Category Archives: Life In Detroit

Detroit’s On Fire!!!

Oh my, indeed.

Yes, the city of Detroit is on fire again. Well, not literally. I’m talking about the city’s sports teams.

The Detroit Tigers are currently scrapping it out with the Texas Rangers for the American League Championship and the right to go to the 2011 World Series for the first time since 1984. Young, tall fastball pitcher Justin Verlander and a lineup of crackerjack batters are lighting it up on the mound and at the plate. After two games in Texas, the team returns this week for three straight nights at home and a chance to take the lead in the series and set things up for a pennant victory.

Meanwhile, the shocking and still undefeated Detroit Lions are slated to take on the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football tonight at Ford Field here in the Motor City capturing the national spotlight. It’s the first time in a decade that the Bears have played in Detroit and the Detroit Lions offensive line will do their best to protect young quarterback Mathew Stafford who has a bad history of being knocked out of games by the aggressive Chicago Bears defense.
Stafford has suddenly become the “franchise QB” for the Lions and their new spread offense has been modeled around him. Meanwhile, the 2 wins and 2 losses Bears come to town with something to prove and a chance to bring the soaring Lions back to earth.

Oh yeah. And then there’s always the always sensational Detroit Red Wings, who play hockey at the Joe Louis Arena, right next door to where I live. The Red Wings are so good that most locals have come to pretty much expect them to go to the Stanley Cup finals every season. Anything less than that from this team of fast skating, sharp shooters is considered a disappointment. In fact, most local hockey fans believe the aging Detroit Red Wings are well overdue for another Cup Championship and it would be very sweet to see a Detroit Red Wings-Boston Bruins Stanley Cup final in May of 2012.

Yup, with all the excitement here in Detroit, I almost missed the festivities at the “new Garden” in my beloved Boston, where I was born and spent most of my life. And truth be told, I still miss being back in Boston where I can best root for (gulp) the Red Sox, Bruins and New England Patriots.

But for the time being, I’m still here in Detroit and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it is really a lot of fun to see these Detroit teams playing so well. Heck, if there’s any city in these still United States, it is Detroit that needs something to be proud about. It is Detroit that needs something, anything to rally around. I mean, look what the New Orleans Saints did for that beleaguered city. And the Saints are still going strong as N’Awlins slowly tried to come back from the devastation of Katrina.

So I’ve jumped upon the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions bandwagons and who knows how long that ride will last.

But for the first time since I moved here almost three years ago, I can honestly say that it is kinda fun to live in Detroit.

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An Evening With Jackson Browne – A Review

Backed, quite literally, by 20 acoustic guitars, Jackson Browne performed a sold-out solo show at an intimate Michigan Theater in the college town of Ann Arbor last week delighting his adoring fans with an evening packed full of his resplendent and timeless songs. Walking out to center stage with a shy wave to the crowd, many of whom were still being seated, (why, oh why, can’t people get to events like this on time?), Browne alternated between acoustic guitar and a simple keyboard that, at times, sounded more like a grand piano. The singer/songwriter who continues to amaze audiences with his Dorian Gray-like good looks was in excellent spirit and and voice, charming his aging, well dressed disciples with songs both new and old. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening full of songs “for everyman (and woman).”

The Michigan Theater is located right in the middle of the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, but this was not a act that attracted many young people. They apparently have not inherited the same kind of affection for Jackson Browne as, say, Bob Dylan or The Beatles. Rather, it was a well-dressed, wine-drinking congregation who turned out; many of them baby boomers who may have been graduating from college when Jackson Browne first arrived on the music scene some four decades ago.

The California native still seemed spry and quick-witted, even if he struggled to remember the exact chords and lyrics to one of his older songs. But who can blame the man and the audience cheered even louder when he recovered from his momentary memory lapse. I mean, who of us can’t relate. The man has more than a dozen albums; a huge catalogue of music and prefers, unlike many of his peers, to avoid using the evil teleprompter. (And more power to him, I say.)

Jackson Browne began by saying how happy he was to be playing in Ann Arbor; specifically to be performing in a “theater” and not “a hockey rink.” Browne was apparently poking some fun at his recent shows in Canada. Indeed, the acoustics sounded pitch perfect. And though there may have been, what his sound engineer complained to me as “a cloudiness” to his voice at times, (apparently due to the fact that they were forced to stack, rather than hang the speakers) I doubt many in the audience noticed. Most were happy just to hear the old classic Jackson Browne songs, songs they might have played endlessly on their record players, like “Something Fine” and “Late For The Sky.” They were content to hear Jackson Browne’s stories of days long gone by. (That’s the funny thing about nostalgia. It never gets old.)

Browne balanced out the evening by also playing several newer songs. In fact, he opened the night with “The Barricades of Heaven” and played several songs from his most recent studio album, Time The Conqueror. Jackson laughed as he related a conversation he had recently with fellow singer/songwriter and troubadour James Taylor about performing new songs. Jackson said Taylor tells his audiences not to worry, that basically “the new songs are just like the old ones anyway.” And he had a point. Other than some unfamiliarity with lyrics, the newer songs blended in splendidly with his early material to form one solid and consistent sounding body of work. He even worked in one Mariachi-flavored song, written recently about , guess what, the old days. It seemed to be the night’s theme.

It was fun to watch the ease with which Browne selected a particular guitar from the rack of acoustic guitars behind him, sometimes picking one up only to put it back and select another. It was as if each guitar has a personality of its own and only certain guitars could be used to play certain songs. Browne performed the three-hour concert (including a half-hour intermission) without any kind of paper setlist, although he seemed to know in his head and intuitively what songs would work well next to one another. Browne was also quite flexible in song choices, happy to take requests/suggestions from the crowd as they shouted out many of his most familiar songs.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening came at the end of the first set when Jackson Browne played two of his greatest songs back-to-back on piano. First came the elegiac, “For A Dancer,” with Browne’s gorgeous voice reaching up to into the higher octave range quite comfortably. This was followed by a transcendent, gorgeous, anthemic rendition of the enviromentally apocalyptic, yet hopeful ballad, “Before The Deluge.”

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it’s secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky

Lyrics like these sung so movingly are what has garnered Jackson Browne the devoted following he’s had for the last forty years. They were also what had the audience at the Michigan Theater on their feet at the end of the night cheering; fully satisfied and renewed.

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Another Borders Bites The Dust

It felt something like a wake, inside one of the four Michigan Borders Bookstores going out of business and selling everything but the kitchen sink (if they had one.)

A group of about 40 vulturous remaining customers picked through the near empty book racks and remains at the Borders Bookstore in Dearborn, Michigan yesterday, trying to take final advantage of a six-week long going out of business sale. That store, along with Borders bookstores in Utica, Grosse Pointe and the smaller Arborland Borders in Anne Arbor are being forced out of business as part of a bankruptcy protection plan. Borders Group Inc., which is the second biggest retailer in the entire state of Michigan, filed for bankruptcy reportedly because of an “inability to adapt to the changing habits of readers.”

Meanwhile, cashiers tried to maintain a professional countenance despite no longer having a job to go to and with few other options for work in the area. One cashier told me “they’re not hiring” at the remaining 28 Borders stores throughout the state that will remain open. And the unidentified cashier confided that a nearby Barnes & Noble store is barely staying open due to similar losses.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the employees, but I personally had mixed emotions as my fiance and I selected 25-plus titles and walked out with two heavy bags of former bestsellers – $425.00 dollars worth of books for just $30.00 and change.
While it is a crying shame to see another “brick and mortar” bookstore sell everything that wasn’t nailed down, I was also thinking about the countless wonderful Independent bookstores forced out of business by these monolithic bookstores.

In total, Borders is closing down 200 of its stores as part of this liquidation, which if successful will fetch between $131 and $148 million dollars. And the future for Borders is definitely not bright, with plans in the works to close another 75 in the not-so-distant future.

The one-time giant 40 year old retailer has no one to blame but itself for it’s losses and closings. According to an article in The Detroit News (http://detnews.com/article/20110216/BIZ/102160379/Borders-files-for-bankruptcy–closing-4-stores-in-Michigan) Borders Bookstores nationwide have lost more than $600 million dollars over the last four fiscal years. The bottom line is that Borders failed to “adapt to rapid changes in the book market,” most glaringly due to the huge number of consumers who are now buying their books online from companies like Amazon.com, now the world’s largest bookseller. The article sites the other cause as Borders “tardy entry last year into the growing electronic reader market dominated by Amazon’s Kindle and rival Barnes & Noble’s Nook.”

Still, call me old-fashioned but there is nothing like the pleasure of going to a bookstore simply to scout the shelves. Even though Amazon now allows consumers to look inside books for sale and, in many cases, even read the first chapter absolutely free, it simply doesn’t compare to how if feels to pick up a book, feel it’s weight in your hands, touch the cover and skim through it’s pages or even sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and get acquainted with a book and it’s author.

But money talks and you-know-what walks, so I bid a sad adieu to another bookstore and try and prepare myself for what author Aldous Huxley called the “Brave New World.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an actual old-fashioned book made from paper that I need to get back to reading.

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Summertime Slippin’ Away

Lazy and slow days and hot fun in the summertime. Things are moving slowly here in the Detroit Rock City.

Time for long days and sensational sunsets around 8:30 in the evening. Some of them are absolutely breathtaking out of the window of my 21st floor apartment overlooking the Detroit River.

There are a couple of fairly large “party boats” that cruise up and down the Detroit River at night. When they are all lit up they look like a piece of the city, brighter than the real city, has broken off and is drifting down river. There’s a walkway along the river and sometimes Janet and I walk along while the humid summer air is cut by a pleasant river breeze. We hold hands and try to enjoy our days in Detroit.

Meanwhile, life rolls by in the Motor City.

Every year they have a weeklong event just outside Detroit called the Woodward Dream Cruise. Literally millions of people gather, many of them camped alongside this long stretch of road called Woodward Avene which runs from Detroit far out into the suburbs. The other night we got caught up in a bit of the traffic from this automobile parade, with every imaginable form of vehicle from the Model T to modern day race cars in the slowest imaginable progression up and down both sides of Woodward. It’s a great symbol of pride for this section of the country where the automobile was, for so long, dominant.

We found ourselves among the car enthusiasts on our way home from the film, “Inception.” We don’t usually go to see these big Hollywood, multi-million dollar blockbusters, preferring instead to see whatever Independent film stops by at one of the two nearby film art houses. But since there was no great alternative there, we laid our $10.50 apiece down to see “Inception.” Please don’t ask me to review it or even attempt to summarize what it is about. Let’s just say it had a lot to do with folks who go around trying to implant ideas into other people’s heads while they are asleep. Which, interestingly enough, is basically how films get made in Hollywood these days.

Most of all these are the dog days of summer, these final days of August when vacations begin to come to an end and people grab at what remains of their summer days. Personally I look forward to autumn, with memories of the indescribably beauty of the changing of the colors of leaves and the cooler days fall brings.

Most of all the changing leaves brings a reminder that cooler days are coming, and it is almost time for the Detroit Red Wings to lace ’em up again here in HockeyTown, USA.

And that, my friends, is always a good thing.

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