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  • 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 […]

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  • 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 […]

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  • 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 […]

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  • Blowout 2014 schedule available to view now

    The schedule for Blowout 17, taking place Wednesday April 30 to Saturday May 3 in Hamtramck, Detroit and Ferndale, is available to see now. Visit to see the schedule and plan your festival. Follow @City_Slang

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  • City Slang: Trash Brats get sleazy at Small’s

    The Trash Brats hardly ever play live anymore, so each show feels like an event. Wandering around Small’s in Hamtramck late Saturday night, there’s a near-carnival atmosphere in the air. The Brats were never supposed to be taken seriously, but years on-and-off the radar have given the band the gift of respect born out of longevity. We’re not being dismissive at all. In fact, no amount of kooky faces from guitarist Ricky Rat and bassist Toni Romeo can hide the fact that these boys can play and the band writes killer bubblegum sleaze-rock tunes. The fact that the venue was packed compared to, say, a recent show by internationally known punk icons Sylvain Sylvain and Glen Matlock (which you would think would attract a similar audience) is testament to the fact that, in Detroit, the Trash Brats command a certain reverence. Before the Trash Brats took to the stage, local punks The Dives kicked off the night with a set of sincere, energetic and well-performed, if standard, punk rock. No frills (besides frontman Ron McPherson’s dapper suit), the band features members of the Junk Monkeys, the Black Mollies and the Joint Chiefs, and it drives through a set of catchy, […]

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  • Cycle 7 opens at the Red Bull House of Art

    By: Ayana Bryant-Weekes The Red Bull House of Art, a multidisciplinary and collaborative art project, relieves the stress of financial limitation or lack of tools and space so budding artists can manifest their creative dreams right here in Detroit. Six artists are selected for a three-month residency where they are provided individual studio space and materials, allowing their artistic concepts to flow freely. At the end of each residency is an unveiling and public display at the Red Bull House of Art Gallery. As show curator Matt Eaton told us in a 2013 interview, “The selection process for the current crop of artists was just the same as every round. The goal is not to find the hippest, coolest artists (though I think they are all very cool), but to find the people who may not typically have a voice.” This year, for the first time, Red Bull House of Art will showcase more than just Detroit artists. National artists from across the country in a special artist-in-residency program will have the opportunity to showcase their work to a much broader audience, and bring a national art stage to the Motor City. Since opening, 54 Detroit-based artists have been given the […]

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Plant life

The old Packard factory sits abandoned and crumbling, but it's home sweet home for these guys

Photo: Detroitblogger John, License: N/A

Detroitblogger John

Minister Allan, Mechanic Greg and Carpenter Jeff inside their home at the Packard Plant.

The tourists wandering through their home don't bother them so much. And they're used to the shrill buzz of the saws scrappers bring. Even the snarling bobcat they just ran into in the basement wasn't so scary.

But the people firing guns into the walls have become a bit of a nuisance.

"They just come out here and try out their weapons," says Allan Hill, 65, who points to where a bullet pierced a window, plowed through a ceiling and then kept going to who knows where. "They think that nobody lives here, so they start shooting the building up."

Hill's home is the Packard Plant, the infamous, 35-acre auto factory where production ended a half-century ago. He wound up living here after losing a house to a loan he couldn't repay. "I didn't even need to get a loan," he says, ruefully. "I don't know why I got it. But after that, everything started sliding away from me."

He's not a squatter, though. The electricity and water here is paid for each month. He owns the space he lives in. And this is his official, listed address.

A few years ago, a friend with a warehouse at the decaying plant hired him to look after it, and before long Hill moved into one of the little rooms in back. Now it's his.

During days he started doing side-job auto repair on site, fixing cars brought by customers who knew him years ago at garages where he worked. Soon a few other guys moved in here to live a rugged life in a rent-free space in the middle of nowhere.

They all go by nicknames based on their skills. There's Minister Allan. Mechanic Greg. Carpenter Jeff. Preacher Joe has a house not far down the road but spends most of his time here anyway. And Hill's son Randy just moved in too.

Living in an abandoned factory is as tough as it sounds. "It takes a certain breed of people to handle this kind of stuff," Jeff Lott says.

Like any fussy
homeowner, Hill apologizes for the disarray of his place. "Well, it's just a mess right now," he says before reluctantly giving a tour of the living quarters.

He shows the old kitchen, the little bedrooms with mattresses on the floor, the bathrooms and the showers, and the big space where a computer on a desk glows in the darkness of a cluttered room. He keeps a website — — dedicated to the plant and his life here, featuring live rooftop webcams showing what's going on at the factory.

But the main area is the cavernous warehouse. Auto parts blanket the dirt floors, engines dangle from chains beneath the sky-high roof, old car frames and broken-down campers point this way and that. At the center of the metal hurricane is a TV, a stereo, some chairs, plus a set of drums and a couple of guitars they jam on sometimes as they try to coalesce into a band.

Few people are left at the factory besides them. Packard ended production there in 1956, but there were dozens of little companies still operating in the complex until 1997, when the city foreclosed on the property and ordered 87 tenants to leave. Then it was left to rot. The only others left now are a chemical processing company, someone selling exterior lighting, a few squatters now and then, and a lot of wild animals.

Besides Hill's dog, a shaggy rottweiler named Baby, they've got a couple of pet raccoons, and they feed lettuce and carrots to a family of rabbits who moved in during the winter. The pheasants that flock around here have provided food in the past. "We do a lot of hunting here," says Lott, 47. "You ever ate city pheasant yet? Oh, it's good eatin'. They're homegrown."

Rats run wild, kept in check only by the several cats Hill keeps or the sharpshooting skills of Lott and fellow tenant Greg Erving, 65. "We shoot rats in here all night," Lott says. They use high-powered pellet guns. "It's a real war going on. You can hear them fighting amongst themselves. Biggest rats in the city. They'll come over and rob your food in a heartbeat. They're bold."

They all met
each other through one of those grassroots storefront churches that dot the city, the kind that minister to the addicted and the destitute, and their time there inspired them as a group to do something to help those even poorer than they are.

Somehow they became drawn to the bleak Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and for years now the preacher, the carpenter, the mechanic and the minister take road trips to teach the residents there trades like metalwork and carpentry. Unemployment there is persistently more than 80 percent.

"With the hopelessness that they have — they're constantly drinking, everybody's drinking vodka right out of the bottle, there's a lot of diabetes there because of the diet, they need medical care desperately, young people are killing themselves frequently, sometimes it's three or four in one week — with these issues life on the reservation's gotta be hell," Hill says. They pay for the trips with what they earn from fixing people's vehicles.

Hill wants to someday move to the reservation and open a full-time trade school there.

"What am I gonna do with the rest of my life? Am I just gonna stay here, make a few dollars?" he says. "I should go someplace where information and knowledge is appreciated. I'm thinking that if they learn how to do something, you can empower them and they can work off the reservation."

But right now the guys live among plenty of desperate people here. So Hill bought an old SEMTA shuttle and they began giving rides to the poor and homeless nearby, taking them to obscure little churches, to soup kitchens, to Belle Isle sometimes just to get some air and sunshine.

"It was just put in my heart to do that," Hill says, warming up the shuttle for another day of ferrying poor people around town. "I've found out what a great treasure it is to be able to do that."

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