered categoricals: friends, food, beer, community, the woods, and the water.

So, while I was in Detroit, people asked me where I was from. My answer left me kind of amazed because I said Grand Rapids without a second thought. This was quickly followed by the fact that I was both born and raised just north of Detroit, largely because I'm loyal to my past, but also because of the considerable amount of street cred such a claim provides. But more surprising than my immediate response of Grand Rapids--to me at least--was the general regard people had for GR and the allure it possesses for those individuals. For instance, a couple who randomly sat with us at a bar said that they had just been here to see Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers play at Frederick Meijer Gardens and they said that it wasn't their first time out here, that they'd been downtown before and loved every bit of it.

Another person--the guitarist for the Phantom Cats--said that he'd lived out here for a bit when he went to GVSU. First of all, I had no idea he had gone to the same school as me. The only difference was that he moved back to the east side because little in the way of music was going on here circa 2009. But now, with bands ramping up their efforts (the ubiquitous Crane Wives as well as psyched-out acts like Stepdad), we've got something legitimate going on. And the musicians of Detroit have recognized this--some are even considering coming out to our fair city to take a peak over the fence, to have a conversation, and to see exactly what is going on here: We are Wilson and Detroit is, fittingly, Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor. But neighbors we'll likely remain because, just like Grand Rapids, Detroit has its own string of mysterious enchantments that it has cast on so many of my generation.

And this photo only represents some of those attractions.