Michigan Basement

In August 2011, I arrived in Portugal for what would be those most amazing three months of my 25 years. It was the first time I had ever travelled outside of the USA. I’d lived in Michigan for my entire life. I spent my first month in Lisbon attending an extremely rigorous teacher training program. Because I couldn’t figure out the bus routes, I walked every day from Alcantara to the school which was near the marques pombal metro stop. It took about an hour… At night I drank super bock and ate sardines and listened to music while studying, often glancing out the window to a view of the 25 de abril bridge. I wanted to know what was out there! The music coming through the headphones seemed so out of place, every song was an echo from the past, distant memories from back in Michigan. I needed something new…

Then one weekend I gave myself a break from work and attended the Jazz em Agosto festival at the Gulbenkian.The event featured numerous musicians I had never heard of. One name I did recognize was Peter Brotzmann.

“Whoa, machine gun Peter brotzman?” I didn’t know he was still alive! I had to go, if anything just to say “I saw Peter Brotzmann!!” I wasn’t sure what to expect but knew it would be worth it. On friday night I attended the performance of Brötzmann / Kondo / Pupillo / Nilssen-Love. Every music junkie has a significant memory, whether hearing an artist/album for the first time, or going to a really great show, when the experience changes who you are. I changed that night. I was thousands of miles from my life back home in Michigan… For the first time since arriving at the airport I didn’t care about anything, I wasn’t aware of being a tourist or being unable to speak the language or find my way around the city. Everything was OK once the music started. The set kicked off with a BANG, and it never let up. The instruments came to life in ways I’d never imagined. I had never heard music like it, so perfectly executed but spontaneous and free! Those guys are fucking amazing! Pupillo with Nilssen-love was the most incredible rhythm section I’ve ever seen. Brotzmann was a sorcerer! When it stopped I didn’t know what to do, I just stood there… I felt different. Changed forever.

I had found something new. Here was the kind of experience I never could have had back in Michigan. “Why?” I began to ask myself… the experiences I had in portugal, going to so many great shows and meeting so many awesome musicians, really got me to start thinking about what it meant to be from the midwest United States. In this series of posts I will explore this question by showcasing essential musicians/bands from the midwest.

The title “Michigan basements” is chosen because for several generations of aspiring musicians from Michigan and the midwest, the basement the setting for so many of those important moments, like the one I had attending Peter Brotzmann.

In Michigan a partially “dug-out” basement is a Michigan basement. Not finished off, usually with dirt walls & floor sometimes partially “finished” with cement or cinder blocks and a cement floor. Usually very damp, & has a very unique odor of damp & dirt and sometimes a musty mildewey smell depending upon how damp it gets.

The michigan basement, underground, where dreams are born.