Monday, September 2, 2013

Melting your soul, molding your life in the Alley

I'm going to give a personal year-by-year account of my experiences at Dally in the Alley. If you live in the Detroit area and don't know what Dally in the Alley is, then you should learn about it and just go. It's a great counterpoint to the commercial path that most festivals have taken. It's free, community focused and non-profit, bringing together people of all ages, ethnicities, lifestyles and backgrounds. I met my bandmate Leah at the Dally 2008, and I've always loved it there. My band Eleanora is playing there at 3:30 on the Forest Stage. You should get there early and stay late. Good luck parking if you're taking a car. Here's my history with this beautiful festival. All photos are taken by me unless stated otherwise.

2005: My first Dally. I didn't even know it was happening or what it was until that same afternoon. I moved into my dorm at CCS (10th floor, formerly a luxury hotel) the week before. I am on my own for the first time in my life. My white girl dreads are starting to lock in. I walk the streets feeling like I have been transported to a different time and place. It is low-lit. It is packed. It is loud. It is full of hippies with smiles on. It is my 18-year-old libby mind's heaven. I buy a patchwork dread cap for 20 bucks.

2006: The first year I go with Scottie. I don't remember much from it other than that, honestly.

2007: I wake up on the morning of the Dally, confused as to all the noise going on outside of my new apartment at Forest and Second. I saw the banners. I take a picture. I realize that this was exactly where the Dally in the Alley takes place. Scottie, Rachel and I take turns sitting in the bay window, watching the happenings. We go out and explore. We meet Rodriguez. We meet John Sinclair. We talk to people in Amsterdam Coffeehouse in the basement of our building. We feel the community.

Rachel Pearson

2008: Less than a week before this year's Dally, Scottie gets a call from Blair. "Hey, I need a drummer for the Dally in the Alley. Do you think you can learn a few of my songs and play them with me and a couple other people from my band?" They practice the day before the festival, where Scottie meets two lovely women named Markita and Leah who play trumpet and clarinet, and sing.

The day of Dally, I help Scottie unload the drums from my purple Plymouth Voyager. I stand in front of Forest Arms and recall the year before, when I was looking out of that window that's now boarded up. The building is a ruin after the fire in February that claimed the top two floors and one man's life. A beautiful young woman walks up to me. Scottie introduces her as Leah, the clarinetist who plays in Blair's band. We have a little chat and they set up on the Forest Stage, right in front of the Forest Arms. My sister comes up and we watch the band play together. The rest of the day is fun, and I get to talk to Leah and Markita more.

Lara Stephenson

2009: Scottie is in Rogue Satellites. We just moved to Ferndale. Rogue Satellites are playing the Alley Stage. Scottie's sister, brother-in-law, and nephew and niece boogie to the synth and drums. He brings Wendell up on the stage with him to try out the drums. Then there's a party at the Illy Mack apartment, with a lot of loud music in hot rooms, and I pass out in Steve's bed. I wake up the next morning to the sounds of someone throwing up in the doorway. "Yes," I think, "It was a successful Dally."

2010: Scottie plays a set with Tone and Niche during the day at the Forest Stage again. It's been a while since they've played together but he remembers the songs. Marco Polio and the New Vaccines play the Garden Stage late at night. Everyone wants to party, which means everyone wants to mosh really hard, and Steve Puwalski has to stop the music to tell everyone to calm down, have fun but have respect for each other and be in this one human family.


2011: Blair left the world in July of this year. Audra Kubat rustles up a tribute where all the "Boyfriends" (after Blair and the Boyfriends) play his music. We are irritable. We are in mourning. We are good musicians who know his songs. We take the garden stage, and, though guaranteed an hour of play time, are given about 20 mins. It's heartbreaking because of how much we prepared, practicing at the Trumbullplex to get the show together. Yet I know the stages always run late. Leah and Markita are up there, Leah (my bandmate since 09) expecting her son, and also many of our friends, like Mike Anton, who survived a shot in the face on his birthday earlier in the summer. It's an emotional concert but the love just flows out of us. It's also my sister's going-away party, as she's lived on Hancock and is about to move to the UK to get her Master's degree. Her backyard is inside the actual alley.

Lara Stephenson

Lara Stephenson

Lara Stephenson

2012: J. Walker and the Crossguards play the Alley Stage to a big happy crowd. It's a dance party. It's a joyous celebration--as it has been since I have known the festival, as it was since the 80s, and as it will always be. The sun sets to their Motown-garage fusion and I feel at home. Eleanora was slotted to play at a point but we couldn't because of work conflicts. I think, "Next year. We gotta do it next year."

So now it's 2013 and my band Eleanora is going to play. I feel like a baby because so many of my friends have been going since the 90s or earlier. Do you have a favorite Dally memory?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Persona || Architecture

Until I was 15, I thought that Feminism was something that ended in the 60s. I'm quite serious. I was flabbergasted in 2002 when 17 year old Sarah Michaels told me she was a Feminist. It made no sense to me. But, as I've always been curious, I immediately looked into it and started questioning, looking at the world around me with different eyes; and of course, I found my role models from a distance: Ani DiFranco, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich. It was exciting to me that people could hold views unlike the ones I'd usually seen around my suburban neighborhood, and experience worldly lives completely different from the isolated Midwest ideal I was in. I started questioning my faith, my judgment, and my style. With faith, I stopped displaying my Christianity like a badge that separated me from all the teenagers who just didn't get how much I loved God. I realized that that wasn't really fair, and still, I replaced church with my new-found sense of political emancipation and enlightenment. My judgment of my peers turned from "how moral are you?" to "how liberal are you?" When I turned 18, I dreadlocked my hair. Paisley skirts abounded. I fervently preached the gospel of Feminism and Neo-Hippy 101to fellow college freshmen.

Like anyone who gets wrapped up in ideology as a distraction from their own broken sense of self, I put on a parade where all the pretty floats covered up nasty, moldy mechanical skeletons. Just as in church I had evangelized and judged and never lived or believed anything Christ-like in my heart, I took Feminism and liberal politics and wore them as a mask to please, judge and impress others. It never even occurred to me that the way I behaved personally within my relationships to those I loved, my friends, family and myself might be in conflict with those ideals I touted so fully. I convinced myself that I liked masculine things I actually didn't and denied liking any feminine things I actually liked because I did not want my peers to think I was girly. I was femmephobic and obsessed with everyone knowing that I was unique in every single way. No, every single way, goddammit. I wanted to be a superhero. Both adored and anonymous, intriguing, odd, and surprising at every turn. I needed to be great at everything, while being altruistic and accepting of everyone. When I did something even slightly wrong, the guilt consumed me. I still time-travel back to most of the small shameful things I have done and wonder how anyone I know could look at me and not think I'm a monster (hint: because they might have healthier senses of others). I am easily embarrassed by my naiveté and clumsiness. It's because the committee in my head sees them as revelations of my humanity, the part of humanity that is not kind or loving but messy and unknowing. And the committee in my head did not want that.

How the hell is any of that attitude in line with Feminism? It's insane behavior, it's repression at its finest.

As I'm trying to get healthy in my mind, I'm realizing the ways I used the tenets of political Feminism to permit myself to ignore its most important personal applications. "The personal is political" has nothing to do with how I display myself to the world; it has everything to do with honesty. If I am not honest with my self--if I have constructed my self on the warped basis of what I think every person in the world would like, then I am a broken woman. I make choices based upon self-objectification. No doubt, outside forces have played their part. I think it's just part of the plan that I've traveled this path. I have a lot to learn about being myself, whatever that really is, and accepting my flaws as forgivable and present. For instance, I gained ten pounds in the last few months, and while I've defended the concepts of fat acceptance and health at every size, I have found myself under immense anxiety over my muffin top and tighter jeans. Now that anxiety is a signal to me that I need to relax and pay attention to how I feel inside and to my intuitive rationality. I'm trying to use anxiety as a tool/gauge rather than a jailor.

My LiveJournal username at 16 was facadesbanned (yep, LiveJournal). I "refuse[d] to put on a facade", as I put it. Of course, I can see now that I've worked all my life to create the prettiest facade I possibly could (and pretend I wasn't!). But you can only add so much to the front of the building before it crumbles on its own weight. I guess now I'm just working on fixing up the raw structure to let my soul grow through it. And it's okay if I'm not perfect at it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Year's Resolutions, Detroit-Style

Okay, okay--generally, these things called New Year's Resolutions can induce eye-rolls in the cynic. I can definitely be a cynic. But I'm also aware that most of the time, the reason resolutions suck is that they're made the wrong way. This year, I made a few personal resolutions that captured the essence of what one should really be considering when making a resolution. Those considerations are: What would I enjoy doing that would benefit me physically, mentally, or spiritually? Is it reasonable to expect this of myself? Will I be crushed if I don't follow through? Is there help available to me while trying to accomplish this? Et cetera. It's really helpful to view a resolution as a gift you give to yourself instead of a chore.

Anyway, after making those personal ones, I decided I should make an edition of resolutions for myself that entirely involve what I'd like to accomplish in, about, and for Detroit in 2013. In 2012, I started getting back into the city more, and now that I work in Cass Corridor full-time, I feel a renewed pull to experience things. I'm sharing them with you in case you want to experience them too! Here goes:

1. Find out what this Jam Handy building thing is all about
2. Record something somewhere
3. Visit newer galleries more often
4. Beer gardens? Yes, please.
5. Regular gardens? Hell yeah.
6. See the Oscar-nominated shorts at the DFT
7. Patron the fabulous Nest Housewares more
8. Visit the seemingly multiplying print-shops of various natures growing from Eastern Market
9. Play Dally in the Alley with Eleanora (and other Detroit venues!)
10. Spend time unfettered on Belle Isle
11. Eat! Eat! Eat!

Let me know what I'm missing out on! I've been out of the loop about the city for quite a while and feel like a newcomer to a degree! What's been happenin'?