It's been over a month since we last got to you all through this column and now more than ever we have to start by saying that activity on the Rainbow Rock and Roll scene keeps going hot and heavy, and the energy and potential strength of the people keeps getting higher and higher every day. It's 1972 and there just has been a whole lot of stuff happening-- and in this issue we'll try to cover just one of the more important changes that have gone down since last time.
Everybody knows that the old Eastown Theater has been closed by Detroit's Mayor Gribbs, and there's been a lot of speculation as to how the shutdown is going to effect the entire colony. Rock & roll is, after all, one of our most vital products-- millions of dollars have changed hands just within the Eastown operation in the last four years that it kept running, and that's only a small indication of the importance that real live music has within our communities. It's obvious from the Eastown situation that dope, music, big money, and politics are tied up within and to our culture; and we've got to check out the Eastown deal on all levels so we can see how it affects us, which way we should go now and in the future.
The first thing that the Eastown's closing points to is something that lots of people have been complaining about tor years: the theater was, in some very big ways, a bogue place to go-it frequently got too hot, dirty, and crowded for any kind of natural comfort, and the drugs openly sold there were often atrocious shit. 24 year-old Bob Bagaris ran the place (along with top rock honk Gabe Glance) strictly for money, and in shutting the theater the City government was only taking advantage of the same ridiculous Bagaris/Glance greed that had helped make the Eastown the only regular rock and roll center in the Midwest.
It should be remembered that the Eastown was opened in 1968 by Bagaris to make some money and be a groovier place than the Grande Ballroom, which was then being run by king-pin Russ Gibb and fat Mr. Glance. Gabe and Russ immediatley moved the street from the Grande to the Riviera Theater which they knew was bigger, would lose money because it cost more, and would be strong enough competition to bring the Eastown to its knees. Gibb and Glance had enough money so they could sit back and lose some while their cut-throat tactics put Bargaris up against a wall. When Bagaris was on the verge of bankruptcy Gibb and Glanoe forced the young challenger to merge with them and closed down both the Grande and Riviera so they could exploit the kids and pretty much monopolize things at one location: the Eastown.
Basically Bagaris did all the work and Gibb and, Glance laid back and took their cuts of the action; then old "Uncle Russ" sold out to Bagaris and moved west where he apparently blew his quick fortune on radio stations. Bagaris continued to run the Eastown with Glance until it was closed and they have, of course, gone on to produce many a bigger show at Cobo Hall. During the Bagaris/Glance reign at the old movie theater people's objections to the way the place was run resulted at least three times in public attempts to force Bagaris to change conditions there.
Three years ago a group of bikers called the Universal Angles were led by the now defunct Open City services organization in an attempt to get customers to boycott the Eastown. During the summer of 1970 the Detroit Chapter of the White Panther Party also tried to get Bagaris to negotiate with representatives of the people on the issue of making the Eastown more human, and last year students at Oakland University attempted to bring civil suit against Bagaris for violation of build codes in regard to sanitation and crowd capacity. In all cases Bagaris stood firm and wore out it's opposition.
The one reason Bagaris won out every time is because he ran the only big place in the area where freaks could get together and get high around their music so regularly. And that's why Mayor Gribbs was so quick to nail the doors shut on the rock and roll theater when the sordid Eastown scene was "exposed" for all it was on the front pages of the Detroit Free Press less than two months ago.
It has to be pointed out that the forces which run the government in the City of Detroit, together with the forces in power at the State level in Lansing, have been out to put the dowse on our music as a matter of policy. Last summer we saw Governer Milliken and the Detroit Narcotics Squad celebrate in turning off rock & roll at the State Fairgrounds when Eastown Productions did another typically stinko job at the "Rock & Roll Revival" ruses, the two festivals which have to be remembered as the all time dope bummer specials where not only the drugs were out of control but there was not enough water and narcs busted freely through the crowds. Later the same month, in a secret and almost unpublicized move, Milliken called off the WRIF Free Concert Series at Oakland University by simple, direct pressure on the State-financed University administration. The Rough Park Concerts, the only other free rock and roll series in all of Detroit, were called off the same week when the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation revoked the concert permit on a ruse.
So Mayor Gribbs' Eastown shutdown last month was really only a return of the crazy shit that Milliken has been throwing at the Rainbow Colony ever since the Guv first tried out his anti-rock & roll strategy by going on TeeVee to tell all the moms and dads how shocked he was about Goose Lake back in 1970. The idea being to stop the people from getting together, from getting down with their music, by using the old "dope scare" routine. The honks in office say they "want to do something about the Drug Problem" but, as usual, lots of heroin and other forms of wierd dope run wild everywhere from the schools and the shopping centers to the ballrooms and theaters. Busts for righteous, natural drugs like weed and pure psychedelics continue to stick, of course; and regardless of what lies the cops and politicians tell, more and more people keep getting messed up on bad dope every day. The effect of the whole program being to put the damper on our growth as a people and as the rising force on the planet that we are.
Mayor Gribbs and Milliken and their troops don't have any right to come among our people and put a stop to almost the only gatherings we have-- but, of course, we aren't powerful enough to stop them right now. The way that we can move as a people to take that power, to keep the greedheads off our back and out of our veins as well as keeping the creeps' cops out of our places, the way we can do it all is through the building of People's Ballrooms. Places run by and for the people, policed and kept clean by the people just like the Ann Arbor Tribal Council's Free Park Program was run so beautifully here last year.
The People's Ballroom idea has its history in the area, too; it starts back in the fall of 1970 when then-SRC manager Pete Andrews organized a meeting of local music people to talk about the state of the scene, and John Sinclair addressed the get-together through a letter from prison that proposed the People's Ballroom as a necessary step toward a stronger, more self-determined Rainbow community. The meetings continued some months without creating a ballroom, but the concept was picked up again last summer when workers from Center House, Fifth Estate staffers, radio people, RPP members, and other diggers tried to do it again in Detroit. One fund raising benefit was held in an unsuccessful attempt to start a program to finance a building and that was the limit of public work on any People's Ballroom project until the birth of the Community Center People's Ballroom in Ann Arbor last November. (News on Community Center progress is on page 4.)
The reason why the People's Ballroom plan is essential to a solution of the whole Eastown-type rock-&-roll-rip-off-repression mess is because it is through the People's Ballrooms that we can win the power to define the music scene the way we all want, and at the same time we can gain ground in the struggle to keep the government's police forces out of our dances and our communities. Last summer the Tribal Council ran the Park Program in full cooperation with the local government, and police were kept out of Diana Oughton Park because the political reality is that the people HAVE TO HAVE THE MUSIC and the City couldn't avoid that fact any longer as they had in past years.
And we can use our People's Ballrooms in the same way. And more, because the money from the Ballroom, once it gets on its feet, can be made to sustain a whole set of community service programs like food co-ops, drug programs, medical clinics, or whatever else in needed. But the first term of the Ballroom is that it replaces the kind of drippy low energy scene run by money-gobblers that the Eastown used to be with a high energy/high music scene run by high people who are the same folks that make and dig the jams.
People are ready for People's Ballrooms now, there's no doubt about that, and the one reason they aren't happening this very minute in everybody's neighborhood is because it has taken us all this long to find out not only that this is what we need, but how we have to go about creating this alternative. Each of our efforts had taken us a bit farther along the way till the point where, through the hard work of the Community Center workers, we can now see the possibility of a functioning People's Ballroom within the year. We've just got to keep working and keep the process going, and now that we've got a start here we should work as hard as we can to build the first People's Ballroom so that we can learn even more and eventually help other communities to build People's Ballrooms everywhere!