Friday, 26 July 2013 12:17

Fly On The Amplifier: Steve Miller’s Oral History Of Detroit Rock

Written by  Kyle Austin
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Detroit Rock City Book Release Party
with Steve Miller and Tesco Vee
Vertigo Music, Grand Rapids
Aug. 3, 4 p.m., (616) 742-5106

On the scale of life-changing experiences, Steve Miller rates walking by an open window in 1968 and exposing his 11-year-old ears to the ferocious sonic assault of The Motor City Five pretty damn high. As a kid catching shows throughout Detroit, and later as a founding member of the pioneer hardcore band, The Fix, Miller thoroughly witnessed the raw power and explosive creativity of the city’s music scene, but it was only after he’d forged a new career as a journalist in the early 1990s that he began thinking of it in literary terms.

“Detroit has always been a hotbed of great music,” he said. “It was a book that I always wanted to read, but it wasn't until 2002 that I realized I could actually write that book.”

In 2010, Miller secured a publishing deal and immersed himself in a project that stood in stark contrast to most of his previous journalistic output, which included heavy political coverage for national newspapers and a pair of true crime books.

“It was almost like a vacation,” he said. “Often times when I'm doing other stuff, I'm talking about life and death. We're not talking about life and death here; we're only talking about rock n roll.”

Released in late June, Detroit Rock City submerges the reader in the chaotic world of Detroit rock 'n’ roll through first-hand interviews with the people who were playing, watching and living the music. The book begins in the late 1960s with the rise of artists such as The Stooges and The MC5, then delves into the emergence of national giants like Ted Nugent and Bob Seger. The second half makes a trek through the punk and hardcore scenes of the late 1970s and '80s that spawned groups like Negative Approach and The Hyenas before ending with the garage explosion of the 1990s and early 2000s, led by the likes of The White Stripes and The Von Bondies. The book also explores other facets of Detroit’s rock 'n’ roll history, including music magazines, recording studios and concert venues.

"I always wanted it to be an oral history,” Miller said. “I thought it would be a better story if the people involved with it told it. I didn't want some writer in there messing with the message.”

The depth of Detroit’s musical contributions is relayed perfectly through the threads of conversation that Miller has painstakingly arranged. Though interviewed separately, each musician, roadie, groupie and scenester who contributed a story or an opinion remains in constant dialogue with larger questions about what it means to push the creative envelope and influence the progression of musical expression.

"The more I worked on this book, the more I realized that Detroit is the most influential rock 'n’ roll city in the world,” Miller said. “I'm always amazed when I hear a riff or a sound and I think, ‘Wow man, I could take that back [to Detroit].’”

At a special event inside Vertigo Music, Miller and [Detroit-based hardcore punk label] Touch and Go Records founder Tesco Vee will celebrate the release of Detroit Rock City and the re-release of Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83 with live music and an open Q+A session.


Author Talk with Kristin Kimball
Grand Rapids Public Library, Aug. 7, 7 p.m., (616) 988-5400

Kristin Kimball is the founder and co-operator of Essex Farm, a 500-acre, draft horse-powered farm that provides a full diet, year-round for 250 people. That may sound simple, but those who come to hear Kimball speak about the trials and tribulations of getting such an endeavor off the ground will come to see otherwise. After her presentation, Kimball remains on hand for an open Q&A session.

Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, 758 Wealthy St.
Aug. 7, 7:30 p.m.

The beautifully intricate poetry of Hyesim, a 12th century Korean monk who became the second patriarch of the Buddhist Chogye Order, is brought to life in English by renowned Michigan translator Ian Haight in this collection, to be released at a special event. Haight will join the public in celebrating the spirit of Hyesim with traditional Korean food and drink, followed by a reading of select poems.

Author Talk with Lisa Rose Starner
Schuler Books, 28th Street location
Aug. 20, 7 p.m., (616) 942-2561

With her new book, Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution, Lisa Rose Starner tackles the rise of locavorism in our city through an exploration of the agricultural and culinary efforts that are affecting community change. Listen to her read from her book and discuss her own involvement with the local food movement at this free public event.
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