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A (Belated) Requiem For The Hamtramck Pub

Preface: Word popped up on FaceSpace today that the Hamtramck Pub had burned down. The news was passed around as news travels on social media sites and I shared it with the essay below, sparking further shares.

However, as I was getting the link to the article for this post, I noticed the few comments that had been left were dated October 2011, September 2012, and November 2013. When had the Pub burned down? There was no date on the post and Google didn't have the answer. Only by running a search on the Hamtramck Review site was I able to obtain the post date: October 22, 2011.

The Hamtramck Pub, home to so many musicians and bands during its lifetime, burned down 2-1/2 years ago and no one appears to have noticed.

Granted, it had been closed for years and had fallen off the collective mental radar. When I go to Hamtown these days, I'm coming from the East side, getting off I-94 at Mt. Elliot and heading down to Small's or New Dodge or Paycheck's. That stretch of Caniff west of Jos. Campau to I-75 is untraveled now. But that I hadn't seen anyone reply, "That burned down a few years ago," shows how the scenes of our fondest crimes got overgrown by weeds in most memories.

So what follows isn't the instant reaction to breaking news I thought it was, but better late than never and I'm sure there are plenty outside my circle of acquaintances for whom this will be news as well.

(Note: Names spelled out were originally Facebook tags to alert those mentioned.)
Sad to see, but not surprising since it's seemed to be gone forever already.

My musical career (if you can call it that) was rooted in "the Pub." My first time performing was on Valentine's Day 1986 when my best friend Chris Remy recruited me to fill in on drums for his band when they were opening for Snakeout. My drumming skills were about as good as my knitting and pastry-making skills (i.e. none) and the gig went as well as could be expected. (Fortunately, the legal prohibitions on murder kept the audience at bay.) We'd borrowed Snakeout's kit and I remember the Kevlar snare head.

Jump ahead six months and I was back with Red September for our debut show. Clifton Finch and Paul Haines were bassist and drummer respectively and we had a keyboardist and female singer at the time. The set was a mix of originals and covers of Divinyls and Missing Persons tunes. (I still want to cover "Siren" again, dammit!) After a few shows, we booted the singer because our fans didn't like her looks and I inherited the microphone. (Since I was the songwriter, I knew the lyrics already.) The keyboardist was cashiered a year later because he was overqualified for what we were doing; we had another one for a brief time, but for a band heavily-influenced by R.E.M. and The Jam as well as Van Halen and INXS, keys were always frosting, not the cake.

Flash-forward to December 1992 and I'm back there for a meeting hosted by Tom Ness (now Stephanie Loveless) of Jam Rag about trying to organize musicians to get better treatment from clubs and attention from the press. After a series of people getting up on the mic to bitch about things, I went up and gave a speech that basically boiled down to, "It's nice to complain, but what are you going to do about it?" The moment was just like Norman Rockwell's painting "Freedom of Speech" and in the movie John Williams' score will swell your heart with patriotism. (This is how I remember it, so pfffft.) The Detroit Musicians Alliance formed shortly thereafter and I learned that getting involved was just as easy as getting involved. Someone once asked how I became an officer in the DMA and I told them, "I just sat down at the table."

The DMA tried holding meetings at different spots before settling in at Lili's since we figured it'd be easier to find us if we stayed put; we weren't a floating craps game. At the time I was in between incarnations of Red September (I was just writing and 4-tracking from 1989-1994) and when the band reactivated we played places like Finney's (RIP), Alvin's (RIP), Lili's (RIP) - hey, I swear we aren't to blame for all these clubs going under! - and Paycheck's because the Pub was too small and declining for our needs.

Over time I'd heard Rod and Cole had passed and a few years ago while loading into Paycheck's for a Big '80s show, this rather hobo-looking guy came up and identified himself as Paul, the bartender. We chatted a few minutes, but what do you really say to someone in that circumstance? The article mentions that he'd fallen on hard times and also exited this plane of existence a couple of months ago. The whole crew is now running a bar in Rock & Roll Heaven, I presume.

But as Living Color said, "Now you can tear a building down/But you can't erase a memory," and here are the memories of the Pub that have stuck over three decades:

* Seeing Inside Out (Detroit) playing when Karen Neal grabbed the St. Pauli Girl standee that was on the stage and snarked, "Look, it's the St. Paula Girl from Vertical Pillows," then punched it off the stage. Lynda Mandolyn remembers that one; she mentioned it the interview I did which I really need to edit and post.)

* Going down to Thursday night jam nights which always ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. I frequently ended up on bass because all the guitarists wanted to wank and it's hella easier to pick up a song you don't know when you only need to figure out one note. One night, Rod stepped up to sing and I threw down a bass line on "Sunshine Superman" that was so bouncy and funky that it nearly resurrected James Jamerson. I have never been able to get near the area code of that feat since. A cosmic funk ray must've hit me at that moment.

* Speaking of Rod, I was soundchecking for a show and while waiting around crooned, "Don't know why, I've got lipstick on my thigh," and Rod bellowing through the talkback, "GOT A BLOWJOB." (I was going to say "sloppy blowjob," but that's close enough for government work.)

* The night, I think it may've been a jam night, when Wally Pleasant - anyone remember him? - dropped by and did a mini-set. His Songs About Stuff album had been a hit with the Pub peeps and when he sang "She's In Love With A Geek" a mob of people rushed the stage and provided this amazing doo-wop accompaniment. (Maryjane Honnor would vouch for this if she was seeing this post. Someone tell her, please.) Good times.

* Of course, the sex (woo-hoo!): Hanging out with the band on a jam night when this woman sat down next to me at the bar to get a drink. I think I was reading something and I chatted innocuously with her for a moment and she left for her table. Afterwards, the guys came up and asked what was up and I said nothing to which they said, "She was hitting on you." Now I've always been, let's say "obtuse," about if women being interested in me and unless she starts pawing at my belt buckle while I'm talking to them, I'm unlikely to catch any signs she may be flashing. (Even then it's a tossup.)

So I went over and talked to her and told her about the band and invited her down to an upcoming show. She left and the guys asked if I got her number and I said no, but she was going to come to the show a couple of days later. They said I'd blown it, but lo and behold, she DID come to the show. I was just shy of 21 and she was 30 and that seemed so OLD to me then. (I still refer to her as "Mrs. Robinson." A 30-year-old would be so young now. I'm old.) We hooked up for a while - she'd listen to Suzanne Vega and Sisters of Mercy while I was at her place and then jump my bones. One time, we were supposed to see Beetlejuice, but next thing I know I'm being dragged into her bedroom. I said (and those of you who really know me know this is absolutely true), "I thought we were going to the movie." (How I ever got laid remains a mystery.) Looking back, I think she was just using me for the sex. I would feel cheap and used if not for the fact that doesn't matter, had sex.

Thanks, Hamtramck Pub! You made a man out of me!

[pour out for my homies]