Hey, I just realized I took a long weekend, and didn’t post a word. Sorry about that. It wasn’t my plan, but there’s something about a long holiday weekend that makes blogging seem like a waste of time. I took Friday off, too, which was a wonderful non-day day hereabouts — did coffee with a friend, the gym, not much else — and so: No blogging.
One thing we did do was watch some movies. Two Detroit docs, in fact, both of which should have an audience beyond the Wayne County borders. “Burn” was the first, and you’re going to have to look hard for it, as it doesn’t appear to have had any sort of theatrical release outside of maybe the major cities. (You can watch it on iTunes, however. Probably Netflix too, if not now, eventually.) Subtitled “One year in the battle to save Detroit,” it’s a deep-embed piece on Detroit firefighters, currently some of the hardest-working, and shat-upon, people in the municipal work force.
Which is not to say that others aren’t hard-working and shat-upon. Just that firefighters, and police, risk their lives to do their jobs, most days.
If you’ve never been here, it’s hard to describe the essential weirdness of a city that’s emptied as quickly as this one has — hundreds of thousands just between the last two census cycles. Very few people are buying houses, relative to the ones who are leaving them behind. That leaves thousands, tens of thousands, standing vacant. First they’re stripped of metal, then architectural details, then bricks. Drug dealers move in, homeless people move in, animals move in. And, very likely, eventually they burn. A firefighter describes the varieties of arson — for profit, for thrills, for revenge.
Into these infernos rush Detroit firefighters, who are known for their skill and aggressive tactics. The problem is, what they’re rushing to save is, in large part, not worth saving. All these houses are essentially piles of tinder waiting for a spark. The scenes in the firehouse are contrasted with the offices of the new fire commissioner, who moved from Los Angeles to take this thankless job. How do you manage a force to cover 139 square miles of broke-ass city? How do you deploy your equipment, all of which is falling apart?
Forget your fantasies about public-safety workers retiring at 50 with a fat pension — a lot of these guys are true graybeards, kept on because the department isn’t hiring and what else are they doing to do? (Answer: Their side jobs, which most of them have.) One guy, whose final year is sort of a throughline in the film, states at one point that he has 11 days left, the sort of declaration that would be a death sentence in a fictional drama about a fire department. He’s old enough that his job is, basically, driving the truck and connecting the hose. Which he does well, considering he’s already 60 years old.
“Burn” is distinguished by its use of technology — helmet cams take you into the middle of the fires. The list of camera operators is long, which appears to attest to how many photogs were shlepping around town with various characters. The result is an impressive look at life in Detroit, and maybe in the rest of the world soon enough, when we hit the wall of revenues vs. expenditures, and privatization can’t quite make it work.
On the other hand, you can’t help but notice how much effort is expended fighting fires in buildings no one gives a shit about. And you notice how put out the guys are upon hearing of a new let-it-burn policy for those houses. Firefighters live to fight fires, it seems, and it doesn’t matter where, exactly, they are.
Anyway, for a $4.99 rental? You could do worse.
Elsewhere we saw “Louder Than Love,” a considerably more homemade film, about the brief, glorious run of the Grande Ballroom. (And yes, I expect Prospero to shout out in 3, 2, 1…) The Grande was one of those happy accidents, an inner-city venue that caught a wave, from 1967-70, hosting the greatest bands of the era passing through, while nourishing a few locals like, oh, the MC5. I went in not expecting much and was entertained, but there was a lot not to like, too. I grow a little weary of sex/drugs/rock’n’roll stories that don’t acknowledge there were a few casualties along the way, but there are none to be found here. The audience, at least some of whom were Grande audience members, laughed and clapped approvingly at every drug and sex reference, flattered and happy to be so.
Which is another way to say: I grew tired of people saying, “Wow. That was totally awesome.”
On the other hand, there were some wonderful artifacts, most notably an apparently contemporaneous recording and film of the Who playing “Tommy” at the Grande, before it was released. It was amazing to see Keith Moon spinning his sticks and calling, “A son! A son! A son!”
At the end of both films, though, I was left thinking that documentaries are great, but they’re not journalism. You have to keep that in mind.
And here is a WSJ review of a current book on the Detroit rock scene, then and now, probably behind a pay wall. It’s a little WSJ-ish, but it’s almost an exact counterweight to “Louder Than Love” and its cheerful boosterism.
But if you just need a little more rock ‘n’ roll, Michael Heaton talked to David Spero, a former manager of Joe Walsh who spent some time on the road with the Eagles:
“Glenn (Frey) was always two people. When he was being an Eagle . . . let me put it this way, he used to wear a T-shirt that read ‘That’s Mr. Asshole to you.’ But when he wasn’t being an Eagle, he was pure fun. So funny and so much fun to be with.“
What else was the weekend? Fireworks, hamburgers, the usual. Oh, and Kate? Is home. It’s like she never left, but maybe that’s just the laundry basket talking. We’re still getting the download. I think she had a great time.
I hope your weekend was wonderful. At the one-third mark, the summer is going pretty well.
One question for the journalists. Is this Sun-Times front page merely clueless, or offensive, or what? Am I the only one who found the R/L thing pretty damn blockheaded, considering the airline? Just wondering: