Detroit Part 3

My Detroit Grand Finale! More Billy Davis! Meeting legendary photog Leni Sinclair!

After the Q&A and before Billy was whisked away, I was able to talk to him once more. To see such a legendary figure up close playing his heart out and showing the beauty of his soul is a once in a lifetime happening. It was easy to babble on about how wonderful he played and sang. He then commented to me how much he enjoyed my performance as well.

“I would love to record together,” I told him.

“I would like that,” Billy replied. We talked a bit more and then his handler – that was not Jarrett’s dad this time – steered Billy to the exit.

“Now I’m gonna hold you too that,” he told me as he left.

“Don’t worry,” I called to him. “It will be my honor.”

Earlier at the Q&A, Billy was asked about his relationship with Barry Gordy, the Motown Svengali. They had been childhood friends after all. When Motown started, Barry asked Billy’s band at the time to play all sorts of functions. This was always with no pay. At one point, the band mutinied and told Billy if Barry wasn’t paying them, they weren’t playing. With his hands metaphorically tied, Billy went to Barry and told him his boys had to be paid. Barry took umbrage and refused.

“After that,” Billy said, “we were still good friends but we never worked together again. That split our working relationship.”

I thought about this later as Jarrett and I were leaving Assemble where the show and the Q&A had been. Fate is funny in how one moment or one incident can sometimes shape or at least influence our entire future. Sometimes that incident we are not the ones spearheading it. In this case, Billy’s band took a stand and forever altered Billy’s working relationship with Barry and Motown.

I thought about this as Jarrett and I were getting in the car. The snow was really starting to come down and it was starting to stick to the roads as well. To save Jarrett from having to go out of his way, I told him that it might be easier if I just went home with him and slept in the den in his basement. With the snow coming down so heavy, the adult in me – who sometimes rears his ugly head – thought this would be safer. He agreed.

So there we were slipping and sliding along the avenue with all of the other motorists making our way back to St Clair Shores, the area where Jarrett lives a few blocks from the Lake St. Clair, the Great Lake. Although from the looks of it all of the cars looked as if they were playing bumper cars, the near misses with other cars were just that, near misses. Jarrett drove incredibly cautious which put my mind at ease.

Finally we made it back to safety out of the snow and into the warm confines of Jarrett’s house. Jarrett and his dad both have companies, which involve keeping boxes and boxes of stock – records for Jarrett, t-shirts, photos, and rock and roll buttons for his dad. Thus, the basement is full of these items. I found it comforting having boxes of the newest Jett Plastic releases and one of a kind Iggy shirts surrounding me.

Jarrett offered to fold down the futon but I told him I was fine sleeping with it in the couch position. I was really tired and didn’t need that much room really. I’m one of those people who enjoy sleeping in a twin bed here and there. We said our goodnights and he went off to bed. Shortly after, Gary, Jarrett’s dad, arrived home. He came down into the basement and I called to him to let him know I was there to not startle him, which, in fact, startled him.

I told him the slippery roads worried me so I had Jarrett bring me back to their house. He agreed that was the best thing to do. He then asked why the futon wasn’t folded down and I told him I was fine the way it was. Although Jarrett had given me blankets and pillows, Gary thought I didn’t have enough so he brought more. I was definitely not going to freeze to death in this house. The futon was extremely surprisingly comfortable. I tried to not think about how the snow would affect the turn out the following night at the UFO Factory. Fortunately, I was too tired to worry. I soon feel asleep.

The next day we woke and got out on the road to run around. The snowplows were out. The roads were being cleared. I was relieved. There might be a sizable turnout at the show after all.

Jarrett had promised to take me to his dad’s and uncle’s record store Melodies and Memories so we were finally going. I was quite excited from seeing pictures – all of that pristine used vinyl waiting for me to peruse. Stepping in the store, I was not disappointed. Right off, I found a copy of Badfinger “Straight Up” for cheaper than I had seen it anywhere. Several years ago when I was still tramping around the world, my storage unit had water damage and quite a lot of my best vinyl fell victim to this. Slowly, I had been replacing all of it though I am still looking for “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster.” Later, I found another storage unit casualty – Aerosmith “Get Your Wings.”

While we ran around record shopping and then stopping for lunch – Jarrett had been taking me to all of the Detroit places of some repute, I was hoping the whole time that my throat was not getting sore. Fortunately when I stopped drinking over a decade ago, I stopped getting sick. As a drinker, I was often sick several times during the winter. Now that I don’t drink, I don’t get sick. And, in as much, I haven’t vomited as a sober person.

But, at the same time, on this day, the day of the show, I felt as if my throat was on the verge of soreness but then it could have just been the dryness of the Detroit subzero air. At the same time, I was starting to feel a tad lethargic like I could just go to sleep. If I just pull off tonight, I can sleep and properly rest I told myself. As we headed back to his house to regroup and get the gear for the evening, I told myself I would be okay.

Jarrett’s mom Noelle fixed us sliders before we took off for soundcheck. My friends Brian and Audra had flown in from NYC to see the show. Since we would be getting together before the show for dinner in downtown Detroit, I didn’t gorge on sliders but I could have since they were some of the best sliders I’ve ever had. Soundcheck time was quickly approaching. We headed to the club. The roads were clear. I wondered if my flu symptoms were psychosomatic.

At the club, Jarrett introduced me to the other bands. Jon-Mikel Bartee from Idiot Kids was immediately striking, with his gritty fey glamour, like a 1973 Detroit Bowie infused with jagged black grease paint hair and one of those hats, those black hats with the wide brim meant for riding in limousines, snorting cocaine, and writing hits in 10 minutes with 8 minutes to spare. I was excited to hear his band play. Jarrett loves them. I know that I would too.

We decided to forego the soundcheck. The other bands seemed to have it under control and we were all enough alike sound-wise to not be too surprised when we took the stage. I wandered around the club meeting people, through Jarrett and the other guys.

My California transplant friend Sharon showed. She had once lived in Detroit. We had met on Instagram through friends and a love for Bowie. When Bowie passed, she had quoted me for an articles she wrote. I had never met her face to face. We were finally meeting face to face which was fantastic. We chatted a bit and then Jarrett took me to meet Brian and Audra at Wright & Co., a chic restaurant above the John Varvatos store in Downtown Detroit.

The place was packed when I walked in. Brian and Audra were at the bar. We hugged and stayed at the bar for a bit until our table was ready. The food was awesome and just what I needed, lots of small plates that we shared. We laughed and chatted and I got into a very good place to prepare for the show. All of us talked about how much we love Detroit, our new discovery that Motor City residents have known is pretty great for years.

We caught an Uber back to the club. Riding through the Detroit evening in the Uber, I saw Detroit as a traveler, that way you see a place when you are being ferried by a stranger – Brian and Audra in the backseat, me in the front. We talked but we looked as well. We took in the evening as we sped through the streets in a warm new car, motored in the Motor City. The revamped downtown looked even more majestic in this winter wonderland.

We arrived to a club that was quickly filling up. Since it was December, there was a ton of drunk Santas drinking at and around the bar. I mingled a bit and felt rather great. I was ready for the show. Idiot Kids took the stage and floored me. They were like a raucous Detroit Bowie. I immediately loved them.

Finally, the time had arrived for the boys and me to take the stage. I was nervous but ready though we had only had the one practice a few nights before. We launched into the first song – “I ride free” a song from my days in the Kittens that had in fact been written before any of the guys on stage were even born. I was shocked and relieved. They all sounded wonderful.

Kristian gave the whole band a beat to ride and they all did this effortlessly. Craig, the lead guitarist, was Ariel Bender incarnate. (In my last post, somehow the section I wrote about Craig did not make it into the article. He had lined up our practice spot a couple of evenings before. His guitar playing is gritty, dangerous.) Michael kept the rhythm guitar perfect and chunky. My pal Jarrett who had arranged my trip to Detroit and had put the shows together was like the reincarnation of John Entwistle.

These guys had it and I was proud to front them. The show had some cacophonous near catastrophic punk rock moments but then that made it even better in the not knowing, the careening and colliding and then recovering. I imagined that this must have been what the New York Dolls or Stooges were like at their sordid Champagne / peanut butter drenched best.

Now that I had played the shows, the pressure was off. I was ready to relax. I had a few more days to enjoy Detroit. On Sunday, Jarrett and I ran around again to a few record stores. He had a commitment to – of all things – play a song at a church so he left me at his uncle’s record store so that I could really spend some time browsing. What we didn’t realize is that the store closed early on Sunday, which Jarrett immediately rectified. He called Jeff from the Detroit Cobras. Jeff came and whisked me away giving me a tour of some unseen Detroit neighborhoods in the process.

I asked him about the housing prices because houses are so cheap in Detroit.

“This will change right?” I asked him. “The prices have to increase.”

“Nothing is going to change,” he told me. “Prices will stay low.”

I had heard various opinions on the matter and it seemed to me as if many of the natives seemed to think Detroit would stay cheap. Nothing would change. I guess the future is always anyone’s guess.

The night before I left, Gary arranged for me to meet Leni Sinclair. We would have dinner with her at a Thai restaurant close to her neighborhood. Of course, I was excited about this. I had bought a handful of her photographs from Gary – John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper. Now, I would meet the woman behind the camera.

Before we met her and Gary at the restaurant, Jarrett and I stopped at Found Sound records. There were quite a few records I thought about buying, a clean copy of the Frost album, Runt from Todd Rundgren, or a best of Lulu record but I didn’t buy anything because from all the booty that Jarrett and Gary gave me and then all of the albums that I bought, I knew I would already have a hard time getting everything in my suitcase.

After looking we made our way to the restaurant. Gary and Leni arrived shortly after. We immediately hit it off and she told story after story, lots of stories about Wayne Kramer and the MC5, some stories about her ex-husband John. At one point, the conversation made its way to Africa. Leni had shot and become friends with Fela Kuti. She went on about him. She loves African music.

Gary had brought a copy of Leni’s book for Leni to sign for me, which was very sweet of both of them. Finally it was time to go. We said our goodbyes took photos together and left. Meeting Leni was the ultimate climax to my trip to Detroit. Thank you Jarrrett for showing me such a good time. Thank you Detroit for still inarguably being Detroit Rock City!