It could’ve been a bomb. We mean, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland is, after all, an $84 million pyramid dedicated to the care, study and display of rock ’n’ roll memory and memorabilia, of cultural hinges and reference points, right? Could be prime target for, uh, gosh, terrorist activity, right?
Well, all hail the spirit of rock ’n’ roll as a voice of the oppressed masses — particularly one making a commendable hullabaloo — as Hit Singles salutes Detroit-area power pop tour-ogres the High Strung. Yep, the quartet took the high road … well, up a few flights of concrete steps, anyway.
See, the gents of Strung took their beloved 1988 Chevy G30 step van, a graffiti-splashed rolling shit-house of a “tour coach” — 318,000 miles on it and counting — and abandoned it a few feet from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s main entrance, an artifact the band thought worthy of inclusion into the institution.
Included with the unconventional Hall of Fame submission was a plaque attached to the van that read in part:
Although the odometer reads 18,621 miles, it is actually 318, 621 miles. The spray painting was done by various people all over the country but never by anyone in the van. The van contains countless notes, photos and song ideas inspired by those met along the way.
Also included was a note — a veritable rock ’n’ roll love letter — for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curators:
Dear Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, We believe rock and roll can make man heroic, make man Superman, can make giants out of the audience and artists alike … The High Strung’s donation to you is a wild multicolored beast of a vehicle that, despite its age and demand placed upon it, carried us to 500 shows across America without asking us to cancel one. Oh, yeah, and don’t you worry about any potential towing costs, the keys are in the ignition.
All histrionics aside, we here at Hit Singles appreciate the Strung gesture, if as nothing but protest. Even a cursory glance at the hall of fame inductee list reveals glaring omissions, making the list itself inconclusive, and therefore a washout. You got yer ZZ Tops and Jackson Brownes but no Alice, Stooge or MC5, no New York Dolls or Patti Smith, no Mitch Ryder or Roxy Music. And where the hell are the Hollies and Kraftwerk? The Faces and T-Rex? The list goes on, and we digress.
Anyway, here’s what happened: The High Strung — a band that literally lives on the road, has spent most of the last 32 months there — purchased a “new” touring van in Jersey recently. They drove both vans home to Detroit. It was over drinks at the Berkley Front bar that the band decided the fate of the old rattletrap.
“The first thing on my brain was, ‘Let’s drive it through the front doors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!’” enthuses Strung guitarist-singer Josh Malerman. “The rest of the guys were like, ‘That’s insane!’ The van was on its last leg, and I was like, ‘Whaddya gonna do, get $200 for it? We’ve been around the country 10 times in that thing.’”
At 3 a.m. last Friday morning the nervous gents of Strung, en route to New York for a pair of shows, drove the van to Cleveland. Band trapsman Derek Bark drove up the steps to the museum’s entrance.
“Derek is the most punk rock out of all of us,” says Malerman. “He drove up the two flights of stairs and parked it in front of the main doors. Mark was driving the getaway van, lights off, engine running.”
The band got out of there. Security called the cops and the sad van was towed off into, what we would imagine to be, the sunset.
Todd Mesek, senior director of marketing and communications at the hall sounded surprisingly amused by the whole ordeal. Agreeing that, yes, on some level, the tactic was symbolic of a hard-working band, but he was clear that he didn’t want an encore performance by some other hapless rock outfit.
“We have a process to evaluating submissions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Mesek tells Hit Singles, with nary a trace of irony. “Our guys put everything through a rigorous process of authentication. My security guy, I’m sure, wasn’t too pleased.”
For serious artifact consideration, Mesek says the proper procedure is to meet with the hall of fame curators.
So, then, did the hall of fame consider High Strung’s submission for museum inclusion?
“No,” says Mesek.
The High Strung — who recently completed recording and mastering their sophomore full-length Moxie Bravo (Tee Pee), with Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders, heads out on the road again for a U.S. tour this month followed by an October U.K. jaunt.
The band insists that this hall of fame dump wasn’t some cheap maneuver for easy ink. Malerman says that it what was done with the most honorable intentions. A masterful if not greasy stroke for rock ’n’ roll’s little guy.
“No, for one night the playing field was leveled,” he says.
Those who skipped the recent Amp Fiddler show at St. Andy’s missed out on what might have been the most exciting live event that venue has seen since, well, since it had three floors of pleasure. Consider a live show as road-polished and perfected as Fiddler’s, then add St. Andy’s longtime mainstay DJ House Shoes, offering his patented set of spins, and toss in the sardonically monikered Platinum Pied Pipers (producers Waajeed and Saadiq), and you have a classic, yet up-to-the-moment D-Town experience. What’s more, the most electrifying part of Amp’s set was bassist Paul Randolph. (Randolph — who’s recorded with everyone from Mudpuppy to Carl Craig, Recloose to As One — will see his debut solo album on Moodymann’s Mahogani Music label out this fall.) Mark it for the record: Platinum Pied Pipers and Paul Randolph are two reasons why Detroit music can be uttered in international circles with superciliousness and arrogance. And PPP, who finally got to play a full set without rain delay or equipment mix-up (muchos gracias Movement), are steadily clawing their way to Motor City hip-hop supremacy. No shit. The bummer is, however, the PPP head is bailing on the Motor City. Yep, Waajeed is packing up his Bling47.com bags, and — in the tradition of the city’s finest — geographically repositioning for sunnier opportunities elsewhere, Brooklyn to be exact.
Wood for Dilla
It seems local production godhead Jay Dee (aka J. Dilla), can’t even piss without the accolades streaming in from today’s shit-hot beatmakers. A month ago, Pharrell Williams (see: Neptunes) left tweeny audience members with baffled expressions after telling hosts A.J. and Free of BET’s signature series “106 and Park” that his favorite producer of all time is Dilla. And in this month’s Scratch magazine, producer du jour Kanye West admits to lifting drum bits off old Dilla beat CDs! West even went so far as to say this: “Jay Dee is a drum god. His drums can only be paralleled, they can’t ever be topped.” (Indeed, since Kanye and Dilla are both working on the new Common album, the latter has seen fit to donate beats.) Noteworthy still: On assorted Internet message boards, soon-to-be-giant producers 9th Wonder and 88 Keys have been on giving verbal head to Dilla, sermonizing that his influence in the production game is insuperable. So, yes, the “Most Important Man in Hip Hop” hyperbole that has followed Dilla might just be prophecy. And to think Dilla once said he’d be directing smut flicks if the music thing didn’t work out.
A Sight hit
We almost lost Sights’ singer Eddie Baranek for good. Well, sorta. A week or two ago, the pert frontman fell out of a tree. Yes, he fell out of tree. And no, he wasn’t performing some tree-house chassé in mom’s backyard, bedecked in lederhosen. Nor was he fragrant of booze. Baranek simply tumbled from a tree on Belle Isle while shooting the cover for the trio’s upcoming self-titled release on Scratchie. The fall is the biggest hit yet for the band so far.
“I climbed the tree, I was tryin’ to liven up the sesh,” Baranek explains. “Then I fell like 8 or 10 feet. I couldn’t breathe for few seconds.”
A hospital visit told of a nasty back contusion; a piss test revealed no internal bleeding.
“It sucks. I haven’t been doing anything,” says Baranek, who’s been bedridden for days. “I did write a new song.”
Baranek’s fall was another snag in a thread of bad luck for the Sights. Problems with their label, Scratchie, ensured delays with the new record, and not long ago thieves made off with Key tickler Bobby Emmett’s car from outside his Detroit apartment, just days after he moved to the city.
There’s still no firm date for the Sights’ latest, though Baranek says most likely January ’05. The album’s leadoff single will hit the United Kingdom next month, to coincide with the band’s scheduled four shows there with the Datsuns, part of an eight-date British skip.
Also, Sights drummer Mike Trombley and fine-boned rapper Esquire are now DJing Sundays at the Eagle (1501 Holden off Trumbull, north of I-94). Esquire meanwhile has been working on new songs with Chris Tait of the Electric Six.
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