red lights

From Raw Power to No Power
(or How I survived the Blackout of 2003)

Clarkston, MI
Aug. 14, 2003

Iggy Fans

Story and Photos by Tony Bonyata

Last Thursday was to be one of the most important and highly anticipated rock 'n 'roll reunions in recent history. That was when all original living bandmembers from the influential band The Stooges ( featuring singer Iggy Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton and drummer Scott Asheton, along with bassist Mike Watt filling in for the duties of the late Dave Alexander) were scheduled to perform together for the first time in 30 years in their Detroit-area hometown. This was huge news - enough to make me trek from Southeast Wisconsin to the Motor City with little more than The Stooges' Funhouse, Raw Power and the band's self-titled debut CD acting as my fuel. Little did I realize how insignificant this monumental reunion would seem, however, after I rolled into town.
What follows is a rather loose journal of some of the events I experienced during the nation's largest blackout in history.

August 14th, 8:30 a.m. Tossed a change of clothes, cooler full of pop and a stack of CDs (Stooges, The White Stripes and various '60s garage rock artists - this was a Detroit rock 'n' road trip, after all) into the back of my wife's yellow VW Bug and happily buzzed down to Carpentersville, IL to pick up my accomplice, Bob (a fellow hardcore Stooges friend, who I knew would gladly withstand a mere 6-hour trip for a reunion of this magnitude).

9:35 a.m. With cooler augmented with sandwich makings and bottled water (courtesy of Bob), smiles on our faces and windows and speakers alike cranked, we were on our way. Stories of Iggy and the Asheton brothers flew from our lips like a couple of '60s schoolgirls giggling about John, Paul, George and Ringo. I mentioned that I had met and briefly chatted with Iggy at a college seminar (?!) he held in Rockford in 1990, and then remembered when The Stooges' third bass player Jimmy Recca, showed up a party I held back in '87 where we talked about Iggy horror stories well into the night ("We were in the middle of a show and Iggy was pretty out of it," Recca recalled. "He jumped from the stage and ran straight through the crowd and right out the front door. We were dumbfounded, but kept playing through, just jamming without a singer. It was about 25 minutes later and Iggy shows up onstage again with ketchup all around his mouth. When we asked where the hell he was he just said, 'I felt like a cheeseburger'.")

4:45 p.m (EST) After a seemingly speedy three-state drive we passed the DTE Energy Music Theatre, where the concert was to be held, as we chimed in with the Stooges' 1969 punk anthem "No Fun" ("No fun to hang around. Freaked out for another day") wondering if we could squeeze in a couple of burgers and beers before the opening acts - Detroit garage rockers the Von Bondies and NYC alt-rock darlings Sonic Youth - hit the stage at 7:00.

5:00 p.m. Pulled into the town of Auburn Hills, eleven miles south of the venue, to pitch our bags into our hotel room and get back on the road, only to find a cop directing traffic at a major intersection ('Hmmm...that's odd, the traffic lights are out. Oh well, onto burgers, beers and rock 'n' roll!').

Iggy Pop poster
5:15 p.m. Arrived at the Motel 6 (livin' large on a shoestring) only to be told by a city worker in the parking lot that the power was out in the area. The desk clerk then emerged from the motel's dark foyer and said that we wouldn't be able to check in as all the locks were run on electricity (whatever happened to the days when a good old fashioned metal key could open a door instead of a credit card?). She also went on to inform us that not only was the power out in Clarkston, but Detroit, Cleveland and New York City as well ('Yeah right, honey. What are you smoking?,' I thought as I searched for the ring of ketchup around her mouth.) Then we switched the radio on and it was confirmed, there was a major power blackout that ran from Michigan all the way to the East Coast. No phones, no gas, no food, no Iggy and no Stooges. No fun.

6:00 p.m. Not being able to get a room, we hit the streets which had instantly turned into a stifling gridlock in every direction as far as the eye could see. Snaked our way down a few side streets and stopped in front of Kroger's, a local grocery store chain. Although they - along with other stores, gas stations, restaurants and every other business - had locked their doors tight (probably in fear of possible looting), they generously set up a makeshift shop in front of the store selling milk and bottled water at regular cost (It should also be noted that the radio had announced that there were also a few greedy gas stations just outside of the affected areas, that were charging as much as $4.00 for a gallon of gas. Nothing like gouging your regular customers in a state of emergency.) Surprisingly, though, it was the helpful actions of Kroger that seemed to ring through the troubled area, with people on the street offering help to one another, as well as the term 'right-of-way' being practiced with courtesy and a smile at every major intersection, now without the aid of traffic lights.
It was around this time that the reality of our situation sunk in. With no concert, no motel, only a quarter of a tank of gas and the highway traffic choked to the gills, we were stuck. The radio had stated that the west side of Flint, about 40 minutes north of us, had power, as their electricity wasn't coming from the infected Eastern power grid, but a rather a northern feed. Although we had enough gas to make it to Flint, it was certain that with the amount of traffic on the highway we would surely run out before reaching our destination. There was only one thing to do - wait for the highway to open up so we could be sure that our gas would get us to Flint.

Iggy Fans
7:30 p.m. After being coerced by Bob to head north to the venue, since the traffic was now starting to move a bit and it was on the way to Flint (not to mention that my ever hopeful friend half-jokingly stated, 'Maybe The Stooges will be playing an acoustic set out in the parking lot'), we were soon confronted by the venue's huge marquee which announced the news "Iggy and The Stooges - Postponed - New Date Aug. 25." We couldn't help but feel the bitter irony that the venue had recently changed it's name from Pine Knob Music Theatre to DTE Energy Music Theatre, the power company that this major outage had occurred to.
Chatted with a few distraught fans in the parking lot and was asked by one what I was doing driving such a cute little car (implying, I guess, that it was somewhat emasculating). After I informed him that it was, in fact, my wife's vehicle, his friend excitedly pointed to a black Beetle in the lot and said, "Yeah, that's mine over there. I say the same thing too when people ask me!" The jokes were soon cut short, however, when we were all asked to leave by one of the venue's golfcart gestapo.

8:00 p.m. Drove down the road and, lo and behold, there on the corner was a tiny oasis (or was it merely a mirage?) There, with it's door swung wide open to revel a pitch black interior and dozens of young hipsters and hardcores from Detroit to Toronto all hanging out in front, stood the Sashabaw Mkt. Square Liquor Store; a tiny convenient store that carried a variety of well-preserved junk food and still slightly chilled beer. Stocked up inside and downed one outside while conversing with fellow Stooges fans. When I mentioned that I was here to cover the show, I was handed two CDs from a guy who was in a local band called Activated Peat. "Check this shit out, man!," he stated, before we said our goodbyes and good lucks (really meaning the latter, under the circumstances). Slapped the band's forthcoming debut album, entitled Solution, in the CD player and couldn't believe that it sounded so good. Raw vocals, squealing guitars and a menacing rhythm section that turned from a slow rumble to an amphetamine-driven train-wreck on a dime. This is the same type of untapped, hardcore punk rock that's been reverberating from Michigan garages since the late '60s. And the same kind of hardcore punk rock that bands like The Stooges and MC5 forged in the area over 30 years ago. This was just the jolt of hot, angry, young punk rock that we needed to get us to where we were going - wherever that was.

8:45 p.m. Since it looked as though highway traffic was starting to slowly creep, we decided to head north to the next major exit, in hopes of seeing lights or at least getting a little closer to Flint. We got off and stopped at a closed gas station to conserve fuel and wait for more traffic to clear. It took a little over two hours, but it finally happened; the highway to our electric Mecca was flowing like red corpuscles through a marathon runner's aorta.

11:00 p.m. Back on the road and flying for the first time since we got into town earlier that day. As we approached the town of Holly, Michigan we saw the faint flicker of light in the distance and, sure enough, there it was - house lights, street lights and, best of all, a well lit gas station off the first exit. The only problem was that not only was the gas station's lot jammed full of cars all in line for the precious fuel, but the long line continued down the street and the entire off-ramp, all the way back to the highway.
Bob suggested instead of waiting that we continue on, which was brilliant advice, because as we drove a little further we soon arrived at our Shangri La. Flint, a hard-working blue collar city that has fallen on hard times since the auto industry's major relocation from town, now appeared to us from the dark, not a like a down-trodden city, but more like Las Vegas, with it's bright street lights, well lit billboards and even neon, for [Activated] Peat's sake. Yessir, with all of their 'damn-the-power-outage' lights shining brightly, no lines at the gas station and one of the best coney dogs this side of Coney Island at a great little diner called Angelo's, we had died and gone to some kind of high-voltage heaven.

11:45 p.m. Gassed, stuffed and tired we headed for home, which, between the two of us, we drove straight through.

August 15th, 3:30 a.m. Shook hands with Bob as I dropped him off at his place, after I, half-jokingly, asked him if he'd like to go back on the 25th to catch the rescheduled show. "Thanks, but I don't think so," he dryly laughed.

4:30 a.m. An hour later I was finally home. As I slid into my bed, with the tune "No Fun" still ringing in my head, I realized that the musical history I thought I would've witnessed by this time, had instead unfolded into a page of world history that I, along with fifty million other Americans, would all be inconvenienced by. No wonder I can't get that damn song out of my head.

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