September 26, 2009
Welcome again to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1986, Detroit Rock City, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, and Tipper Gore being quite the bitch. For earlier installments, go here.
For the sake of disclosure, I was born in Detroit, MI. I lived in the city proper until I was about ten years old when my family, the beneficiaries of a small inheritance, moved to the distant suburb of Waterford. We were close enough to the city to reasonably claim Detroit as home, but far removed from the harsh realities of Motor City life in the 80s (abundant crack houses, “white flight,” etc.). Waterford is an unremarkable, working class town. Until recently, I joked that, after 1984 Detroit Tigers’ right fielder Kirk Gibson, that I was the second-most famous graduate of Waterford Kettering High School: turns out that Trevor Strnad, lead singer of The Black Dahlia Murder and one of my high school contemporaries, was just on the cover of Revolver magazine and Myspace’s front page last week, making him second-most famous. I’m not bitter; third place still gets a medal.
Strnad’s ascent to the upper echelons of metal is fitting, as Detroit is a HARD ROCK town. With due respect to the unstoppable groove of Berry Gordy’s MoTown, the Detroit music legacy is by and large one of big rock sounds, some of its most famous exports being Ted Nugent, The Stooges, The MC5 and the White Stripes. Pop metal group KISS were right on the mark with their 1976 single “Detroit Rock City.” Even Detroit’s rap scene, most recently spearheaded by Eminem and Insane Clown Posse, but also including nearly every name in the horrorcore genre, bears nothing in common with the peace and love sounds of early 90s stars like De La Soul, nor the fun, accesible hooks of pioneers like Run DMC. Nay, Detroit is a gritty town with a gritty sound.
Growing up in a cultural wasteland like Waterford, then, there were few contemporaries with which to cut my musical teeth, none of whom were interested in the quirky pop music that spoke to me. An early disciple of They Might Be Giants, the Violent Femmes and the Dead Milkmen, I found myself with no alternative but to gamely try and hang with the handful of other musicians in Waterford, almost all of them metalheads. None of the bands I joined could agree on a sound, and nearly all of them broke up before we got to play even one show. The last band I dallied with consisted of myself, the bassist of Waterford’s first-ever (and possibly only) ska band and the rhythm section of the reigning local metal group, famous among our mutual friends for being able to play any song in the Metallica catalog. My main role in this band was to play rhythm guitar and never go near the microphone, under any circumstances. Again, for the sake of disclosure, nearly everyone who heard me sing before the age of 18 told me not to bother trying to be a singer, that I was talentless at best. Thanks for the encouragement, guys.
More on #3: 1986