"Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" documents how the Detroit-born publication rose to the top
Creem magazine was the 1970s dirty rock 'n' roll branch of The New Journalism practiced in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. The magazine's salty, raunchy prose and passion-first stance helped crack the egg of music journalism, scrambling it into a form that had as much attitude as the music Creem was covering.
Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine is a new documentary by Scott Crawford -- director of the essential Salad Days chronicling the D.C. punk scene he grew up with -- that captures the mag's spirit of chaos, tracing Creem's rise and fall with open-eyed honesty.
Started in 1969 from Detroit's Cass Corridor, Creem spent 20 of its 30 years publishing out of Michigan and helped launch the careers of influential music journos Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, documentary co-producer Jaan Uhelszki, and more. The Creem documentary treats Bangs, Marsh, and cantankerous publisher Barry Kramer as the heart of this dysfunctional band of misfits, many of whom not only covered rock 'n' roll but also lived the lifestyle. Kramer and his wife, Connie, were no exception, and the film's co-producer JJ Kramer deals with his parents' issues with grace during his on-camera interviews.
Before he became a documentary filmmaker, Crawford published numerous fanzines and magazines, including the well-known indie/roots/rock mag Harp, which was influenced by Creem and featured many of its writers. Crawford and I worked for the same company that took over publishing Harp for a few years, and I caught up with Crawford about his latest movie, which is currently available to stream at the Michigan Theater's virtual cinema. This chat was edited for length and clarity.
Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school
This article originally ran March 25, 2020.
We're rerunning the story to highlight the launch of the "Commie High" archive at aadl.org/commiehigh:
This site serves as a supplement to the independent, feature-length documentary about Community High School in Ann Arbor, MI—produced by 7 Cylinders Studio—providing extensive extra content available for public viewing and research. Additional materials and development are anticipated in future editions.
There are video extras, historical and making-of-the-film photos, a music database documenting the school's numerous bands and musicians, digitized yearbooks, and news articles.
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.
But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.
Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.
But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream.
Until now. (Kinda.)
A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.
Welcome to Commie High, a new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.
The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.
Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.
It's just a fish-lens photo inside Yost Ice Arena. There's nothing special about it per se. The Michigan Wolverines are playing what looks to be the Wisconsin Badgers; it's 50 seconds into the game, a zero-zero tie, the stands are mostly full.
But during a time when all norms have been flipped because of Covid-19, seeing this simple scene of a hockey game being played 2 miles from my locked-down house hit an emotional hotspot that I've been pretty good about suppressing: dreaming about life in the Before Times.
The photo is in Dale Fisher's new book, Washtenaw: Visions of the Eagle, which is filled with pictures that will make you wistful for a full Big House, a packed Crisler, community fairs, and other events that brought people together for shared experiences.
Like the other six books by the Ann Arbor native, Fisher's latest focuses primarily on aerial photography, capturing the natural beauty and historic small cities of our county -- as well as that giant football stadium -- from the open door of a helicopter. But there are numerous ground-level photos among Washtenaw County's 288 pages, too -- many not even taken by Fisher or his co-photographer and partner Joanne Ackerman, who shot the book's cover image. The Yost photo is by Jonathon Knight. Other photos are provided by the businesses that helped sponsor the book and as well as nonprofits whose work Fisher supports. Those images are interspersed with Fisher and Ackerman's photos, blending editorial and business shots. It's a quirky approach, but not all that different from the way Fisher funded his other collections.
The Goose Lake International Music Festival was the Woodstock of the Midwest.
Between August 7-9, more than 200,000 people traveled from around the country to Jackson County's Leoni Township and set up shop at an otherwise unremarkable lake area where the got to hear some of the biggest name in rock 'n' roll including Jethro Tull, Chicago, Mountain, James Gang, then regional fave Bob Seger, and many more. Alice Cooper, Joe Cocker, and Savoy Brown were slated to play but did not, so the fest added The MC5 and Faces, whose singer Rod Stewart was having such a good time that the band canceled its next gig at the Fillmore East in New York and stayed in Michigan to party.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Goose Lake fest. It's had a lot of coverage over the years, some of which we've collected below, including two documentaries and a Nerd Nite talk on the festival. But the recent big news about Goose Lake is that Third Man Records unearthed audio from The Stooges' August 8 performance there, which was the last show by the band's original lineup, and have released it on vinyl and CD.
On Monday, I made my first extended stroll down Main Street since the pandemic shut down Ann Arbor and the world. While taking in the sites, I was noticing which businesses were open (a lot), which ones were closed for good (RIP Prickly Pear Southwest Cafe), which ones were new (Of Rice and Men, an Asian-fusion restaurant in the former Dessous space owned by the Blue LLama Jazz Club folks), and which ones were planned to open (InfusIV Hydration, which offers vitamin-infused IV drip therapy -- which feels aligned both with Ann Arbor's woo-woo hippy past and the city's tech-money-infused present).
But it was seeing WSG Gallery's empty space and partially covered windows that reminded me that I hadn't been keeping up with the art collective's move to online exhibitions. (Here's a June 18 Pulp article about why WSG had to pull up stakes from its prime location for the past 20 years and move entirely online, at least for now.)
WSG's current exhibit is Lynda Cole's Earth and Polar Work, which runs July 7 - August 17.
John Carlos Cantú reviewed Cole's November 2015 exhibit, North, which has a similar feel to the work in Earth and Polar Work:
But despite their shared love for search-and-destroy guitar riffs, these two Michigan music giants have never recorded together until Two to One, an 11-track album that comes out September 18.
Tek (67) and Williamson (70) sound like young guns on the album's first single, "Stable."
Jesse Kramer's "Antinous as Osiris" interprets Roman passion and New York jazz through the lens of a Washtenaw County upbringing
This story originally ran June 12, 2019.
For roughly half a decade, the Roman emperor Hadrian was in love with a man who was not his spouse. Between 125 CE and 130 CE, the Greek youth Antinous became a favorite of Hadrian, and for the final two years of the latter's life they were side by side touring the Roman empire.
After Antinous' surprise death on the Nile, Hadrian was devastated and, in his grief, proclaimed his lover a deity, In turn, priests connected Antinous to the Egyptian god Osiris, lord of the underworld, afterworld, and rebirth.
Nearly 2,000 years later we have Antinous as Osiris, the latest album by Ann Arbor jazz drummer Jesse Kramer.
Summer camps, like the rest of society, were put in disarray due to the Covid crisis.
But some summer camps were able to recast their normal activities into virtual ones and stay open.
The University of Michigan's Girls in Music and Technology (GiMaT) runs August 17-28 is one of those camps, and because of its focus, GiMaT will likely be one of the more successful transitions to the virtual world. After all, who better to run a virtual tech and music camp than actual tech experts?
GiMaT is for students in grades 9-12, and the "camp is open to students of all gender identities, and is designed to encourage and support campers who wish to explore musical applications of technology."
U-M Faculty Director Dr. Zeynep Özcan, who makes brilliantly brainy electronic music, will guide students in understanding the musical applications if technology, with help from U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance Department of Performing Arts Technology faculty. The program overview includes:
I am very sad to report that Herb David died last night. Herbie was one of a kind, unique in every way. He was a very important influence on me and my love for folk music. I feel strongly that, if not for Herb and Herb David Guitar Studios, The Ark would have come and gone in the late 1960s or early 70s. But more than anything, he was a dear friend and I'm going to miss him greatly.
Originally from Chicago, David learned his trade at age 25 from a Detroit shoemaker named Sarkis "Sam" Varjebedian, who also repaired stringed instruments in his shop. They met because David had taken his own guitar there for repair. When Varjebedian died, David bought his tools, some of which were more than 300 years old and passed down generations in the family. Remarkably, David grew up playing the trumpet and never touched a guitar until a fellow soldier gave him a few lessons in the Army, which he enlisted in after graduating from Michigan State University.
According to this 1963 "local man" article in The Ann Arbor News, David left his career as a research psychologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at the age of 30 to begin his career as a luthier. David told the News:
Have you ever wanted to direct a play? Have you ever wanted to cast your kid in the leading role? Have you ever wanted to stage the whole theatrical event in your living room?
If your answer to every question is "no," that's reasonable because directing is a lot of work, nepotism is bad, and who wants to mess up an adequately clean living room?
But perhaps the Covid crisis has you saying "yes" to things you would've never considered before since you're running out of things to do in the adequately clean house you've been cooped-up in for five months.
Well, then, perhaps the idea of directing a play in your living room starring your kid is back on the table.
If you don't know which play to produce, you're in luck: U-M professor José Casas joined seven fellow playwrights who wrote commissioned scripts for California's La Jolla Playhouse. The works are free to access online for everyone and are aimed, respectively, at elementary, middle, and high school students. The plays can be performed with two to six people, depending on the story, with no requirements for costumes, props, or sets -- since we all know the set will be your adequately clean living room or even your mostly maintained backyard.