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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Two Generations: The Entertainment Scene in Jackson, Michigan

The clever and talented daughter of Bruck has started to develop her singing abilities through school chorus and a school musical in which she recently played. She rather enjoys it, so lately she’s taken to singing along with me when I’m playing the guitar. She’s also interested in getting some instruction on playing the guitar and bass, which I’m all too happy to provide, to the limited extent that I am able.

As we were singing the other day, an involuntary associative synapse caused my mind to travel back to a time long ago, in a restaurant in Jackson, MI, where some friends and I went to see some live music one weekend evening. The music was provided by a family band called “Two Generations,” and I would have to say, it was absolutely, positively, the worst band I have ever seen in my life, bar none. If there is a worse band out there somewhere, God forbid, it should be registered as a lethal weapon.

BTW, the dearth of good music was just one symptom of the disease of living in the city of Jackson, MI, whose preposterous motto is, “We Like it Here.” Remind me to deliver a full-blown diatribe on that fair city some day. I think you’d enjoy it, or at least run outside and kiss the ground of the city or town you’re currently living in, providing that it isn’t Jackson, MI.

Two Generations consisted of a father, mother, son, and a guy who looked like an uncle or bus driver or substitute teacher. The son played electric guitar, and since it was the 80’s, played in the loud, screechy style of the big hair heavy metal bands, and himself had big hair and a garish outfit, looking like he’d lost a bet. The father, on the other hand, looked like he came home from work, put down his lunchbox, and headed out to the gig. His contribution was vocals and instrumental backup on the trombone (not at the same time). Yes, you heard right, electric guitar and trombone. It gets worse. The mother played the keyboards and appeared to be a Carly Simon acolyte, dressing like a hippy, and plinking out the artsy, affected pop music of her youth. And the pot-bellied uncle tied it all together on percussion, his style indicating that he may have been more comfortable in a marching band or polka hall.

Nightmare doesn’t begin to describe it.

If they were trying to blend together, they were failing miserably. While Junior squealed away on his Fender knockoff, dad was harking back to the Stan Kenton era with his slide trombone, and mom swooned and swayed on the keyboards like an albino Stevie Wonder, with uncle keeping the ryhthm, or at least a ryhthm. A complex mix of emotions welled up from deep within: squeamish pity for the wretched combo, embarrassment at having brought friends from out of town to witness such a spectacle, anger at having been tricked into doing business under the pretense of being provided music, and a dull, aching malaise at the prospect of living in a city where such dreck could pass for live entertainment. Fortunately there was no cover charge; we would have certainly demanded a refund.

So not to worry, the two generations of Bruck aren’t taking their show on the road any time soon. In fact I think it will be some time before we would even consider playing and singing together for anyone outside our immediate family.

But of course I shouldn’t end the story here. Fighting the urge to poke out our eardrums and eyeballs with cocktail swords, we retired to the one place in Jackson, MI with live entertainment that could be depended upon for a rollicking good time. (No, not one of those places. Actually there were four of those places in Jackson which had exotic dancing, and by exotic I mean naked, but I’m not talking about them. Actually that’s a pretty remarkable number of “adult” entertainment establishments for an isolated town of 30,000, but that’s a whole nother story). I’m talking about the erstwhile Cat and Fiddle saloon. C&F was a little low-budget hole in the wall on the eastern outskirts of town. I’m not sure how I even found the place, but I’m sure glad I did. Your basic blue collar country & western bar, it was de rigeur for out-of-town guests in search of a good time. Actually I’m not sure if “blue collar” quite captures the essence as most of the clientele didn’t appear to have jobs of any kind. There was sawdust on the floor and pickled eggs available from the bartender for 25 cents. It boasted a jukebox filled with outdated C&W disks, a couple of threadbare pool tables, a dance floor occasioned by doughy, drunk housewives and randy forklift operators, and Smokey. Smokey was why we kept coming back. Well, him and the cheap beer and the 25-cent pickled eggs.

Smokey was the thirty- or forty- or fifty- or sixty-something lush who provided music for the docile, unambitious patrons of the C&F. He knew all the country-western hits, new and old, and a few show tunes to boot. His voice was full and raspy, not particularly good, but just right for the venue. And he was a nice guy. We’d chat with him during his breaks, buy him beer, and think up requests. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to buy alcohol for a drunk, but he was already drinking so we were just allowing him to hold onto his hard-won cash a little longer. And occasionally he would let your faithful editor take the stage and treat the crowd to some singularly amateur renderings of Willie Nelson and Hank Williams.

Not too long after my marriage and departure from the fine city of Jackson (Mrs. Bruck didn’t want to live there, go figure), the Cat and Fiddle also ceased to exist, being replaced by the “Rainbow.” I didn’t feel like meeting any Boy George fans so I didn’t bother to check it out. Instead, a fitting closure to that chapter of Jackson, MI culture lies in the words of a prematurely middle-aged hillbilly, with whom I was playing pool during my last visit to C&F, along with her daughter and one of my college buddies: in her unmistakeable I’m-from-Michigan-but-my-momma’s-from-Kentucky accent, to her daughter, she avowed, “If yew let him win, ah swear ah’ll whup you like a redheaded stepchild!”

So there you have it, in the unlikeliest of places, redemption of the concept of multigenerational entertainment!


  • At 9:29 AM, Blogger Mike said…

    My parents grew up in Jackson and (luckily) refused to remain there after being married. It was a kick to hear the motto again of the city that boasts being the birthplace of the GOP. My mother once told me that the sign that boasted, 'Jackson: We Like It Here' was once defaced to read, 'Jackson: We Tolerate It Here' Ahhh....memories.

  • At 11:40 PM, Blogger Bruck said…

    I had forgotten about JXN being the purported birthplace of the GOP! I will have to weave that into a future column on the subject.


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