Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bill Vits, "Fun City" and "Pop Up"

Here are some songs and videos from 80s Grand Rapids by Bill Vits. Bill is the lead percussionist from the G.R. Symphony and also the drummer for the rock/surf band The Concussions.
I can actually remember hearing "Pop Up" on WLAV back in the small town I lived in before moving to Grand Rapids in '86.

Pop Up!
Bill: "I did this video (and 45 rpm record) with my neighbor kids in 83. I heard them singing this jump rope song in my driveway and recorded it on my Walkman. Later I took them into a 24 track studio and recorded the tune and overdubbed all the percussion while using an Oberheim DX drum machine and JX-3P Roland synth for bass. The sound of the jump rope was made by flexing a small piece of sheet metal while hitting the floor with a plastic strap. It won 1st prize in the JVC video competition."

Fun City
Bill: "This great colorful video with music by Bill Vits and Fred Baker is a treat for the eyes. Enjoy!"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Retro Podcast #1

Here's my first foray into podcasting. It clocks in at a pretty short 20 minutes but it's packed full of fun retro awesomeness. Not the kind of things I'd play at a dance night but more obscure music, movie and tv clips, etc. Have a listen and see what it does for you. If I get some good feedback, or any feedback at all really, I'll keep doing them.

P.S. On the right of the little player widget, the arrow let's you download the full MP3 if you want. Have fun! 
Track listing after the break, below. 

The Retro Podcast #1 by jefleppard

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Most Ghetto Party Store In Grand Rapids Contest 2011

Maybe this isn't the best place for this topic, in a "retro" blog, but maybe it is.
Ghetto-ass party stores have existed since the dawn of time, it's a known fact.

Anyway, there's some stiff competition for the title this year. Some big-name players. Let's take a look at the contenders...

Bere Store, Franklin & Jefferson
Spike n' Mikes, Fulton & Jefferson
Family Pantry, Stocking? Wessiiiide
Lucky's, Division and Weston
Richard's, Burton
Morton Party Store, Monroe
Party World, Alpine
Big Man's? Fulton

I will visit each of these establishments, discretely or indiscreetly take photos and gather reconnaissance.
Not totally sure how to decide the "winner."  I suppose by closely monitoring my own level of revulsion, culture-shock or nervousness for my safety and at the end deciding which visit left the deepest emotional scars?  Truth is, I enjoy ghetto stuff. Maybe the winner is whichever place I feel the most at home?  I don't know, I'm making this shit up as I go.  I seem to end up frequenting shady party stores anyway, why not make a project out of it.
I think it would be more fun if I can figure out how to create an online pole and let people cast votes.
Let The People democratically decide which G.R. party store sucks the worst!
Somebody's going to win though and the prize is being secretly mocked on the internet.

I think the first one I'll visit this week is Family Pantry. Stay tuned......

Family Pantry already earns +5 Ghetto points for broken sign

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Before Mulligans, there was "Faces"

So apparently, Mulligan's in Eastown has not existed throughout all eternity, as I'd previously thought.
It was once a bar called Faces.  This band flyer from 1983 is from a show there...

Thanks to Brad at Sprout Media Group for pointing me to this one.
It's from the interesting facebook group, Viking Hall is now a Burger King.
Now I'm curious when Mulligan's got started. I arrived in G.R. in '86 myself. I know very little of what was going on here before then.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Top of the Rock, aka Club 911

To keep it interesting, I decided to expand this blarg to also be about places which no longer exist.

If you were a teen in the 80s or 90s in Grand Rapids, I'll bet you set foot in this certain all-ages club out on Alpine Avenue at least once, if not every week you could. The place went by a few different names during it's run. Thunderchicken, Red Zone, DV8... but it would mostly be remembered as Club 911 or Top of the Rock.
It seems a really unlikely situation for a successful club. It was a warehouse-looking building surrounded by woods, pretty far out on Alpine near 6-Mile. There must have been few options for underage kids in those days.
I had grown up in smalltown Michigan and though I wasn't a total hick, I would say I hadn't been exposed to a lot of different culture. When I found Top of the Rock in '87 it was like a different planet. An awesome planet!

I think it must have been a Thursday, which was their "alternative night."  The DJ was spinning stuff like The Cure, Erasure, New Order, Depeche Mode, Love & Rockets, Violent Femmes, Ministry and all sorts of other bands that were completely off the radar of the Top-40 that made up my musical experience to that point. The place was packed and these kids were getting down!  So much unnaturally-colored hair, including the dudes. Yeah, back home, the craziest thing anybody did to their hair is one kid had shaved stripes into the sides, Vanilla Ice style.
I know they did other theme nights other days of the week at Top of the Rock but I never went to any but the alternative nights.

At some point in the night, I remember the music would change to some harder stuff.... I imagine them playing "Master of Puppets" and "Turbo Lover" but I'm not sure if that really happened but a slam-pit ensued. Something I had never really witnessed before, you know, in the country. Bunch of dudes alternating between going in a circle and beating the shit out of each other. If somebody fell down, somebody would always help them back up. They only did the pit once a night and only maybe 3 songs and then it would go back to dance time.
After a pretty unrewarding highschool experience, finding a place like this seemed like a breakthrough.  I went as often as I could.

Many long-time GR residents "of a certain age" went to Top back in the day. The hispanic-looking dude in the left half of this photo happens to be GR bar-photographer extrordinare, Two-Eagles Marcus.

Other things I can remember.... plenty of underage drinking, usually in somebody's car in the lot.
Sneaking people in. The kids who couldn't make the $3 cover would go around to the fire escape door and wait for somebody to open up and let them in.
Lots of groping and making out during slow dances.
Going there "on acid."
Donating plasma the day before in order to have enough money for acid and the cover to get into Top.
I remember the kids always calling it "Tip Of The Cock" har har.
Bands would sometimes play. I seem to remember that Information Society played there but I didn't go that week.
I am pretty sure a kid DIED in the place. I may have actually witnessed this. I remember finishing up on one of the video games in the little game room and walking out to find the music off and all the kids standing around the sides of the dance floor as a kid was being taken out by paramedics on a stretcher. He was mumbling delirious. Then at some point in the week I heard he actually died on the way to the hospital. Never found out what had really happened.

I am not really sure at what point or why they started with the name-changes but I remember in the 90s it became Club 911 and new generations were coming in as other kids were getting old enough to go to bars and moved on to Reptile House or "Alternative A to X" at the Orbit Room.
A lot of the people I still have contact with from back then are younger than me and will remember it more from the 911 era and never went when it was TOTR.

Abandoned, 1998.
I believe they finally closed in 1996, with the name being "DV8."  The place sat there vacant for a couple years. Eventually some time I drove by and happened to noticed it was now something else. Nothing really left to indicate it was ever there except people with stories of our decadent youth, or what we can still remember!

Before Top of the Rock, back in the 70s the place was known as Thunder Chicken. Wish I could've experienced that!

Outside of the building as "Thunderchicken"
Long gone now, the building is now Hanson's Collision