The rapper Eminem’s commercial for Chrysler was a big event of the Super Bowl. Downtrodden Michigan auto towns now seem more appealing. Slick advertising and big budgets have helped. But who’s on the ground everyday to sustain progress? Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports on some young and creative people doing it in Flint.
The forces of destruction in Flint and Detroit are real. Disinvestment, black flight, murder, carjacking, scrapping homes for metal, wood and glass. City officials with wrecking balls that beget empty lots. Roxanne Adair was part of a U-M Flint project rehabbing a house for green technology. Then someone set it on fire.
“It’s really sad,” she said.
It burned to the ground. Police are still looking for a suspect.
“I don’t understand why the Jackson Hardy House was almost completely done, almost completely restored,” Adair said. “And this project would have been something really amazing. Not just for the community but for the city.”
Some people fight destruction with creation. They’re restoring, painting, singing and planting…. So it’s push/pull. And the rebuilders might eventually eclipse the destroyers. Roxanne Adair and friends moved parts of the charred foundation to a community garden.
“We needed some bricks for the paths. And we figured this would be a good place to get them. That way they won’t just go to a land fill. They can be appreciated. This house was appreciated for hundreds of years. It would have been something really great. So now we’ll just take a piece of it and recycle it into something else great.”
A week after that November day in downtown Flint, Kid Rock sang at the American Music awards in Los Angeles. He sung about Detroit. Then a sign appeared behind him on the stage. It read: “God Help Us Save Flint.”
They might not know they’re saving Flint. But that’s what a group of young rockers could be doing with their own storefront space. By May, this will be home base for dozens of musicians. Including a 20 year old in a hat, sunglasses and peg-leg jeans. He sees a motorcycle parked inside next to construction debris.
“I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I haven’t seen it yet. It’s a good first impression. I think they should keep the Honda. It would be fun to ride that around every now and then.”
The Mott Foundation granted money for the project. Mott’s just 5 doors away. Anyone who came to downtown Flint just a year ago will notice improvements. Chris Everson is one of the organizers of the new alcohol-free club. It’s called Flint Local 432.
“We don’t want to be running this club in a year or two. It’s not about a couple 40 year old guys running a teen club. That sounds pretty creepy. Because it is. It’s your club. I felt that way when I saw Joel’s shows back in the ‘80’s. I felt like a part of it. Probably because he handed me a wad of money and said watch the door for 15 minutes. And 2 hours later he came back. I felt like I was a part of it.”
Artists and musicians have formed the avant garde to reviving cities like Berlin and Washington. CBGB’s started on New York’s lower east side in 1973. It put punk rock on stage and used heroin needles on the sidewalk. These are The Cramps. Now real estate in the area sells for thousands of dollars per square foot.
Detroit and Flint are ripe for a new generation of young creative people. Space is cheap and almost no on cares what you do in it. Joel Rash is the other guy running Flint Local 432 until the youngsters take over.
“If you turn people out. You’re easy to work with. The stage hands and the sound guy say good things about your band that’s how to get better and better and better slots and better shows. And if you show up late and your base player had to work and you didn’t tell us. And you only make it through half a set and nobody turns out you’re probably gonna be the opening band for a while.”
Joel Rash’s strategy has worked for years. Here are some Flint boys now big enough to book shows in Europe. They’re called The Swellers. This is a video on the Swellers’ website. 2 of them messing around in their living room.