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    In this week’s Metro Times we took a look at the state legislature’s role in Detroit’s ongoing bankruptcy — in particular, how it must approve a $350 million pledge for the so-called “grand bargain” to remain intact. And, with last night’s announcement of a significant deal between the city and Detroit’s pension boards and retiree groups, the ball is Lansing’s court now. The new deal, first reported by the Freep, would cut general employees monthly pension checks by 4.5 percent and eliminate their cost-of-living increases. Police and fire retirees would see no cuts to monthly checks, while their cost-of-living increases would be reduced from 2.25 percent to 1 percent. Under the original offer, police and fire retirees cuts were as high as 14 percent, with general retirees as high as 34 percent, that is, if the groups rejected the “grand bargain,” an $816 million proposal funded by foundations, the state, and the DIA to shore up pensions. The sweeter deal for pensions, though, it must be noted, entirely relies on the state legislature approving $350 million for Detroit’s bankruptcy.  And while this broke after Metro Times went to press, that was the focal point of this week’s News Hits column — so, it’s worth repeating: The […]

    The post Detroit’s grand bargain still needs Lansing’s approval appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Local releases for Record Store Day on Saturday

    This Saturday, April 19, is Record Store Day, and there is plenty going on in metro Detroit and Michigan. Of special interest to us is Chiodos’ 7” single “R2ME2/Let Me Get You A Towel,” Mayer Hawthorne & Shintaro Skamoto’s 7” “Wine Glass Woman/In a Phantom,” Chuck Inglish & Action Bronson’s 7” “Game Time,” Chuck Inglish & Chance the Rapper’s 7” “Glam,” Chuck Inglish & Chromeo’s 7” “Legs,” Chuck Inglish, Mac Miller & Ab-Soul’s 7” “Easily,” James Williamson’s 7” “Open Up and Bleed/Gimme Some Skin,” Black Milk’s 12” “Glitches in the Break,” Mayer Hawthorne’s 10” “Jaded Inc.,” Wayne Kramer & the Lexington Arts Ensemble’s 12” “Lexington,” and best of all, Ray Parker Jr.’s 10” “Ghostbusters.” We wrote about James Williamson’s release this week. Go shop. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: Local releases for Record Store Day on Saturday appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Margaret Doll Rod to play EP release show in May

    Margaret Doll Rod will celebrate the release of her new EP, Margaret, with a show at PJ’s Lager House on Saturday, May 10. A statement reads, “The EP contains 3 new original songs and one Chrome Cranks cover with Italian actress Asia Argento singing background vocals. Margaret moved to Italy after the end of the Demolition Doll Rods where she still lives touring and performing festivals in Europe. The Dollrods were a Garage Rock force for over 20 years, opening for Iggy, Jon Spencer, The Scientist, The Monks and The Cramps. Margaret was the front person and principal songwriter for The Dollrods. Her chief musical foil was Danny Kroha, who joined the Demolition Doll Rods after the now legendary Gories called it quits. Margaret’s sister, Christine, on drums, rounded out the legendary trio. Margaret will do a special performance in the round that night with a 360 degree revolving stage and special guest DJ Adam Stanfel.” The bill will also feature the Stomp Rockets and the Volcanos. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: Margaret Doll Rod to play EP release show in May appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: Music review roundup

    Send CDs, vinyl, cassettes, demos and 8-tracks to Brett Callwood, Metro Times, 1200 Woodward Heights, Ferndale MI 48220. Email MP3s and streaming links to Ricky Rat’s Tokyo Pop/Glitter People (New Fortune) 7” single highlights all that’s great about the Trash Brats guitarist, but also his limitations. The man can write a bubblegum rock ’n’ roll song to match anyone in the city and most beyond. He’s also a killer guitarist, ripping out one throwaway riff after another with reckless abandon. He’s a machine. On his own though, without Trash Brats frontman Brian McCarty, his voice doesn’t have enough strength to do the songs justice. Not that you need to have the greatest voice in the world to sing this stuff – you don’t need to be able to perform vocal gymnastics – but you do have to be able to wail the tunes out. Both of the songs on this single are great, but you can’t help but wonder how much better they would sound with McCarty or somebody similar talking the mic. Still, as they are the songs are great fun. We’re just being picky. The Paper Sound’s Trajectories is a dense, atypically dark Americana-tinged album, unrelenting and […]

    The post City Slang: Music review roundup appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Detroit launches website to auction city-owned homes

    “Neighbors wanted.” That’s the message on the homepage of, a new website launched by the City of Detroit today to auction off city-owned homes to prospective buyers who pledge to fix them up and move in. “We are moving aggressively to take these abandoned homes and get families living in them again,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement today. “There are a lot of people who would love to move into many of our neighborhoods. Knowing that other people are going to be buying and fixing up the other vacant homes at the same time will make it a lot easier for them to make that commitment.” The website to facilitate the auctions went live this afternoon. The first auction is scheduled to take place Monday, May 5. Officials said in a news release that one home will be auctioned per day, Monday through Friday. Fifteen homes are available for sale on the site, a dozen of which are in the East English Village neighborhood. Any Michigan resident, company, or organization that can do business in the state can bid, according to the website. Properties will be for sale for only one day, with bidding taking place from 8 […]

    The post Detroit launches website to auction city-owned homes appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Tickets for Steven Spielberg, John Williams summer concert sell out in 15 minutes

    In case you haven’t heard, two of the biggest names in film, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, are collaborating to put on a benefit concert for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this summer. In case you wanted to go- well, you’re too damn late. The DSO says tickets to the June 14 concert were snapped up in a record-breaking 15 minutes after they went on sale at 9 a.m. today. The DSO has since released this statement to fans who didn’t snag seats: Our apologies to everyone who was unable to buy tickets this morning for our historic benefit concert featuring John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Despite increasing our phone and internet system capacity for the day, a surge of hundreds of ticket buyers purchased tickets in a matter of minutes, filling the phone lines and temporarily maxing out our web servers. After a one-hour pre-sale made available to donors and subscribers at 8am, we released additional seats at 9am to the general public, including seats available for as low as $30. All seats sold out immediately. The concert program seems nothing short of top notch: Williams will conduct the orchestra as it performs some of his most iconic tunes, such […]

    The post Tickets for Steven Spielberg, John Williams summer concert sell out in 15 minutes appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.



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Banner year

Virginia Spencer lived to see 106 birthdays, a milestone that didn't go unnoticed

Photo: Photo: Detroitblogger John, License: N/A

Photo: Detroitblogger John

Dorothy Ziegler (left) and Betty Seay with a photo of Mama.

The family hung the banner again this year, but this time it was different.

When Virginia Spencer's relatives started doing it six years ago, it was to celebrate the noteworthy milestone of the family matriarch's century on earth.

They strung it along the second-floor iron balcony of their east side duplex, announcing to the drivers heading downtown on East Warren that Mama, as everyone called her, had made it to her 100th birthday.

That first year, Mama wasn't happy about it. "She said, 'I don't like the idea very well,' but anyway we put it up and everybody thought it was just grand," says Dorothy Ziegler, Spencer's 78-year-old daughter.

A "Happy Birthday" banner went up every summer after that for another six years, each one noting how old she was, each one signaling a further triumph over age, illness and time. This April though, Spencer was admitted to the emergency room and never discharged, and she passed away in a hospital bed, several miles from home, in an unfamiliar room.

"She just went on away in peace," says Betty Seay, the 54-year-old neighbor who wound up being Spencer's caregiver in her final years. "It was like she was just sleeping. She had on her powder blue and stuff. She was just peaceful."

As the family gathered to mourn Spencer's death, a cousin came up with the idea of one more banner, to let all of Mama's friends and well-wishers know that there wouldn't be another birthday celebration this summer. When the printer they'd used heard she died, he came to work on Sunday, his day off, just to make the final banner for the family.

It read, "Thank you for 106 years Granny. We will miss you."

Once it was strung up a few days after her death, friends and neighbors and strangers saw it and came by to offer their condolences. A truck from the nearby fire station pulled up and blared its siren, and the firemen, who knew Mama from taking her to the hospital over the years, got out to pay their respects.

Something about the banner drew people to her in her last years. "People would come from all over and they'd be talking about the banner," Ziegler explains, "and my cousin said, 'It's only fair to put something up, let the people know, 'cause they have been looking for it every year. You owe that to them.'"

The banner
became somewhat of a local cultural phenomenon over the years. People from the east side and the west side, people from the Grosse Pointes, people from as far away as Flint would make the journey to see if the banner made it up another year, thus showing that Mama had cheated the odds once again. Neighbors would stop by on her birthday with presents, passers-by would pull up and take pictures of the house, strangers would knock on the door and introduce themselves.

"You would be surprised," Ziegler says. "They would come by and say, 'We had to get our courage up to come up,' and I said, 'Oh you're welcome,' and my mother would talk to them." They'd bring birthday cards and food platters, and bring their little children into the house to meet her, to show that there is hope of having more time than most people are granted.

She got congratulatory letters and plaques from Detroit mayors, from council members, from the governor herself one year.

Word spread. Ziegler once went to an appointment with her doctor, and when the receptionist heard she was from the east side, she told Ziegler that she should check out this one house on the corner of East Warren and Holcomb, where a banner hangs to celebrate the city's reportedly oldest grandmother.

"She said, 'Ms. Ziegler, you should see it. It is awesome.' And she said, 'Every year I look for it. People far and near know about it.' And I said, 'That's my mother!'"

Virginia Spencer
was born in 1904 in Seneca, S.C., made stops in Atlanta and Washington D.C., and wound up in Detroit in the mid-'60s. She was working at a dry cleaner at 14 years old when the fingers on her right hand got caught in a machine used to press sheets, and the bones were crushed.

Some hack doctor wrapped the fingers too tight — it was the Deep South after all, and a little black girl's injuries likely didn't merit much care — and when the bandages came off the fingers and the hand had become infected. Her arm had to be amputated up to the elbow.

Still, she learned how to drive, how to wring out a wet quilt, how to change diapers with one hand, because she refused to wear an artificial arm. She eventually got herself a truck that she used to collect bundles of paper and stacks of old cardboard and sell them for pennies to eke out a living.

"She refused any welfare help," Ziegler says. "Mama was a very independent woman and there were times I wish she was on the welfare. Everybody else was on the welfare around us, but I understood, and she ingrained into us that dignity."

A couple of years ago she'd developed dementia and lost nearly all her sight, and grew irritable. But even after she turned 100 she'd bake cornbread for the family, or barbecue pork chops on a grill out back, or pass the time watching Jerry Springer, her favorite show.

"My son and her would be up here, and she'd say, 'Eric, it's time for Jerry,'" Ziegler says. When Eric died of the flu a couple of years ago, Spencer used her fading mind as an excuse to tune out the world, her family believes.

"That took a lot out of her, but she kept it in," Ziegler says of her son's death. "I thought maybe she didn't understand he was dead, but I found out she did because she would talk about him to Betty when I wasn't around, but she said very little about him when I was there."

Spencer and Seay the caretaker grew very fond of each other in their time together. "The night before she passed she said, 'Betty take me home.' I thought she was talking about here home, but she was really letting us know that she was ready to go," Seay remembers. "I think she knew then, 'cause she was just nice and peaceful."

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