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'?

Monday, December 31, 2012

Exposure, Part 2.

Of course, while losing my grandmother unexpectedly was certainly the most tragic event of the year, and may well serve as a hinge on which I place some before-and-after significance in my life, it's not just an ending. I don't know if there really are such things as endings. Because the event itself was not the thing that changed me. It was the spark. It was the button that pushed me. It caught my heart on fire.  It clicked something and allowed me to finally pay attention to my life. It woke me up to the unreasonable, irritable, lonely, depressed person I had become in the last several years and which I actively pretended didn't exist. The person that I presented to everyone was slightly attention-seeking, introverted, virtuous, and doing just fine, thank you very much. But that's just a carefully, artfully constructed mask, to use the old, appropriate cliche. I haven't been fine, because I've been ignoring myself for years. My own physical, emotional, spiritual health was just a foreign concept that I pretended to think about sometimes. But mostly I worried about everyone else, and everything else, and  all of these things I can't possibly change.

It's like possession. Depression or perfectionism or paranoia or whatever, it takes possession of your faculties and you become lost in its fog. You don't even know you're possessed. You just roll with the punches, terrified, grappling on to whatever thin string of control you think you have in order to survive. But it takes a real risk--from yourself, not the rescue you imagine will come--to stop holding tight, to let the string go, to admit you don't know where you are and you need help. The reason, other than denial, that doing that is so hard, is because you think of yourself as a total failure and you don't want anyone to know. I certainly did, anyway. I do a lot. No matter how many compliments I got from caring friends, family, loved ones, (and boy, do I feed on them!), I didn't believe them.

The events of July slowly shook off that mask I spent so much time on. I realized I wasn't okay when I started getting panic attacks, when I actually paid attention to how often I cried, to how upset I felt inside about the tiniest things. I did what I should have done a few years ago, but this time was actually ready for--I got some help.

Even though I thought I was getting help for the grief of the family death, I found out my problems ran way deeper and I started to be able to see that thing that had taken possession of me. Now, just a couple months since finding help, I feel so much freer. I'm not as terrified of life and how other people perceive me. I struggle all the time with the concept that I'm not a failure, and I'm trying to learn how to take care of myself without feeling guilty about it. Already I know I'm on a healthier track, I'm changing the way I see myself and what I can and cannot change. I'm able to open up to others a little more. And I'm so grateful. This year has been one of extreme ups and downs, but I believe that the stain of my grandmother's death will be overcome by the joy of being woken back up, made alive. And if it weren't for those around me who care about me so, so much, I wouldn't be in this place. So thanks, loves. Thank you for making my year turn on its heels and stick its head up high.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Here's a reflection. Some overly-gratuitous, very soul-beating, unapologetic navel-gazing, if you will. This past year is one I will never forget. I can say with confidence that 2010 and 2011 have been incredibly forgettable in many ways (with wonderful/bad experiences along the way that were, in fact, memorable). There was this post back in December of 2010 where I was recounting the notable things of that year (fishing in barren waters) and I included this:
2. No one close to me died.
An acquaintance pointed out that that was a significant thing to say. I shrugged it off, because seriously, that's how uneventful the year was to me. Then in 2011 weird things happened. Couldn't put that quote on the list again. The weather, all that rain and heat, cemented in my mind, when I came back from a weekend away in July to find out that musical mentor Blair had unexpectedly died. At the same time, my bandmates were incubating a child. They told us they were pregnant two days after Blair passed, while we were reconfiguring the show we had scheduled with him for the coming weekend. Then during the winter we recorded our full-length album and got distant and despairing for some months. I got a new job and stopped waiting tables. Leah and Jim had their beautiful baby James David Warren Dunstan (David for David Blair) on March 15, 2012. The spring was bizarre, with that record-warm March and subsequent freeze and crop loss. No rain during most of summer. The one notable rain of the summer months was on Independence Day.

On July 4th, 2012, a storm rolled in. Finally. But instead of delivering nourishing water to the plants here, it shot bullets of ice big enough to ruin any crop that was braving the drought. Because of the intense heat and dry weather that dominated the weeks before, this storm was spiteful. My boyfriend and I took pictures, frantically covered my tomato plants, and stalked facebook in all the excitement of the evening. The hail subsided and torrents of rain, thunder and lightning took the stage until I fell asleep, slightly concerned about the silence and lightning, which both increased exponentially with time. At 5am, I woke up to a particularly loud explosion of light and sound. I didn't have my glasses on, so the flashes of light I knew were coming from the transformer across the street were fuzzy and ominous and frightening as fuck. When you can't see exactly what's going on, you feel like an idiot calling 911 even though you think you may be the only person who saw it.

I called 911 twice. The first time, I don't think I expressed the urgency that was really needed for the situation, especially considering I didn't know the names of the streets surrounding me and therefore didn't know how to properly describe exactly which power line was glowing orange and exploding white. I was tired as shit and scared sleepless. Fire trucks finally found the electrical fire in the pouring rain after the second call and I at least felt like it was out of my hands.

I watched the early morning news for company, and then went to work from 9 to 5. My boyfriend and I had decided that since it was such a tough night, we would go out to dinner right when I got home. I took a shower, put on a fabulous white cotton dress, and we walked about a mile to a new joint. While I waited for my meal, my mom called my boyfriend. That's unusual. She told him to tell her when we were home without any other information. I started to feel sick. I didn't know what was going on, and the speculations started rolling like ticker-tape behind my eyes. In any case, I had the waitress package our food and left immediately, walking home in the hot sun with my incredible red shoes tearing up my heels. The sickening feeling increased, because of how out-of-character it was for my mom.

By the time my parents got to my door, I was a nervous wreck. When I walked out the front door, my dad was pointing at my tomato plants, which were doing well but had narrowly escaped annihilation from the hail. They looked calm, but exhausted, in a fog. My mom told me how pretty I looked. My dad's eyebrows and downcast gaze braced me. "Honey, we have some bad news." My mom was on the ground, and I was one level above her on the front step. "Grandma Shields has passed away." That was the last thing I expected from her mouth. It was really shocking, because she was healthy and her own mother had only died the year before at age 104. But then my mom said, choking back tears, "That's not the worst part." I knew immediately. My schizophrenic uncle, my mom's baby brother, had been living with Grandma for the past few years, and his condition had obviously gotten worse but despite my mom's efforts to get him out of the house, Grandma insisted she felt safe. She wasn't safe. My grandma was murdered by her youngest child on the anniversary of Grandma and Grandpa's first date, July fourth. The incident occurred in the afternoon, as the storm rolled in from the west, and while the hail fell, my uncle stayed inside. When the rain stopped and I fell asleep, the police were finally called. The lightning, silent as my grandmother's heart and violent as my uncle's sickness, continued through the night. When I went to work, exhausted and still slightly terrified, my mom went to her mother's house, expecting to have conversation and lunch with her and finding a crime scene instead.

The strangest part of this is that I feel incapable of anger toward my uncle. I keep thinking it's my duty to feel that way, and I certainly don't blame my sisters and the rest of the family for wishing him to rot in hell. But I can't. For some reason, it was the storm that changed me. In the six months since, I've jumped and trembled at the most innocuous sounds. My heart races at particularly loud planes. Panic comes at the slightest change in environment. I think it's because I can only imagine my grandmother's death, but I witnessed God's wrathful fire. I've delighted in the mystery of nature all my life, and now I've been taught its terrific power. From the electrical pulses between my uncle's broken synapses, to the exploding transformer threatening the neighborhood, I can see the chaos of the world a little more.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Service Frontroom

I came across something serendipitous tonight. Going to a friend's house at Marshall and Allen in Ferndale, I parked on the street by their house, and noticed that across the street there were lights on in one of the two seemingly abandoned, signless old storefronts, with real live people and what looked like wine, white walls, and black frames. So I hopped over after greeting my friend, and sure enough, art was afoot.

Kenny "Karpov-The-Wrecked-Train", as he's familiarly known around these parts, is a photographer of many things, and is artistically enthusiastically interested in Detroit people, culture, history. His series of Macomb Ballet Company dancers, in stark, well-composed black-and-white digital prints were hung tightly spaced in the small storefront, their tightness belying the grace of the content.

The space itself--a month-old community center called Service Frontroom--has an interesting grace about it. Well, more a romance. The floor's in need of repair, but I love floors that aren't repaired. There are patches of crumbled paint, but I love missing paint's revelation. An eight-foot American flag covers a short corner, and there's a pretty well-equipped kitchen behind the front room. The word "S E R V I C E" is hung on the wall in old-post-office manner and color. There are vegan snacks and Trader Joe's Wine on a table constructed of rough wood. I feel like this room was once full of fine time-pieces and hats, or like it was a building in Williamsburg that was teleported to Ferndale's "Secret Garden" sector.

I meet Corrine Rice after nibbling on a pumpkin spice cookie. She's happy about being co-operator of the bourgeoning collective space. There are a lot of plans for it, including, but not limited to, pop-up dinners, raw food classes, yoga, art shows, and health talks. Some events will be free, some not, some by donation. Rice knows that things like yoga and health information are really important and that people in this area often can't afford them, and wants to make sure the community part of the center doesn't get squelched. Rice herself is quite experienced with both cooking and teaching raw food techniques. I liked the sweets. 

For a more complete schedule and information on how to donate or become involved with the space (I have a feeling almost any talent can be used), visit their facebook and their Real Life Website. Visit them anyway. I know this place is brand new, (still waiting on occupancy permits) but it's worth checking out through whatever its evolution will be.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

This is way longer than I intended it to be.

"It's all new songs. All of them," Lo-Fi Bri yells to me, looking at the band. He's smiling, bewildered, camera in hand. I know. I saw them a month ago at the CAID, where the above pic was taken.

Let's scroll back a little here. I could give you the entire history of the Rogue Satellites, besides parts of 2010 and 2011. Everything that band did for most of its history, I knew about. But I'll truncate that history: a drummer and a singer-songwriter played around with a synth way back in fall of 2007. There were beers, tears, many late-night loft practices, apartment fires, marriages, marriage proposals, divorces, mini-tours, stolen cars, projections, and Pictionary games that followed, speckled with dirge-y two-piece pop-rock that would wake up in a bar called a "coffee" shop in the morning sun. There was a bassist for a while. Then there was a keyboardist-singer, and then the drummer quit, so the band had made its way back to a two-piece, in a different form, in late 2009. Another drummer dabbled for a while. Then the keyboardist-singer parted ways as well, and for a moment the Rogue Satellites were singular.

Then, a very fierce and unexperienced woman named Lisa was (as I understand it) coaxed into doin' a little auxiliary work, and, unsure as she was, started practicing intensely on vocals, glockenspiel (as I like to call it, "the glock") and tambourine. The first time I saw this incarnation of them, I must admit, I was disappointed--perhaps mostly because of my history--at the stripped down and awkwardly performed songs. Too slow; little zygotes of songs; and being in the cold, decidedly silent Trumbullplex didn't help. But I did notice that this woman, who had never considered singing in front of people before, had quite a sweet voice, that might actually grow to compliment Jaye's. That was in October.

Last month the Rogue Satellites closed an art show at the ever-interesting Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. And they really blew me away. The songs that seemed to trudge in fragments before, now held together nicely, varied in atmosphere, tempo, melody. Jaye's insistence on barre chords had matured into the use of a heavily effected bass played as a rhythm guitar. Lisa, so unsure and quiet in October, now shone, perfectly complimenting Jaye with her voice and getting there with stage presence. The parts are very specific and seem to be painstakingly mechanically written, but they work, especially with the moods of the music.

So I saw them again last night at the art/music studio space they rent in Corktown (appropriately called Corktown Studios), with two other incredible bands. Though some more animation would be good for Lisa, the subtlety and serious calm of her confidence really works well with the darker, crafted music. It was great. They've worked very hard and it's paid off.

The Rogue Satellites have really grown in the last few months, and I would suggest anyone who hasn't seen them lately, or at all, should go out and see their next show. I don't know when that will be, but you can keep up with them on le facebook. I mean, they make Lo-Fi Bri excited, so that should be enough for you.