Ok, Detroit is, to utter the obvious, a city rich in car culture and celebrity, past and present. And we figured there’d be no better, simpler way to venerate said qualities than with a column called “Motor City Rides and Cribs.” This weekly piece to be helmed by MT photographer Doug Coombe will document D-town celebs, artists and oddballs presenting their cars or homes. And some weeks we’ll even raise a few ghosts from the past, showing their residences in pics with maps. Or something like that. Note that the online versions will sport an exclusive slideshow, complete with bonus snaps, featuring those “unsuitable” for print. Anyway, this photo essay is a kind of extended preview to kick off “Motor City Rides and Cribs,” which will appear each week www.metrotimes.com.
The animated and affable Buff1 of Athletic Mic League will soon be selling copies of his new solo record out of the trunk of his spanking 2006 Pontiac G6 Sedan. He opted for the smoked gray paintjob because it’s “more sophisticated and elegant” than his old roll, a black Grand Am. Wherever he goes, the back of his shimmering G6 is always crammed with mix CDs and vinyl. If only the trunk came with a credit card machine.
Amy Surdu & Freddy Fortune
Amy Surdu of the Gore Gore Girls and hubby Freddy Fortune of Freddy & The Four-Gone Conclusions’ Royal Oak bungalow home is homage to late-’50s to mid-’60s Americana pop kitsch gone psych. The party starts in the living room with dancing by the vintage record console. Later, the party moves downstairs to the music room and a tiki bar that’s unparalleled. Quips Freddy, “I bet you can’t wait for the estate sale.”
Cuckold live, play and drink together in this North Corktown duplex fixer-upper. The burrow is owned by band drummer Jake Wilson (ex-Mule), who purchased the house for a song from his former landlord. The story goes that a fire consumed the neighboring crackhouse a few years back, which left the roof and a side of casa Cuckold in disrepair. Though it still needs loads of work, the house built in 1911 and surrounded by fields is clearly a gem. Wilson and his wife Meghan live in one duplex, while guitarist Mike Walker, bassist Andrew Wainio and his girlfriend Alexis live in the other. What’s more, the swampy, proto-blues trio can rehearse in the basement whenever it feels like it. Says Wilson, “All the people in the neighborhood are great, and we can have bonfires whenever we want.” Walker, too, loves the neighborhood: “For the first time in my life I don’t have to be ashamed of paying for my 40s in nickels.”
Jay Dilla’s father Dewitt Yancey sits on the porch of the Detroit home where Dilla (RIP) grew up, at the corner of McDougall and East Nevada. It was in the basement of this house from about 1992 to 1997 where Dilla (aka Jay Dee) set up a studio that gave birth to his approach to hip-hop production (which is called “visionary” in international music circles). Slum Village, Common, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, D’Angelo, Jazzy Jeff and Erykah Badu are just some of the heavy hitters who spent time downstairs here. Laments DJ House Shoes, “I miss that basement. That basement is the birthplace of so many musical ideas. That was the center for the Detroit movement in hip hop.”
Mariah Cherem & Jeremy Wheeler
The Avatars’ front-chick Mariah Cherem and Bang! mastermind Jeremy Wheeler’s “museum of casual outrageousness” lies in the heart of Ann Arbor’s student ghetto. Their two-story “house of rock ’n’ roll geek chic” was built in the 1860s and was actually lifted and moved in 1917 rolled on logs to its present location.
Their home’s interior is a kind of silly and absurd pop culture refuge film, music, ’toons and TV from the ’60s through the ’80s. It’s downright mad. “Nothing in this place cost over $30,” Cherem says, proudly. The only problem with this teeming pop museum is that it can barely accommodate the occasional soft-shoe. “I can’t dance in here without action figures committing suicide,” the singer says.
The MC5 house
Tucked in a well-kept row of University of Michigan fraternities and sororities at 1510 Hill St. in Ann Arbor is the home that housed the MC5. Drive-by history lesson: The band, fleeing Detroit arson and cops and FBI harassment, natch would find more of the same up in A2. They lived here in 1968 and 1969. Local band the Up moved in next door at 1520 Hill St.
These two stately Victorian mansions, you’ll note, were also home to John Sinclair and the White Panther Party. Later these residences became an ashram. In 1984 the houses were purchased by the Inter-Cooperative Council and now are known as the Luther Coop. The basement, where one can picture the MC5 kicking the jams back in the day, is now a weight room. Perfect, eh? Anyway, U-M students can live where the 5 slept, rocked and fucked. (Fun fact: The Sights’ Eddie Baranek’s sister lived there too, years later.) Today, the house is just around the corner from Sigma Phi the “metal” fraternity.
Not since Queen used the crusty car-as-sex-metaphor has there been such a formidable lust for grease, gears and curves. See, former Electric Six and Detroit Cobras bassist Steve Nawara is all about what he rides. “1972 was a sexy year for the automobile,” he explains. “For whatever reason, most of the cars built in ’72 have the lines and curves of a woman, a very buxom woman at that.”
So it is that Nawara cruises the D smartly in his 1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. “Personally”, he says, ”I dig the ’72 Monte Carlo because it has an understated toughness but still maintains its feminine allure.”
Nawara scored this comely beast in Massillon, Ohio, from a “little old lady” in her 70s. Since then he’s road-tripped as far as Moab, Utah, (Arches National Park) in it.
It’s all about the flow for the local rock star.
“When I get behind the wheel, I love to step on the gas and make the transmission bleed.” But, he adds, “you better believe that if a bird shits, I’ll catch it with my bare hands before I let it land on her long flowing hood.”
Percussionist Craig Huckaby (older brother of ace Detroit house DJ Mike Huckaby) has played with virtually every “name” house DJ, and has supported the likes of Public Enemy and KRS-One. Craig (shown here waiting for his bus) travels once a week from his Harmony Park apartment to Ann Arbor via Greyhound to sell books and records. He returns via Amtrak. Craig began the Detroit-A2 travels in 1998 to study with percussion legend Juma Santos (who performed on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew). Now Craig travels twice monthly to study with Juma in Chicago, while maintaining his weekly Ann Arbor run.
Question: Why not get a car?
“Because I don’t have to drive, and I can read. That’s how I read One Hundred Years Of Solitude. On Greyhound.”Doug Coombe is an Ann Arbor-based photographer and frequent Metro Times contributor. Send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.