Thursday, December 12, 2013

Motor City Blues

In many ways, Jim Jarmusch's recent film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is an ode to Lost Detroit, shot at night as his vampires cruise around the faded Motor City in a white Jaguar XJS to the plaintive chords of Adam's presumed musical score.  I suppose the Jaguar was a touch of irony in a faded world of great cars like the Packard, as Adam points out the towering old plant to his ageless lover Eve.  They pause to take in the once majestic Michigan Theater that now serves as a car park, before returning to Adam's dilapidated brick Victorian, where he generates electricity from a Tesla coil, and Eve spins an old 45 of Denise Lasalle's Trapped in This Thing Called Love.

It's the kind of movie you can only really enjoy if you have a nostalgia for such things.  Not that I am a native of Detroit, but it is sad just the same to see this once thriving city now viewed as Gothic ruins.  However, the vampires, having been around at least since Christopher Marlowe's time, put the faded city into perspective, according it the beauty of a Piranesi etching.

Charlie LeDuff takes a decidedly different tone in his autopsy of his home city, picking through it as one would a victim on a medical examiner's stainless steel table.  For him it is no longer frightening.  The city has become forlorn and pathetic, giving off a stench that you can't seem to get rid of after you leave the coroner's room.

However, another native son, Mark Binelli, prefers to look at Detroit as a city re-emerging from the ashes and being reborn in a post-industrial age in his book Detroit City Is the Place to Be.  Binelli looks at what is currently happening in the Motor City rather than what has happened.  This makes for a much more positive book that gives readers hope that a city can be reborn.  It is fast becoming the world's largest urban farm.

It really isn't that much of a stretch when you think about it.  Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are Midwestern cities that have all managed to resurrect themselves.  Once Detroit gets past its current financial woes one can easily imagine a transformation taking place.  It just takes a little forward thinking to get moving again.


  1. I read the LeDuff book and loved it. He's an interesting writer who chose to move back home with his family and get a job at the local paper. Amazing book!

  2. Interesting contrast in books, judging from the reviews.

  3. Amazing to see that Detroit has lost more than half its population since the 1960s. I found another book on Reminaging Detroit,

    which explores the city in urban planning and renewal terms.

  4. The LeDuff book is as much about him as it is Detroit, but as a reporter returning home, he follows some pretty grim stories. He's a really good (gritty) writer. Reads like a noir novel.

  5. Makes me think of Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart. He apparently has re-explored the country since then. I'm generally cautious of these types of books, because they seem to deal too much with one person's disillusionment than the actual condition of a place.