In Detroit I stay with Joel Peterson in the Corktown neighborhood. One of the great things about coming out to Detroit this time is getting to meet his friends Thollem McDonas and Angela Villa. They are almost permanently on the road behind Thollem's busy performance schedule, and though I don't share the stage with Thollem, we get to talk. And he and Joel Peterson make some seriously good pancakes for breakfast. Besides being a wonderful musician, Thollem strikes me as the kind of person it would be good to be near if your life was in jeopardy. He exudes resourcefulness and selflessness with sincerity and good humor. I got this impression within a few minutes of meeting him.
I go for a coffee at Le Petit Zinc, a little cafe where The Michigan Citizen is published, with Vince, a friend who saw me perform last year in Toledo and now lives in an intentional community here in Detroit. He is active in labor and social justice struggles, and we have a lot to talk about. He brings me the current issue of Against the Current and we discuss the merits of non-violence and violence in rhetoric and action, noting the activities of liberation theologists, the Ploughshares folks, Tahrir, and then the current western war on Libya. We talk about the corporate-political assault on "cottage" farming and other forms of self-sufficiency in Detroit, where despite (or perhaps because of) the horrendous political-economic circumstances, folks are doing inspiring, resourceful things to not only survive, but thrive. In Detroit, the schools are under attack too, while the whole of Michigan is subject to the same kind of anti-union, reactionary madness that plagues much of the US at the moment.
Contrast to the Finger Lakes region of New York, where I currently live, where the local farms are an essential part of the economy and culture, and the threats to agriculture come not from the municipal governments (as far as I can tell) but from the outside pressures of the hydrofracking industry (which adversely affects health in Michigan too). Everything I want to say about hydrofracking, if you haven't read it or heard me say it already, is probably contained in the Josh Fox documentary Gasland.
It is interesting to me -- sorry, interesting is the wrong word; I mean disgusting -- that while there is pressure for governments in the Middle East and North Africa to end their states of emergency, such anti-democratic powers are being expanded in the US, from the national level on down to the municipal. In Detroit things are considered to be in tailspin perhaps because non-corporate, non-authoritarian structures and relationships are either ignored or targeted. Always beware of politicians talking about actions that smell like martial law.
Before leaving Detroit for Toledo, I go with Thollem, Angela and Joel to a public sculpture in a little lot on the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Temple Street. I don't know the artist, but Thollem discovered that this thing produces beautiful sounds, it is a big (20 feet tall?) metal totem structure. So we play it like a percussion instrument, with Angela filming, and then Joel plays clarinet and I play saxophone. Perhaps a piece of this video will surface sometime.
In Toledo, I play in Gabriel Beam's home-turned-performance space, the Robinwood Concert House in the city's Old West End. Gabe, who plays music in the group KBD, is immensely knowledgeable about the various streams of improvised and experimental music, and is tireless in bringing as much of it as possible through his beautiful living room performance space. It is an incredibly giving thing he does, sharing his home with musicians, and their work with hungry ears in town. I share the night with Joe Panzner, from Columbus, Ohio, who produces a rich tapestry of sound with Max/MSP and a laptop. It is music that relates in my mind to the best work of my friends who passed through The Hague's Institute of Sonology, and I only regret the laptop as a visual focal point of Joe's set. As soon as I close my eyes I am transported. Powerful stuff.
Before the performance begins I get to chat with Michael Kimaid, also from KBD, who I have performed with in the Reactionary Ensemble. When he is not making music, Michael writes about and teaches history at the university level. He is full of insights about the same issues that Conquistadors addresses.
SET LIST 3/31
What We Have
The Love Story