Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dear Family: What a journey this has been. Words cannot convey just how completely exhausted I am from all of the deep thinking, deep connecting and traveling back and forth from place to place. I've been stretched but I know there is more that I can do, and places that I can still go with my thinking. Friday was the last full day of our trip and we spent much of it doing touristy things. The tourist in us actually began Thursday night when we went out for Coney Island hot dogs, like the Detroit equivalent to the Philly Cheesesteak (though you know which one I'm going to say I like better), it's basically a chili dog with onions and mustard. Yeah I know, so good for the soul, but when in Detroit. I can't say I didn't enjoy it, I also can't say that I'll ever have one again, but never say never right? Friday was a more substantial day. After waking up for our last morning at our friends' place in Gross Pointe we wandered over to the Vedic Village Gardens where they work as farmers. It was beautiful to see the strange peas, the trellises of tomatoes and watermelon and the rows and rows of dark green leafy magic. Ellie and Michael accompanied us, taught us, and discovered with us that they are a part of the rebirth and reimagining of Detroit. We are so grateful to them. After we left them we decided to to take Rich Feldman up on his suggestion to go and to really experience the murals of Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Art. We had already planned to visit some museums on Friday because we knew that one of our favorite musicians, Patti Smith, had a photography exhibit there. We stopped at her exhibit and I found myself floored at the intimacy with which she approaches photography, especially when I discovered that her initial reasons for taking photos had to do with her desire to know two of her grandmothers who died before she was born. Photography then becomes a method of touching the untouchable. She also utilized her photography to capture moments and the essence of those she loved and admired, for example, within hours of his death she had photographed the bed of Jim Carrol, her friend and an individual she considered to be "the most beautiful poet of my generation". In our image laden world I tend to forget the potency that a photograph can take. Nothing, however, could compare to seeing the murals of Diego Rivera of Industrial Detroit. It's hard to imagine such a mural being commissioned today, by any city, that lays so bare the brutality of their cash crop. There's the green of the skin of the workers dealing with toxic chemicals; the bloodshot eyes of the workers; the hellish flames of the furnace; the beauty of nature juxtoposed against the wretched conditions we put it under; the embryo in the body of the earth that we slice with our machines; the search for immortality that ruins the souls of our medical industry; the hunched backs of leaving workers; Henry Ford, face twisted, attempting to control the minds of the workers; people in gas masks making bombs; the wealthy portrayed cartoonishly as they come to observe the factory; the old gods who demanded blood for power being replaced with machines who demand work; and the goddesses of fertility. I'll never look at a mural the same again, this was truly the standard, and yet it lay behind the walls of the museum rather than on the walls of our street corners where it belongs. After we left the mural we were planning to go to the Charles Wright African American Museum but had gotten there too late and so decided instead to make our way to the Motown Museum. Going from Diego Rivera to Motown was a bit surreal. Having seen and learned so much about Detroit in our two weeks I began to think about how Motown was coming into prominence during the period of history where the might of the factories was beginning to wane. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, worked his last job before his endeavor in the music industry in the Ford Plants. He said it was the worse job he ever had, and then began to employ some of the same lessons he learned in the factory in his own business. The stamp of industrialization was everywhere to me in HIitsville U.S.A. Studios. They pumped out hits like Ford pumped out cars, only this time the machines doing the work were human beings. As they say, you come in raw materials and you go out a star. And like any product, your expect to produce, you cease producing, you cease having any value in this system. Berry Gordy set the bar for the music industry that has suffered more than its share of critique over the years, and of course is not the fault of Berry Gordy. Motown is but a microcosm of something much bigger than it, and nothing has made this clearer to me than the lives of Black musicians that have been lost in recent years. Our music INDUSTRY, in fact our celebrity industry, wants to squeeze everything out of us that it possibly can. And we the people demand it. If our favorite artist doesn't come out with something every year or so we throw fits like they owe us something. And when they crack they are severely ridiculed. And after this is accomplished we do the same to one another and ourselves. But that's the thing, we aren't machines, and this world isn't a factory. We can't produce endlessly without rest, and no one should be able to demand of us things that we are not willing to give, that's not being successful, that's called slavery. I hope that we all remember that next time someone has expectations of us at the detriment of our own well beings. Industrialization cannot get the best of us. Peace, Tai Amri

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