Sunday, July 27, 2014

Demographics

And I'm just back from a glorious weekend in the city of Detroit, proud home of Disneyland, the largest used bookstore in Michigan and more potholes per capita than any city outside of Mogadishu.

Seriously, people have run the numbers. It costs roughly $300-400 more per month to keep a car in running condition in Detroit than just about anywhere else. Driving through the city makes me glad that shocks are a thing, because I don't have enough teeth to spare for the conditions of the roads. It can get pretty bad. Every time I venture through, I'm tempted to bring rope and a grappling hook just in case spelunking is required.

I love Detroit. It's simultaneously grand and run-down, like an aged monarch wasting away in exile or a fine vintage wine which has been corked. It's a crazy mix of small-town and big city you won't see anywhere else, an Alice in Wonderland shattered-mirror vision of what would happen if you set the Red Green Show in Chicago. Whenever I drive over, I get out of my car and wind up chatting with complete strangers about whatever. Hell, even the criminals are friendly, even when they're stabbing, raping, murdering and/or lighting you on fire.

It's one of those places which is impossible to defend. It is smelly, gross, crime-ridden, run-down, has horrible infrastructure. Flint and Jackson look superior in comparison. There are places in Detroit which, in a fantasy setting of the variety containing elves and paladins, would be infested with orcs and beholders. It is a wretched hive of scum and villainy and it's pretty great.

It has more ethnic diversity than just about anywhere in the US. You can get food there you simply can't find anywhere else and for rock-bottom prices. The locals are proud and friendly. You could do something new every day for a year and not run out of things to do. The music scene is incredible. It is very easy to get in and out of the city. Plenty of parking. Canada is just across the river if you're inclined and not barred from entry. I could go on for hours, it's awesome.

The reason I was there was for a concert: Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. Both were great. NIN, in particular, blew my damn head off with their badassity. Incredible show.

But one of the primary reasons I like going to big summer concerts is the people watching. Each band has their own demographic and trying to predict what kind of people you'll see is half the fun.

Go to see Slipknot, for example, and you can count on more facial tattoos and fewer teeth per head than, say, a Dweezil Zappa show. Go to see Blue Oyster Cult and you will feel young and pretty. Go to The Dead Milkmen and you'll see lots of middle-aged IT folk. And so on.

I'm always interested in what kind of people show up for these things, what kind of people fill up the arena. I pick my seating where I can watch the flow of the crowd more than the bands themselves because, as far as I'm concerned, that's where half the action's at.

When I see big heavy metal shows--Iron Maiden, for example--I'll often see lots of gray-beards, accompanied by their adult children who were raised to love heavy metal. Those children will often have kids with them and the kids themselves will be loving the show. Heavy metal has a pretty solid inter-generational appeal for no reason I've ever been able to fully explain. Maybe it's because at any given time there's a great deal of variety in the genre, but with strong continuity with older acts. You get into metal because of, say, As I Lay Dying, and they call back to Sabbath, which you check out and find yourself enjoying.

Families are raised in metal more than any other type of music. My nieces, for example, could sing along with Megadeth before they were four. It's not as uncommon as you might think.

The Nine Inch Nails crowd...not so much. I made a crack earlier that week about how the audience was probably going to be aging goth cougars and I was mostly correct. The crowd skewed heavily white, forty years old, give or take five years and varying degrees of swarthiness. Lots of semi-nudity and fishnets, mostly people who peaked in coolness around 1995.

What struck me the most was the lack of variation in ages. No children. Not many very old people. Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden aren't really being passed on to a younger generation. It's a little startling that Iron Maiden, for example, will be regarded in twenty years much like we think of Zeppelin now: something of a cultural fixture which can be appreciated by a broad audience. Nine Inch Nails, however? Old people music, like Pat Boone twenty years ago.

I suppose it happens to every generation. Nobody in the 50's thought their rock 'n' roll was going to acquire the thick layer of greasy baby boomer kitsch that it did. Strawberry Alarm Clock was probably revelatory and not a punchline at all back in the 60's. The Village People pushed all sorts of boundaries, I guess. I suppose I'd better start bracing myself now for the fact that 90's industrial is going to be fodder for the dentures and hip surgery set sooner than I think.

Not much writing happened this weekend. I managed to crank out some words on Friday before I left and I pounded out this blog post today, but yesterday was spent getting a contact high at a very large concert, visiting an enormous used book store and bopping around the dirty D, getting in trouble.

Totals:  761, 666, 906, 1144, 695, n/a, and 963.

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