Up North

This weekend I stole my wife from her lecture preparations and headed the rental car up north. Northern Michigan to Sault Sainte Marie, to be exact. My grandfather celebrated his 90th birthday on Thursday and his kids arranged a surprise party for Friday.

My grandfather, Ernest Winling, spent his youth in the Soo, enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and spent the war years overseas, then returned home to the Soo to marry his next-door neighbor, work as a painter at the Kincheloe Air Force Base and as a freelance house painter, have three kids with my grandmother, and has spent the last 35 years as an outdoorsman, fishing and hunting his way through the seasons.

Larry, Ernie, Ernest, LaDale

Four Winling Generations

The Soo is a quite small town (~14,000), but I always enjoy visiting. There are two main attractions and drivers to the economy, the Soo Locks, an Army Corps of Engineers project dating back to the 1850s to facilitate Great Lakes shipping through the St. Mary’s River falls, and Lake Superior State University, a 4-year college of 2500 students. Whenever I’m thinking about a site in the American landscape, I turn to the digital collections of the Library of Congress, and the LOC does not disappoint. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documented the hell out of the Locks in 2000 (probably before the latest lock was rebuilt) and has pretty much everything you could want for visual information.


Soo Locks

The Locks at Sault Ste. Marie


Republican Fred Upton beat Democrat Don Cooney 58.8% to 38.6% in the MI-6 House race two weeks ago. In a year of major Democratic triumph, I find this inscrutable (and infuriating) for a district I consider moderate (PVI R+2 as of 2004), including cities like Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor. Upton won by a similar margin (61 to 38) 2 years ago.


Kalamazoo County went 59 to 39 for Obama, but Upton won the county 53.6% to 43.8%. How to explain this? Kalamazoo and MI-6 hate Bush but love Upton? The most obvious explanation, but facile, I think. Upton has been able to lay a “moderate” line, including a whole lot of campaign-inspired gibberish about opposing Bush and reaching across the aisle formerly featured on his Wikipedia page. His grandfather was one of the founders of the Whirlpool Corporation and he, among many other Uptons, is quite wealthy and is connected to the Chicago, St. Joseph, and Kalamazoo business class, as well as the DC lobbyist class, according to FEC reports.

Now, for his opposition: lackluster, to say the least. In 2002, he was against state pol Christine Gregoire Gary Giguere and dispatched her 69 to 29. 2004, St. Joseph art dealer Scott Elliott 68 to 32; 2006, pastor, banker, and playwright Kim Clark 61 to 38. This year, WMU social work professor Don Cooney, who served on the city commission for several years, raised only $58,000 (as of Sept 30) to Upton’s $1.2 million.

Sacrificial lamb much? But you can see as well as I can that Upton’s margin is getting smaller. Kalamazoo is becoming bluer, and with the ongoing immigration to Southwest Michigan, it wouldn’t surprise me if much of the rest of the district were doing the same.

But I can’t tell because the data availability is pretty crappy. For some reason Kalamazoo County doesn’t host its own election results and the city’s precinct map is a crappy pdf. Don’t get me started on the other counties. I’m working on it — this just might become a cause.

UPDATE: Covert Township was the only place in Van Buren County where Cooney beat Upton.

Cooney held his own in Berrien County, but gave up a LOT of potential in Benton Harbor, where turnout was only about 36%, and even all the registered voters were probably only half the eligible population.

The only place Cooney won in Cass County (which went for Obama) was the city of Dowagiac.

Situation: Bad

Edward McClelland with some thoughtson Michigan and the shutdown:

Michigan did not become great because of the auto industry. The auto industry became great because of a Michigander, Henry Ford. The state still produces creative people. Google founder Larry Page, a Ford of the 21st century, grew up in East Lansing, and studied at the University of Michigan, whose main function seems to be giving young Michiganders the credentials to get the hell out of Michigan. Page went to California, but as a sop to his home state, Google is opening a 1,000-employee office in Ann Arbor.

(I’ve moved back to Michigan three times since college. My last attempt lasted a year — until I was laid off. I now live on the North Side of Chicago, which is so crowded with my fellow economic refugees that we call it “Michago.”)

Photography of De-Industrial Life

Holga: Grain Silos

Originally uploaded by Matt Callow

I’ve noted on more than one occasion that I love Michigan. It’s not just Michigan, the state I grew up in, but coming from a region of stories, of pathos, of potential, of wasted opportunities and second chances. My family history is bound up with the state in one of those typically interesting ways: on my mother’s side was a Polish agricultural family who emigrated to the Bay City area to grow potatoes. My grandfather was a medic in World War I; at 47 he married my grandmother and they had 9 children, the penultimate being my mother. On my father’s side is one of those crazy quilts of English-French-Canadian-American ancestry, featuring farming on the Old Mission Peninsula over a hundred years ago. My grandfather was born in Detroit then was adopted by his aunt and grew up in the UP. He worked in the tannery, then enlisted in the Navy in WWII, married my grandmother who had grown up across the street from his family, painted houses for a living, and has hunted and fished his way through his adult life.

Almost everybody I know who grew up in Michigan has a similar set of stories in a way that my acquaintances in growth states like Arizona, Florida, and California don’t. Their stories usually start with a sigh in about 1970 when somebody moved for better weather or a different job or the promise of suburban life. The landscapes of these places reflect this same disaffection — Arizona is nothing so much as a tired newness, a cheerless effort to convince you that THIS is gonna be THE PLACE.

It’s difficult to describe what these braided lives of Michigan history mean. Driving through the strip malls and expressways of Southeast Michigan, for example, makes me question if anybody really cares anymore — who decided to make the suburbs of Detroit a placeless mass of concrete and neon and asphalt and wood and plastic and glass? Did this ever appeal to the senses or inflame the spirit? But I feel it when I detour through Saginaw on my way up north. When I walk down Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. When I see struggling wig stores and faded factory buildings and bricked-up windows on darkened taverns, and when I pass by the river in Kalamazoo or the locks in Sault Sainte Marie. These places have texture. More than patina — bourgeois dirt arranged just so on the facade or in the grooves of trim — these are wounds, scabs, sunburns, scars and liver spots making a place recognizable as being unlike any other.

Continue reading

Great Lakes Myth Society and Northern Rock in the Free Press

Check the GLMS action in the paper today:

From Motown to jazz to rock to techno, artists have long paid musical homage to the city of Detroit. But what about the rest of Michigan? Isn’t it time the Great Lakes State received its musical due?

Great Lakes Myth Society thinks so. Billing itself as “Michigan’s Northern Rock collective,” the Ann Arbor-based quintet crafts indie folk-rock such as “Marquette County, 1959,” and “No. VI,” a song about the old train station in the town now known as Novi. An early album is titled “HOMES, Vol. 1,” HOMES being an acronym for the five Great Lakes.

The article has a weird feel. There’s definitely the text of a story there, giving the vibe that this album is an important part of a movement that may be reaching critical mass. But there’s really nothing to sink your teeth into.

One thing the article just brushes past is the richness of the music that not only layers unconventional instruments and sounds on top of more typical pop-rock instrumentation, but the instruments like the accordion (how could he not mention that?) and the glockenspiel all have their own ethnic connotations not often brought into conventional folk, pop, and rock. I’m sure anyone who’s listened to some latino music lately or even polkas or zydeco has thought “why doesn’t the mainstream pop-rock scene pick up some of this rich sound?” Again, the article makes some reference to southern rock, but what about the overriding southern tradition and roots of modern pop-rock? Why isn’t there another story there about the adaptation of another musical tradition, not just in terms of song content? I guess it’s too much to
ask of a big daily, but it’s a story that needs to be told and is one of the things I love about GLMS — not just their stories, but the way their stories play out in the music.

On the topic of the stories and content, GLMS is far superior to a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd. The opening guitar riffs to Sweet Home Alabama are awesome, but who gives a shit about Neil Young’s criticism of the South? But I’m certain if anybody hears the last lines of Isabella County at a show (“Sweetheart, the city has beautiful, beautiful snow”), there’s no way they’re not fans for life. It’s too bad that wasn’t mentioned in the article, because that may be their most evocative and forceful song in my mind in terms of the value of place in the North, but since it wasn’t about SE Michigan, I can see how it might be left out. Plus, was there no need to follow up on the fact that Fido lives in Flint? Anyway, check out the band and get the album on Sunday.

UPDATE: D’oh! The album isn’t in stores until JULY 10th, not June.

June 9th at the Magic Stick

2 am at Big Ten Burrito

Originally uploaded by urbanoasis.

I need a ride.

I have an appointment with the Great Lakes Myth Society on this date in this place. I don’t have a car. I made the mistake of being born, growing up, and falling in love with an auto-dependent state while having adopted a lifestyle in diametric opposition to such lifeways. (To my credit, I fought my parents tooth and nail in 7th grade when my dad had a job offer to do real estate lending in Arizona, though in retrospect I kind of screwed my dad. Sorry about that, Dad). I missed a similar appointment with the members of said society 2 1/2 years ago when they celebrated the release of their first album, a point that irks me to no end, stinging my conscience and reminding me just how hip I might have been had I attended. With apologies to the great Bruce Dickinson, I now suffer from a chronic malady chiefly characterized by fever. The only cure, I have learned, is more accordion.

For anyone who wants to give me a ride, I will pay your cover to the show. I can also be called upon to provide merriment during the journey and in the course of the return trip. If necessary, I will provide cartographic interpretive services in an advisory capacity, in which case I will not require the handling of the shotgun in either literal protective capacity should we encounter bandits or figuratively in attempt to establish a symbolic position within the motorcar.

I will recommend a stop afterwards at the establishment pictured with this entry. Having attended a meeting of the Society Friday last, I concluded the night’s activities in a most enjoyable fashion at the former Big Ten Burrito. Finding it bustling with a line out the door even at 2 am, I must point out how awesome it was and how both the band and the burritos are two of the few things I miss about Ann Arbor.

Little help?

Northern Michigan, What?!

My father was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and my grandfather and aunt still live there. My grandfather lives about a mile (maybe less) from the bridge. In my ideal scenario, I would have proposed to my Canadian wife from a hill near the Lake Superior campus from which you could see the bridge, the Canadian side, and my grandparents’ house. I would love to retire there.

Twin Cities Where Water Defines Borders and Views

THE view from the crest of the narrow International Bridge that connects the cities of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan and in Ontario takes in one of the greatest collections of affordable big-water shoreline in North America, local real estate agents say. Forested hills climb northwest from the waterline, and rolling woodlands spread south.

Whether in a blizzard or on a clear summer day, when the sky and water are complementary shades of Santa Fe turquoise, the Soo, as the region is called on both sides of the border, seems rendered in high-def when all around it is unremittingly low-res.

This is exactly what I used to tell my students about Wikipedia — consult it, but don’t cite it.

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last straw. At Dr. Waters’s urging, the Middlebury history department notified its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or exams, and that students could not “point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.”

OK, so I’m becoming one of those link dumpers.

Again With the Michigan Crap?

Never too much for a Friday night. The Great Lakes Myth Society is on the cover of the Metro Times with a shout out to personal fave Jim Harrison. Sounds like they’ll be at SXSW. I’mo have to make plans now to fly down and stay with a friend (since, like an idiot, I missed their show tonight five blocks from my house). Maybe I can call it a research trip.

GLMS’s music often nods to the effortless warmth of 1960s pop, particularly the Beach Boys. But there are also stark moments of folk and blues, like broken branches poking through the snow in the chilly landscape of a Jim Harrison novel.

The Mongers like True North; I favor Warlock or Sundog. By the way, any idea who they’re talking about with this?

“We’re definitely focusing on the hipster crowd,” Quack! Media mastermind Al McWilliams says