Thursday, October 18, 2012

Louder Than Love

Hell’s Half Mile Film Fest


The State Theatre

This is a film that has gone places, it’s got legs and a lot of mile sand even more accolades. It’s been to Detroit, Chicago, Traverse City, Las Vegas, Ann Arbor, Nashville and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Now it’s been to the jewel of Bay City, the legendary State Theatre. The modest turnout was no doubt due to it being on a Sunday evening near dusk. The director Tony D’Annunzio was missing in action having been called back to his day job covering the Detroit Tigers playoff games. It’s tough living a dream when you need to make a buck. There were a few folks in attendance that had actually attended shows at the Grande Ballroom. I was not part of that memory elite though I was able to brag to no one in particular that I did trek down to the East Town Theatre in 1970/71. It was located on the corner of Harper & Van Dyke, lovely neighborhood…for crime, dope, random hijinks and other high crimes and misdemeanors. I saw the Kinks (twice), the Rascals, Bob Seger, Steve Harley & the Cockney Rebel, Rita Coolidge and a few others.

We settled in and looked around at each other. Hmm, there were some old timers here for sure, those long-in-tooth sixty somethings like me but there was a good mix of other generations. I had an impulse to jump up and disavow any connection to those old farts but I just sat quietly. I didn’t have the gumption or energy to reveal how stupidly vainglorious I could be. All things considered the next two hours was one helluva roller coaster ride. The story was well paced and the rhythm of the images on screen kept me on the edge of my seat, wanting more. The audience seemed to be as one; a psychedelic protoplasm with a shared vision of a moment in time when life was fresh and new sounds were alerting our minds and bodies of another world. We were witness to a film that helped document an era of great music, sexual freedom, and political activism. Louder Than Love was able to capture the camaraderie of young people exploring an alternate life style. I was enthralled by the images portrayed in this historic film.  It can never be repeated

The story begins with a televised address by LBJ declaring a State of Emergency and scenes of Detroit engulfed in fire, a raging inferno that captured the rage of its forgotten residents. The year was 1967 and the riots had started. There was fire everywhere, looting, violence and police brutality. One young black man was asked why he didn’t torch the Grande Ballroom. His response was simple and direct, “we didn’t burn the Grande ‘cos they have music there, man.” Rock & Roll Music, the old chestnut by Dick Wagner & the Frost was the first song of a twenty song soundtrack that accompanied all those glorious images. There were period photographs, music and footage of live performances as well as current interviews with the musicians such as Roger Daltry (the Who), Wayne Kramer and Machine Gun Thompson (the Mc5), Dick Wagner (the Frost), Ted Nugent (The Amboy Dukes), John Sinclair, Alice Cooper and others.

Russ Gibb, a former school teacher, got the idea for the Grande after a trip to the West Coast where he met Bill Graham and visited the Fillmore West. The Byrds were playing that night and there was a psychedelic light show. It was truly an eye opener for the somewhat parochial Gibb. The music was too loud. Everything was wrong. But it was alive and real. Freedom of expression, alternate lifestyles and the incredible music co-existed in total harmony. He brought the Fillmore to Detroit and put his own stamp on it – thanks to the influences of John Sinclair, The Fifth Estate (alternate newspaper) and the counterculture that swirled around them. Before the Grande the only music you heard in Detroit was the symphony. The balance was changing like a runaway avalanche. It was vital but for only a short time 1966-70. John Sinclair developed an alternate community at Wayne State before moving to Ann Arbor. Sinclair explained (tongue-in-cheek but profoundly accurate and honest), “It was the only place for people to come and enjoy themselves. We were weirdos with long hair and we would listen to blues and jazz all the time. This was the only place to experience psychedelia except for San Francisco.”

It was also apparent that the war raging in Vietnam gave kids the idea that you might not be able to trust the government. Wayne Kramer honed in on the connections between love, sex and also thoughts and convictions. “It was part of Detroit’s industrial consciousness. We work hard; we play hard. The music rocked HARD. The Grande was the Petri dish.”

John  Sinclair gave credit where credit was due;

”Bob Seger’s Heavy Music - that is what Detroit is all about, Rob Tyner was a visionary, a genius.”  Sinclair picked the NMc5 for the Grande. They were the first band to play the Grande and the Last. They had a sheet of sound that signaled to Grande folks to march in the streets and get political. Music, art and politics were equal. The music was the pearls that held it together. It happened for the good of the world.”

For many the Grande was the Holy Grail. Everyone wanted to play there. The Who performed Tommy for the first time in America at the Grande. In an unexpected moment of truth, their road manager Tom Wright was offered a job managing the Grande. When Wright took the job, the Who thought he moved up, far surpassing them. Hell, the Who wanted to work for the Grande too! They had never seen such a responsive crowd that actually knew the lyrics to their somewhat obscure deep album cuts.

The Grande was a supercharged sensory overloaded environment with peculiar sights and sounds that promised every Dionysian delight this side of paradise. The music and light show were a pure psychedelic aphrodisiac. It was freedom without violence. Wayne Kramer put it perfectly,”There was no violence, just a lot of loving – it was sexy.”

Louder than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story is more than a movie. It is an historic document about a time and place that no longer exists. It is the soundtrack for a cultural zeitgeist in America that lasted for only a brief candle of time. It needs to be preserved. For Tony D’Annunzio, It was a labor of love. There was no guaranteed pay off or possibility of fame and notoriety. It is heartening to see a great movie that deserves the accolades given. It was lovingly directed and produced by Tony D’Annunzio and expertly edited by Karl Rausch. A great team


Before the Grande the only music you heard in Detroit was the symphony. The Grande is gone; the symphony’s still here. There is room for both. If only…


Bo White




John Sinclair Live @ White's Bar

John Sinclair is an historical figure in the counterculture of America. He was the founder of the White Panther Party in the mid-sixties and established a political and communal base in Detroit and Ann Arbor through Trans Love Energies. It was a magnet for musicians, poets, and freethinkers. He was largely responsible for the success of MC5and their four year residency @ the Grande Ballroom.

John grew up with a deep and abiding love for Jazz and Blues and has toured the world performing his poetry with the backing of a loose and ever changing aggregation of top flight musicians. John has performed @ White’s Bar several times in the past 10 years and will grace our stage on Saturday November 3rd @ 6:30pm for a night of music, poetry and storytelling. He is a gentle man of peace and has seen the dark side of freedom when oppression ruled the day. He is a visionary who speaks the truth – clearly, with just a hint of anger and a weary shrug.