Lorin Brace: #RecordDET Interview


Carleton Gholz: Welcome to RecordDetroit Detroit Sound Conservancy. Today’s March the 9th. My name is Carleton Gholz, the executive director of the Detroit Sound Conservancy. And I’m sitting in the basement of United Sound Systems in our evolving exhibit and vault space with Lorin Brace. Lorin is from Wayne State University, has been doing some research and connected with us now for almost a year, related. And so we just want to briefly talk to him about his research at this time and where he’s going with it. So Lorin, if you could just tell us who you are and what is your relationship to Detroit music?  

Lorin Brace: Well, my name’s Lorin Brace. I’m a master’s student at Wayne State University in anthropology focusing on historical archeology. And most of my research in general has been on the City of Detroit and an urban archeological look at the landscape of the city. And a lot of that has had to do with the musical landscape. And so looking at musical sites throughout the city and how they were interrelated and how they added to the culture of the city. And so through that, I started, we did a survey of the Bluebird Inn on Tireman Avenue and we did like some artifact collection and a kind of spatial analysis of the building. And then we also found a collection of documents hidden in the ceiling in the front entry way.  

Gholz: It’s all great, but you’re going too fast. 

Brace: Oh okay, sorry.

Gholz: No, no, it’s perfect. Let’s just talk a little bit more about you though, just more about your relationship, Detroit music, your relationship with Detroit or are you just maybe briefly telling you, are you from the area? Did you have any interest in Detroit music before you came – that kind of thing, yeah.  

Brace: Yeah. Just give a little – I grew up in Ann Arbor not far from here, but, I’ve been coming to Detroit for almost my whole life to go see shows at all, all over, various venues. I’ve been living in the city for about four years now. And I mean I’m not a musician myself, but I’ve always been a very big music fan and especially local music fan and have lots of friends who are in bands and play all over and that kind of thing.  

Gholz: Best live show you’ve ever seen in the Detroit area. It doesn’t have to be a Detroit band, but a great live performance.  

Brace: Probably The Stooges when they first reunited and – was that like 2003 I think – that,  was exciting for me just in general, but it was just a great show.  

Gholz: Out at Pine Knob. 

Brace: Pine Knob, yup. Yup. 

Gholz: Yeah. What do you remember about the show?  

Brace: Well I remember it was delayed for about a month cause that was the day of the big blackout, the whole, whole East coast. But, once we finally got there, I mean it just, it was just exciting just to see. I mean I’ve grown up obsessed with The Stooges and they were always like my favorite band. And so just to see like one of your musical heroes from the area and just like, just in general, like, it was pretty great. 

Gholz: What do you like about The Stooges and their sound? 

Brace: It was just, just kind of just raw and just, I don’t know, very – I dunno if I can describe it.  

Gholz:  Uh huh. Yeah. That’s good. First Detroit record. Do you remember ever hearing a particular…?  

Brace: Oh, I don’t know.  

Brace: Yeah, I mean, yeah, I can’t, I mean my, I grew up listening to some Motown. I mean, I didn’t really like it. It was just kind of exposed to it from an early age. And then, yeah. Then the Stooges and MC5 and then the whole Detroit rock thing.  

Gholz: And is that something you discovered on your own or was that something that somebody recommended you listen to or is that something your family was playing? Like there were Stooges records around your house? 

Brace: No, my parents didn’t really listen to The Stooges or MC5 really. That was more friends, but

Gholz: Yeah, the cohort. 

Brace: Yeah.  

Gholz: Yeah. Okay. So then let’s now, let’s get back to the Bluebird. What was the Bluebird Inn? Just really briefly, you know, what was it and yeah. And then if you could just briefly describe, you know, a little bit of the process. That’d be great.  

And it quickly became just the city’s hotspot for modern jazz. And so musicians from all over the city would come to listen or play or just jump on for a minute and play a little bit. And, it just gained this reputation as this, just place where musicians wanted to go to listen to music. 

Brace: Alright, well The Bluebird opened in the mid to late 1930s. It’s just kind of just a neighborhood bar and restaurant. And they occasionally had live music there, like sometimes jazz singers every week or two or a couple of times a week. But then in 1948, they transitioned to become more of a, just a musical venue and brought in bebop jazz, which is what they really became famous for, bebop, and then hard bop in the fifties. And it quickly became just the city’s hotspot for modern jazz. And so musicians from all over the city would come to listen or play or just jump on for a minute and play a little bit. And, it just gained this reputation as this, just place where musicians wanted to go to listen to music. And then, by the fifties and by late fifties in particular, they totally just became, they still had music and they started, sorry, they still had food and they still serve drinks, but it was pretty much, it was a musical venue. It wasn’t as much just a restaurant that just had some music. But then, by the 1970s, jazz popularity declined a bit and they stopped hosting live, live music. And occasionally in the ‘90s they had a few, like, reunion shows there, but it closed about 15 years ago. And now is vacant and pretty much everything inside has been stripped and ripped out except for the stage that was built in 1957. 

Gholz:  Yeah. Yeah.  And when we went in there, just to remind – Sound Conservancy and Wayne State University Anthropology Department, of which you are a part, and there was a whole team there and that team has reconstituted, some has done some work already here at United Sound. We already actually did some archeology down here in the basement. And Krysta Ryzewski, your – one of your professors and advisor,you know, she’s one of our advisors as well. So just to say that and, Yeah, I guess what was, you know, one thing, now you’re writing about this for your Masters. So maybe just tell us, maybe people are gonna read this at some point, hopefully, and you’ve already written, you know, you’ve already done a blog piece for us, so maybe just tell us something that you think is the most, the most interesting thing that you’ve, you know, come across so far in your studies here.  

06:49

Brace:  I mean there’s, a lot of, just random little tidbits. I mean, the documents that we found are really important and they kind of talk about the city’s segregated black communities and the Bluebird was located in the West Side African American community, which was going through a transformation in the late ‘40s too. It was much smaller and it was like delegated to South of Tireman was the black middle class at the time. But in 1948, the rules on, neighborhood covenants that prohibited, African-Americans changed. And so the neighborhood was able to expand. The African American community was able to expand at that time. And, but looking at the connected interconnectedness between the West Side and then Paradise Valley and Black Bottom and other black owned businesses. It’s been really interesting because a lot of  the businesses from Paradise Valley or from other places that we can identify as African American owned and run. The Bluebird did business with them. And so it’s nice. It’s interesting to see this kind of connection within the different communities, even though they’re separated by – they’re a half a city away, there were still this, this close knit African-American kind of business networking.  

Gholz: Yeah, absolutely. And your sense is that Tireman was a dividing line at one time.  

Brace: It was until 1948 and then it quickly became – the black community on the West Side spread North and became, I mean it was already a very vibrant community, but it became even more so through the ‘50s.  

Gholz: What’s the biggest question you have leftover as you’re finishing your work here as an anthropologist and as an historian here, what are the questions you’re left with at the end? I mean, you can’t solve every problem. 

Brace: Yeah, I know, right? I mean I’m interested – part of some of the stuff that I’m kind of writing about is how jazz music played into the just kind of general culture. And this is right, the early beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement  in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And so it kind of, music at times kind of gets tied in with this – it’s kind of like – both social, like unification, but then also this kind of I dunno expression, of, I dunno, it’s personal expression I guess would be the best, best way to do it. And I don’t know, other people have written about music, whether it’s jazz or Motown or other things playing into the Civil Rights Movement. And I’m interested to see how the Bluebird connects with that.  

Gholz: Yeah. In a very real way as opposed to sort of just a background.

Brace: Yeah, yeah, definitely. 

Gholz: Yeah. I think, I think you’re onto something there. I think that’s great. So Lorin, we found, we were rummaging around today, we found a little program here that you’re going to use. What’s the end goal for you with this work? Can you just say what the master’s degree does for you and what’s next for you?  

Brace: Well, I’m going to write – writing this master’s essay right now and I’m hoping to publish it in an academic journal, but I’d like to write some stuff like, or at least a version of it that’s more widely available. So it’s not just the academics reading it. But I’d like to do more with music and the musical landscape and through archeology. And I was just talking with Krysta Ryzewski, my advisor, about doing, putting together like a book collection of music in the city through archeology and things like that. So I think that would be a long term goal. That would be pretty cool.  

Gholz: Last thing and just to underline it, why archeology to study something that’s supposedly so close to us. I think our – most of people’s perception of archaeology for very good reason is ancient Egypt or some ruins somewhere in Mayan civilization or something or even something in the Civil War potentially. So how, can you just respond to that?

Music is intangible and it’s ephemeral in nature. It exists as it’s being performed. 

Brace: Archaeology adds, it adds a perspective that just – historical accounts and even sometimes oral histories don’t provide. It gives us kind of a sense of place and, I don’t know, like tangibility to it, through artifacts, through buildings, through locations, which is strange with music too because music is intangible and it’s ephemeral in nature. It exists as it’s being performed. And so to look at music archaeologically is sometimes difficult, but at the same time, music is very tied to place and location. And people – musical memory and musical heritage is all about people remembering particular places. That’s where, anytime you have any sort of memorials or kind of plaque or anything to, to some sort of music, popular music, anything like that, it’s always at a particular place that’s in the public’s memory. And so using place and as the tangible thing, you can use archaeology to kind of look at how that affects a community, a city and things like that.  

Gholz: Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. That, and even when we were in there that day, that having the stage there and having a sense of how the sound might’ve worked in the space and all of that. And then, and then also, you know, finding pieces from the amplifier, some of the other kinds of things we found, you know. Lorin, thank you so much for your work with us and we’re excited to, see the final product and absolutely a more, maybe a public version in some way. So thank you.  

Brace: Yeah. Yeah. 

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