Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Bohemia

I'M TOLD that a smarmy buttoned-down writer who works for the ultimate yuppie scum ass-kiss grovel-to-the-corporate world lit site, Media Bistro, has called the Underground Literary Alliance "pseudo-bohemians."

Kind of funny to me, really, as I've lived much of my life in neighborhoods which at their mildest could be classified as bohemian, notably in Detroit's Cass Corridor during some of its rough days in the early 90's.

I'd stopped down there one winter night a few years prior after getting off work at a shitty job along Detroit's riverfront, depressed over the job or a woman or wanting to hide or get fucked-up someplace as a snowstorm settled over the city pounding the streets backing up traffic fuck, I'd just knock down a few shots somewhere.

I drove slid plowed through snowy streets in the devastated heart-and-soul of the beaten-down town within sight of looming office buildings but in its decayed Dickensian reality two hundred years away in time. A neon sign amid the blizzard: "The Bronx." I hear the Bronx Bar is now a trendy place; at this time it was the ultimate dive with two customers total both wasted, and an urchin-looking skinny young black-haired large-eyed chick bartender with large hands telling the drunks at the bar how strong she was. As I downed shots the woman told me of her dream founding a rock band someday'd be famous it was all talk I nodded my head drunkenly. She stared or glared at me as if to wonder who was this man who'd dropped in during a snowstorm unexpectedly?

A few years later when needing a place to hide suddenly for real I thought of the Corridor and moved into a nearby building on the edge of the raw neighborhood.

The neighborhood: shocking; the biggest collection of druggies drunks failures urchins panhandlers thousands of homeless crashing in wretched abandoned buildings struggling artists huge prostitute population blind-pig after-hours joints; saloons everywhere; several well-known whorehouses; many other fronts for same; crack, seediness, and violence down every street. In its deepest part-- a "Forbidden Zone"-- roamed a large street gang and packs of wild dogs.

Bohemian? Not really. More like Dodge City circa 1880. Or Paris at the time of "Hunchback of Notre Dame." I'd write a Memoir of my days in that neighborhood, only no one would believe it. I'd tell of a knife fight I was in one sleepy morning when two miscreants mistook me for an easy mark and tried to give me a shave. Just a story. Maybe I dreamed it. Yet Detroit is a city few people will step in, much less live ten years in its most infamous neighborhood. Eventually the city sent a wave of cops in to round up people; wants and warrants; cat houses shut down, bars padlocked, acres of dead buildings bulldozed, the neighborhood's vast sweep of hectic life stifled, bohemian character destroyed.

The word "cathouse" enables me to tell one story anyway, which you can choose to, or not, believe. That was one word I saw everywhere when I first moved down there-- the word posted on lightpoles, trees, abandoned cars and shattered walls of the many endless blocks of empty buildings. "Cathouse. "Cathouse!" "CATHOUSE!!!"


"What is this 'Cathouse'?" I asked a cute punk girl posting a handbill outside Bronx Bar one evening.

"Best rock n' roll band in the city," she told me. "They're phenomenal."

She continued on her way. I leisurely watched her, having no place to go, no place in the world, existing in limbo in the limbo of the Cass Corridor removed from time itself; having had a few drinks. No end to time. One of the colorful flyers fell on the ground and came rolling toward me. I picked it up. "Fourth Street Fair," the flyer announced. "Music! Eats!"

Fourth Street was a tiny one-block neighborhood crammed and forgotten between the crossing of two expressways. It was populated by aging hippies and their hippie-punk progeny. Extremely primitive and medieval. They lived like animals. I walked through the crowded block party holding two cold bottles of malt liquor, surrounded by hair dirt tattoos mastiff dogs tables of hand-made jewelry and food cooking on open fires. At the end of the street on an open lot (overpass behind it) had been set up a crude stage. As the red sun dropped, one punk band after another began playing. I stood near the front and smoked something someone handed me and the red sun turned violet then purple then the deepest dark most intense blue I'd ever seen. The vast dotted sky gave off a mystical feeling. The audience waited for something, or someone. I commented that the music wasn't all that great. Someone told me, "Just wait."

The stage was empty (existentially alone-in-the universe empty) then two tall skinny arrogant young men carrying red guitars and one skinny woman strode god-like onto it-- and slammed the audience with a sudden shock-blast nuclear explosion of musical energy. The girl singer in tattered clothes was wild and crazy with manic strength that echoed and screamed through the microphone through the sky across the universe as long black hair whipped around her face. Pure ambition and will unlike anything I'd seen; the young woman fulfilling every promise she'd made. They were Cathouse.
(I later learned the band's name came from the fact they lived in a dilapidated house full of cats!)

Was this bohemia?

Haven't bohemians thrown off every shred of convention control inhibition regulation, as had these people?

Who's to say? This is one of a thousand true stories I could tell about hungry artist-types I've known in my life. Only when I've told them all would you be able to judge if I know anything about bohemia.

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