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Grand Rapids to Newsweek: We A'int Dying!
May 27, 2011 3:38 PM   Subscribe

This past January Newsweek magazine deemed Grand Rapids, Michigan as one of the top 10 'dying cities' in the United States. Mayor George Heartwell refuted the 'dying city' label in letter [PDF] to Newsweek editor Tina Brown. The designation inspired the citizens of the city to raise $40,000 and pull together to create a lip-dub to Don McLean's 'American Pie.'
posted by ericb (88 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Newsweek has responded to listing Grand Rapids as dying city.
"'But so you know what was up with the list you're responding to, we want you to know it was done by a website called mainstreet.com--not by Newsweek (it was unfortunately picked up on the Newsweek web site as part of a content sharing deal)--and it uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn't endorse and wouldn't have employed,' the note read. 'It certainly doesn't reflect our view of Grand Rapids.'"
posted by ericb at 3:41 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's clear it's a dying city if people in that city still read Newsweek.
posted by banished at 3:45 PM on May 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Um. They needed $40,000 to drive around on the back of a truck or scooter with a camera while citizens lip-synced to the sound track? What?

If that's how they waste their money, maybe the city IS dying.... or should.
posted by Malice at 3:46 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, they had a helicopter too.
posted by Think_Long at 3:48 PM on May 27, 2011


If that's how they waste their money, maybe the city IS dying.... or should.

Yeah, they should have built a multimillion dollar sports complex.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 3:49 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is the guy who did the video. Zombie walks are the new raves.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:55 PM on May 27, 2011


This makes me sad for some reason, like how you hear about people who can't afford food buying expensive clothes so people won't think they're poor or something. Hopefully I missed something here and it isn't what it appears.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:03 PM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's what they were "inspired" to do? I started reading and initially thought they were inspired to gather a lot of money to refute the "dying" claim with something other than a "lip-dub to Don McLean's 'American Pie'".
posted by VikingSword at 4:14 PM on May 27, 2011


Hahaha.. yeah that video really showed them!
posted by ReeMonster at 4:16 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Parks & Recreation is so jealous right about now.
posted by Spatch at 4:18 PM on May 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Mixed bag, the 2000-2010 census data shows Grand Rapids population decreasing 4.9%, but the county as a whole had a 4.9% growth. Compared to Detroit, it's not doing badly, but a ~5% population drop is probably not a good sign.

Also, most X per capita in a refutation is not a good thing if you got there by lowering the total population.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:19 PM on May 27, 2011


Well they are "dying" due to a 2.2 percent loss in people under 18. I guess there are worse ways to show you are a hip and cool and with it, I mean didn't they do a lip dub on The Office ? But I would have gone with blow 40k on booze, get all the residents drunk and sit back and count the babies 9 months from now.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:20 PM on May 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


cite
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:20 PM on May 27, 2011


I was expecting to see Buffalo on the list
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:22 PM on May 27, 2011


Yeah, they should have built a multimillion dollar sports complex.

Or, you know, opened an animal shelter, people shelter, improved a park, bumped tourism (and desire to get people to move into the city), soup kitchen, have a carnival...

There are really tons of things they could do with forty grand that are better than this shitty youtube video.
posted by Malice at 4:28 PM on May 27, 2011


Crazy of Newsweek to make lists accusing anyone else of dying.

Wasn't it sold for $1 just a few months ago?
posted by Slap Factory at 4:31 PM on May 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, they should have done "You Make My Dreams Come True" backwards, but then played it in reverse.
posted by Slap Factory at 4:32 PM on May 27, 2011


The video is an exceptionally impressive achievement. There is an issue though -

It looks like a town that deserves to die. One part overgrown technology campus, one part downtown location in mediocre FPS, one part abandoned Universal Studios lot (episode where Blossom gets a job at the coffee shop.) It's clear there was no need to corden off these streets to film on them. I won't ever be visiting.
posted by fire&wings at 4:36 PM on May 27, 2011


Somehow it's like the mass singalong of "Takin' Care of Business" before the apocalypse in Last Night, and the newscaster solemnly says, "A great song."
posted by Beardman at 4:36 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pffft. They will never be as cosmopolitan as Sioux City
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:37 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


and they hide their faces
and they hide their eyes
cause the city's dying
and they don't know why

-Randy Newman, Baltimore
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:37 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


See, I bet if they'd offered ol' Randy the 40 Gs to write an achingly poignant, bittersweet song about Grand Rapids, he'd have done it, and then they'd at least, well, have a better song than that godawful American Pie.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:41 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ridiculous! Grand Rapids, do you realize that for just an additional five thousand dollars, you could have had Neil Gaiman? What a senseless waste.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:47 PM on May 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wow, I thought that was a great letter, an admirable attitude to take, a super-fun video response and a great looking little city. You are all party poopers.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:47 PM on May 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


"At the end of 2007, Newsweek reduced its "base rate" (or circulation guaranteed to advertisers) from 3.1 million to 2.6 million... In February (2009), the magazine confirmed the million-issue drop, saying it would drop to a base of 1.9 million in July and 1.5 million readers by January 2010."

Today, Newsweek's base rate is 942,935.
posted by milkrate at 4:49 PM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


"At the end of 2007, Newsweek reduced its "base rate" (or circulation guaranteed to advertisers) from 3.1 million to 2.6 million... In February (2009), the magazine confirmed the million-issue drop, saying it would drop to a base of 1.9 million in July and 1.5 million readers by January 2010."

Today, Newsweek's base rate is 942,935.


Uh oh. I smell a Newsweek staff lipdub of "We're Not Gonna Take It" coming on...
posted by contessa at 4:52 PM on May 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Having watched the whole thing it was sort of an impressive feat.
I dont think it communicated what they think it did though.

At any rate, take that Touch of Evil!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:54 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So for some reason, I actually find this an incredibly sweet effort. Sad, but sweet (And I knew it complete.) I don't know whether Grand Rapids is dying, but if it is, they are going to have a bit of a blast while doing it. Is this really actually one continuous take? For like nine minutes? Complete with pyro effects, a marching band, and a helicopter? These guys make Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme look downright lazy.

And WTF Newsweek? Your response is "we put it on our website, but we think it sucks and we don't stand by it." Should we just assume all Newsweek content comes with the general disclaimer of "not endorsed by our editorial staff and does not represent our views?" It's supposed to be a bloody news-magazine, not a public access cable channel. I realize they are in a death-spiral, but they are unlikely to reverse that trend by not even bothering to pretend that they have some resemblance to journalism.
posted by zachlipton at 4:55 PM on May 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


As proof that they're dying, you have to look no further than the fact that they apparantly don't have enough young people to come up with something a little more recent than Don McLean's American Pie.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:10 PM on May 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


In a few more years it'll be back to Pretty-Good Rapids.
posted by Floydd at 5:14 PM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Full disclosure: I grew up in Grand Rapids.

And honestly, if you're going to bet on one Michigan city to thrive in the next couple decades, Grand Rapids is up there. Certainly you don't see construction cranes in downtown Lansing or Saginaw or Flint or Muskegon. GR's making the transition from a big small town to a small big city; it was always more focused on furniture manufacturing than the auto industry, and that all went south (literally, to North Carolina) decades ago -- so it's gone through the lean times and is on the rebound.

Granted, I'm a college-educated mid-20s guy and I live in Chicago now. But every time I go home, I see more stuff happening -- if I were deciding what university to go to right now, I might've stayed in the city.

I realize this doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement. But honestly I think that Grand Rapids has solid economic fundamentals and (if it can just shake off the fuddy-duddy Peoria-North image it has) it'll do fine.
posted by tivalasvegas at 5:14 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I feel bad for small towns that lose their basic industry, and don't have enough charm (or proximity to other more expensive urban centers mixed with world-class research universities) to become a technology incubator. What else can you possibly do? Drive your property taxes so low that you can't provide basic services, all in the hopes of being the lowest possible bidder for a company that moves in for a few years, and moves out once they get a better deal? The list is pretty terrible (and it's indicative of how low Newsweek has fallen that they run content-farm stuff without much editorial oversight), but it does make you wonder what the future is for places like this.
posted by codacorolla at 5:15 PM on May 27, 2011


codacorolla: "I feel bad for small towns nations that lose their basic industry, and don't have enough charm (or proximity to other more expensive urban centers mixed with world-class research universities) to become a technology incubator. What else can you possibly do? Drive your property taxes so low that you can't provide basic services, all in the hopes of being the lowest possible bidder for a company that moves in for a few years, and moves out once they get a better deal? "

For a minute I thought you were talking about the U.S.
posted by symbioid at 5:21 PM on May 27, 2011


DAMNIT UNCLOSED TAG!
posted by symbioid at 5:22 PM on May 27, 2011


I'm no authority on Grand Rapids. I spent 9 months there in 1977. I thought it strange that the city seemed to close on Saturdays AND Sundays. The Dutch Reformed religion that is so omnipresent there, I suppose, must have had a thing about Saturdays. I dunno. My bosses were named VanDerWalte and VerDerWall. The old part of town was pleasant. A rather conservative place by Michigan/Minnesota standards. A half a block away stood the church I went to now and then (for the black gospel music. The family that was later to form DeBarge - they had a decent hit or two in the 80's - was part of the church. One of the DeBarge brothers, who was later busted for coke, tried to convert me in the basement.).

Boy, do I hate "American Pie."
posted by kozad at 5:28 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's my point -- Grand Rapids is not actually a good example of that. It's 150 miles from Detroit, and a touch further from Chicago, so it's able to be a regional center (with all the cultural and economic capital that goes along with that). It's those smaller (50,000-150,000), closer-to-major-city places (towns that used to be dominated by one or two factories where everyone's dad worked) that are really suffering.
posted by tivalasvegas at 5:30 PM on May 27, 2011


Former Grand Rapidian (still work in the city) here. Rob Bliss is pretty much the unofficial stunt-master-in-chief around here--a creator of numerous "events" which are large (by GR standards), family-friendly, and utterly inoffensive to the local powers that be (the DeVos Family? Amway? Billionaire family behind such internationally acclaimed figures like Eric Prince? Perhaps you've heard of them...). As soon as I heard about this video & its contents, I knew who put it together before I ever read anything about it.
posted by Chrischris at 5:36 PM on May 27, 2011


Nthing the how can GR be dying nonsense. It's the biggest city for miles and miles AND a college town.

Also, in that last shot with the words 'GRAND RAPIDS" on the grass? In or around 1993 I was sitting where 'D' in "GRAND" is waiting for the July 4th fireworks to start and a bat landed on my shirt.

That's my bat story. Well, one of them.
posted by DU at 5:44 PM on May 27, 2011


I once killed a bat in grand rapids. True story.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:45 PM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry. Typing too fast. Grand Rapids.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:46 PM on May 27, 2011


Instead of this vid, they should have just changed the name to Grand "Fuckin" Rapids.
posted by Existential Dread at 5:59 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love lip dub videos and this one was pretty good. I echo those who are shocked by how empty the city seems, though. So much wide open, empty space as far as the eye can see! Where are all the people?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:03 PM on May 27, 2011


When was the last time that NEWSWEEK was right about ANYTHING?
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:06 PM on May 27, 2011


They could save Grand Rapids if they brought back the Raft Race.
posted by BYiro at 6:09 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's basically how downtown GR looks. Enormously wide sidewalks with almost nobody on them. It rules. I used to work a couple blocks from where the beginning of the video is (on the other side of the river) and biking through downtown was really great. Plenty of space. All uphill away from the river, though.
posted by DU at 6:11 PM on May 27, 2011


It was also shot on a Sunday, after being rescheduled multiple times due to weather.
posted by Apoch at 6:13 PM on May 27, 2011


Well, it looks like they did close down a good chunk of the downtown area to film the lip-sync....
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:23 PM on May 27, 2011


I was expecting to see Buffalo on the list

For real. Newsweek should take a walk in downtown Buffalo and compare it with Pittaburgh, Cleveland, and Rochester which are all doing things to make their city core inhabitable, unlike Buffalo. Buffalo who recently unveiled a rebranding campaign that is so much worse than this little ditty.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:25 PM on May 27, 2011


It seems like Gary, IN, and Buffalo are two notable exception. Also, Pittsburgh is something of a cheap, young mecca like Baltimore, isn't it? I wouldn't say it's the next New York, but I wouldn't call it dying.
posted by codacorolla at 6:28 PM on May 27, 2011


Echoing the "I hate American Pie". I'm convinced the original was at least an hour and a half longer and after fighting tooth and nail with the studio execs, a compromise was reached and everyone settled for a grueling 28 minutes (seems anyway) of absolute nonsensical singsong crap.
posted by hypersloth at 6:32 PM on May 27, 2011


I really wish I had sat in on that city counsel meeting, when someone brought up the Newsweek article. "What do we do!" demands some citizen. "We can't let this be!" says another. "At least we're one better than Flint," mutters the chairperson, then to the chamber, "Fine, let's have a lip-sync," & bangs gavel.
posted by Hoenikker at 6:35 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was in Grand Rapids for an interview once in the winter. It was so cold that although the hockey arena was just across from my hotel and I was determined to get a jersey, the icy wind drove me back after trudging a mere 10 feet. (Admittedly, my experience of icy winters to that point was Donegal in Ireland, so I'm not exactly a pro, but MOSES ON A STICK, GR WAS SO COLD I FELT LIKE I WAS REINACTING A JOURNEY TO THE NORTH POLE.)

To be honest, I'm impressed that anyone lives there and survives that winter.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:46 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


than that godawful American Pie.

Yeah, I definitely would've chosen either "Orphans of Wealth" or "Everybody loves me, Baby."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2011


that was an excellent way to spend $40,000.

this is a strictly vegetarian comment. no hamburger.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:24 PM on May 27, 2011


I live in Grand Rapids, and while I think this is well done, it irks me that this seems so desperate, which I feel is the curse of the medium-sized Midwestern city. Grand Rapids doesn't have much of a defining industry (furniture manufacturing moved away, the auto industry is shriveling), not many large-scale attractions (Frederik Meijer Gardens is kind of cool, but who's going to fly into town to look at a sculpture garden?), but is too large to exhibit a small-town charm.

So, the city is stuck without a go-to attraction and with a reputation as a churchly, dying city. Therefore, it has to rely on gimmicks that seem to say "Look how cool we are aren't we cool?"

That said, there are legit cool things in GR. Besides the oversized (and impressive) ArtPrize, there's a small local art scene and regular gallery displays if you know where to look. Many are passionate about local food, and there are plenty of cheap, unique restaurants in the city. Downtown is, as the video shows, pretty clean and spacious. There's plenty to do in the day to day sense, but I'm not sure it's a destination city, though it seems like it wants to be.

Also, it's a damn shame that Rob Bliss is the official attention-grabber for the city. He's good at taking other people's ideas (zombie walk, pillow fight, lip-dub) and trying to make them the "biggest ever". The events are fun in their own right, but the dude's a little full of himself.

So, yeah. Grand Rapids is cool, but not in the way it wants you to believe.
posted by Turkey Glue at 8:15 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


>MOSES ON A STICK, GR WAS SO COLD I FELT LIKE I WAS REINACTING A JOURNEY TO THE NORTH POLE

LOL try Minnesota or the Dakotas. Every cold ass place is inhabitable with proper acclimation, but there was something particularly crazy about the way Minnesota cold wind could make it difficult to breathe and inflict cold headaches just from wind striking my face. Incidentally, I moved back to Michigan. Is nice.
posted by colinshark at 8:16 PM on May 27, 2011


Pittsburgh is awesome. I'm only sorry to be moving away.
posted by daisystomper at 9:09 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


grand rapids is NOT dying - right now, locals are discussing merging it with kent county at large - the perception that the main industry has gone and they're struggling to recover is plain wrong - gr really doesn't have a main industry, but a good mix of economic activities that allow it to weather recessions in fairly good shape

---

I spent 9 months there in 1977. I thought it strange that the city seemed to close on Saturdays AND Sundays. The Dutch Reformed religion that is so omnipresent there, I suppose, must have had a thing about Saturdays.

i was hanging between there and allendale for a couple of years from 75-77 and, yeah, it used to be amazingly quiet on sundays there

people have this idea of gr as a staid dutch reformed metropolis, but even in '77, if you looked under the surface, you found an underground of some pretty crazily hip people

look, all i can tell you is what i see in my travels around the sw michigan, se michigan and michiana area - you want to see dying, drive michigan ave between ypsilanti and canton twp - or main stree in elkart ind - or s cedar st in lansing, although the rest of town's doing ok - or a good part of muskegon and muskegon hts

you want to see doing alright, but kind of muddling along, go to battle creek, south bend/mishawaka or ft wayne - (but don't go to the s east part of town - depressing)

you want to see doing fairly well, see kalamazoo or holland

grand rapids is doing better than all of those places - in fact, it seems to be doing better than it was in 77 - if i no longer had a job in kalamazoo, gr would be at the top of my list to move to and work in
posted by pyramid termite at 9:11 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a proud resident of the #6 dying city, I thought that was pretty cool. Grand Rapids looks like a neat little city.
posted by octothorpe at 9:12 PM on May 27, 2011


Whatever else can be said about Grand Rapids, American Pie, Don McLean, or lip-dubs, I pretty much had a smile on my face for the whole video. I even laughed and clapped my hands when at And as the flames climbed high into the night they set off the pyrotechnics on the bridge in the background.

Also, did you know that American Pie is actually about a satanic communist take-over of America after a nuclear explosion has destroyed the ecosystem? Neither did I until I did an unbounded search for flames climbed high into the night a few minutes ago. Satan laughing with delight indeed.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:28 PM on May 27, 2011


You know, people have this fixation that things have to grow or die. In reality most cities.. most countries grow and contract over and over. There are dramatic examples of cities that have died, but that does tend to be the exception, especially as we move on in a global scaled society. New Orleans, their #1 pick, isn't going to die. It well may be reshaped and look different and never be the same, but that is not death, that is change. My city, in the 1980s would have made that list. It even had the "Last one out turn off the lights" billboard. And yet, here we are a solvent, stable small city that actually has seen a growth in the % population of young people according tot he last census.

I've $50 that says Newsweek as a mediocre news magazine will die before Grand Rapids.
posted by edgeways at 9:41 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


A'int ain't a word and you ain't s'posed to say it. Say a'int five times and you ain't going to heaven.

By the way, this is the first time I've thought about this saying since I was a kid, and I was apparently too dumb back then to realize that by saying it, I was dooming myself to eternal damnation.
posted by jessssse at 9:52 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good for them.

This is pure feel-good, Frank Capra, "come on, gang, let's put on a show!" problem solving.

Reminds me a bit of the end of "Be Kind, Rewind." Neighborhood was in the shitter, so the whole town makes a movie together. If nothing but bad luck & hard times are ahead for these people, at least they can look back and say "we did this."

I enjoyed it a lot.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:14 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I recently moved to a small town that is trying to reinvent itself in order to survive, and it's doing a decent job of it, what with a new devotion to art galleries, environmentalism, concerts, community outreach, etc. -- and a huge part of that is public relations. (How else will people know my town is even on the map?) Maybe I'm a sap (well, I know I am), but I thought this video was awesome. It's so easy to screw something like this up, but they didn't. Cos they really really really wanted to do it right. Yep, it cost $40,000. And here we all are, from all across the country and beyond, talking about Grand Rapids. Job well done.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 10:26 PM on May 27, 2011


Are there only 20 women in Grand Rapids?
posted by Duffington at 11:07 PM on May 27, 2011


So much wide open, empty space as far as the eye can see! Where are all the people?

They all moved to be closer to Chrischris.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 11:07 PM on May 27, 2011


On second watching I saw the guy carving ice with a chain saw. AWESOME!
posted by Duffington at 11:18 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I shot a bat in Grand Rapids, just to watch Him die.
posted by sgt.serenity at 12:02 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The article and the response makes Grand Rapids sound like the American equivalent of Edmonton. Alberta.
posted by painquale at 12:09 AM on May 28, 2011


American Pie is a good song. That's not just my CTY nostalgia talking, though singing it at the end of every Centre For Talented Youth event (complete with gestures) was awesome. It's not as incomprehensible as people pretend it is either. The Jester = Bob Dylan. Jack Flash = Mick Jagger. As an oldies kid realizing that my idols were long dead before I was born it resonated.
I do think it's a bit reactionary.
The Big Bopper should be better known, but that's another post.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:33 AM on May 28, 2011


[kindly pardon this somewhat meandering monograph that attempts to make parallels betweeen Grand Rapids, American Pie, Rebecca Black, Leonard Bernstein's Mass, and perhaps some other crazyness as I try to parcel out what this effort is all about.]

For some reason or another, my thoughts have have kept returning to this civic exercise since I saw this video this afternoon. It's oddly enticing, and like ob1quixote says, the video certainly brought a smile to my face. Part of that might just be because I'm a total sucker for videos that turn ordinary public spaces into huge production numbers (hmm, that would make a good FPP actually...), but I feel as though this video has tapped into some real frictions in contemporary American society, questions that we've been rather afraid to ask. Just as American Pie is pretty enigmatic and open to interpretation, the Grand Rapids lipdub and the choice of song seems to be open to a lot of contradictory readings:
  • Grand Rapids is thriving, full of life, and represents America at its finest.
  • Things aren't great, but together we can turn this thing around.
  • We're desperate for any attention at all, so we blew $40K, shut down the city, and convinced thousands of people to have something to do with this crazy scheme, and we're now really hoping this video goes viral so we don't all look like idiots.
  • We are dying. Look at us. We're stuck pretending its 40 years ago and we still think anyone gives a darn what Newsweek says.
  • We're fucked and all hope is lost, but we might as well go down singing. So long and thanks for all the fish everyone!
And yet, the more I try to piece out these meanings, the more I keep coming back to Rebecca Black. Yes, I really do mean last March's Girl Friday to pop culture. I actually love Friday. I love it as the most compelling demonstration imaginable of everything that's both right and wrong with today's music, culture, and society. The insipid tune and its fame manages to explore such key issues as overstressed and exhausted teenagers, binge drinking party culture, bullying, celebrity, media circuses, factory-produced pop music, and even the vital importance of seat selection to motor vehicle safety. Friday has morphed from a $4K vanity project to a compelling piece of interactive performance art. If Andy Warhol set the whole thing up as a stunt, there'd be lines down the block to get into the Rebecca Black retrospective at MoMA.

So what does all this have to do with Grand Rapids and American Pie? To me, the two works both seem to be coming from the same core desire: the urge to be noticed, stand up, and say "I matter." With Friday, it's a plain 13 year old girl whose parents drop four grand to make their daughter the star of a plastic and bubblegum montage of stock footage and meaningless drivel. With the Grand Rapids video, it's a plain midwestern city whose citizens drop forty grand (and a hell of a lot of donated resources) to make their city the star of a epic dirge of 1971. Both Black and Grand Rapids are ridiculed, one by more-or-less the entire internet and one by a journalistic dinosaur haplessly syndicating a content farm's ramblings, and both stand up publically to say that they deserve respect and attention. And yet both are faced with questionable and uncertain futures in a time of fleeting fame and economic upheveal.

There's a little quatrain that this whole melencholy matter keeps reminding me of. The verse in question comes from Leonard Bernstein's Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers". Mass isn't exactly one of Bernstein's better-known works, nor is it entirely coherent or particularly performable, but it's particularly relevant to American Pie because the piece was comissioned personally by Jacqueline Kennedy to open the Kennedy Center in 1971. It premiered before an audience of Washington's elite about a month before American Pie was released. To me, Mass is, loosely speaking, the black tie version of McLean's American Pie. If you take "Pie" and replace Buddy Holly with JFK, Altamont with an act of sacralige, and the screaming children in the streets with a chorus of angry and doubtful "street people," add a whole bunch of Latin, and get even more eclectic in your use of various musical styles, you've more or less got Mass. Both works feature America 1971, pained in grief, division, and confusion as the nation undergoes a collective crisis of faith. We question how to go living on as the holy trinity has caught the last train for the coast and it seems like there's nothing left worth celebrating.

Anyway, Mass features a fantastic little ditty that was actually written by Paul Simon as a birthday present to Bernstein:
Half the people are stoned / And the other half are waiting for the next election.
Half the people are drowned / And the other half are swimming in the wrong direction.
I couldn't find a video, but NPR has audio of this segment, along with some other portions of the show. It's as biting now as ever.

So here we are in 2011, the era of Grand Rapids' shoutout for relevancy and Rebecca Black's shoutout for a duet with Justin Bieber, 40 years after American Pie and Bernstein's Mass, and it keeps feeling like little has changed. We're still fighting the same battles, still full of nostalgia for a mythical simplier time of prosperity, faith, and peace, and still popping whatever substancies we can get our hands on in order to briefly escape an increasingly bleak-looking future. Heck, nowadays even Chevy/GM is partially government-owned and our levees keep failing. Grand Rapids doesn't try to sweep that under the rug with a sappy tune; the city fully embraces our collective mire by adopting McLean's requiem as its anthem. Now that takes guts.

Is there hope? America and Grand Rapids survived the day the music died, Bernstein's celebrant slowly and tenatively found renewed faith, and Rebecca Black got her top 100 single and her appearence on Leno. Them good ol' boys got good and drunk, but most of them didn't kick the bucket. Maybe we're all back to rehashing 1971, but according to these folktales, somehow these things seem to have a way of getting better bit by bit.

At least that's what we have to tell ourselves as we yearn for those hopeful words: "The Mass is ended; go in peace."
posted by zachlipton at 12:48 AM on May 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I thought this was really cute. I would now go to Grand Rapids, and I would say to random townsfolk: "Hey, didn't you guys do that American Pie thing? That was really cute. I liked it." And that would be my Grand Rapids experience.
posted by emperor.seamus at 2:27 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Grand Rapids is responsible, via zachlipton, for leading me to Death Metal Friday.
posted by telstar at 2:42 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Party Poopers... I doubt anyone forced the good citizens of GR to do this; and it looks like not only did they have a hell of a lot of fun, they had the makings of a great party afterwards. For my part (a) I clapped my hands at what happens at the "And as the flames climbed high into the night" line, and (b) had a ball myself watching and singing along to a lipdub that actually uses a song someone in my generation knows! Take that, UQAM! (Although, to be fair, thanks to yours, I discovered Fergie, and for that I will be forever grateful.)
posted by Mike D at 7:30 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought it was sweet and the single shot thing rather impressive, despite the haters around here! But I admit to being annoyed that so many people put this huge thing together and yet some of those people who were to be featured fairly prominently didn't know their lines.
posted by Glinn at 7:41 AM on May 28, 2011


This makes me like people.
posted by katinka-katinka at 8:27 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Glad I got here after the snarkstorm or I'd be more annoyed with some of y'all. Excellent video and FPP - I don't think I've ever smiled to this song until now.
posted by antonymous at 8:41 AM on May 28, 2011


My Michigan bat-story: I was living in A2, and woke up at 5 am to a fuzzy black shape flying silently in a circle around my room (didn't have my glasses). I rolled out of bed, crawled out into the stairway, and shut the door. Since I wasn't thinking too clearly (5 am), I went downstairs and called a couple of exterminators, who said, basically, "Yeah, we do bats, but not ones that are flying around." When I finally asked exasperatedly what I should do, one fine country lady said, "Well, my kids hit 'em with tennis rackets."

I opened the front and back door, opened the bedroom door, and the bat flew down the stairs and out into the night. I may be an idiot, but I wasn't going to hit the bat with a racket.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:24 AM on May 28, 2011


I thought this was wonderful. I grew up next door to D.C., but el_lupino and I spent three very happy years living in Kalamazoo, an hour away from GR. This embodies Michigan in spring. Everybody's been cooped up all winter, and when the weather warms, there's an absolute carnival atmosphere that lasts all summer. It's wonderful to experience.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:03 AM on May 28, 2011


I used to live in Grand Rapids. I kinda miss it.
posted by andryeevna at 12:37 PM on May 28, 2011


SHOW US YOUR GUNS!
posted by clavdivs at 2:00 PM on May 28, 2011


took my .30-.30 to the gunsmith
and had it reblued
posted by clavdivs at 2:03 PM on May 28, 2011


Quick! Somebody bail out a bank!!
posted by Trochanter at 7:03 PM on May 28, 2011


I haven't read all the comments...just saw all the thread title. I've lived in Grand Rapids and will be back for a spell soon and I have to say I'll take it over many "living" cities. It has a thriving art scene, really cool restaurants and parks and nice folks. I canvassed parts of the city during the Obama campaign in '08 and had nary a bad experience. I love you, GR!!
posted by Partario at 8:02 PM on May 28, 2011


hit the bat with a racket

In my experience, this is a very difficult thing to do. Bats are adept at dodging things. (The trick is to tire them out.)
posted by ryanrs at 3:13 PM on May 29, 2011


My initial reaction was "gee, that $40k could be better spent." That's still one of my reactions. And yes, I noticed that there was a shortage of women in the film, too. But on the other hand, there's a shot of a probably recently-redone road downtown that looks pretty bike/ped friendly to me. And this looks like it was probably a lot of fun for a lot of people. So they spent $40k on throwing a community-building event, it doubled as a lot of fun, and as a bonus they got some publicity out of it.

It isn't how I would have spent the money, but Grand Rapids, I still approve. Nice job.
posted by aniola at 3:35 PM on May 29, 2011


They've got my vote. I'm planning this cross-USA 6-month-long road trip in a year or two, and will now add GR to my list for Michigan (which up 'till now included Detroit. Solely.)
posted by alona at 2:17 AM on June 4, 2011


I live in GR.

They did 4 takes of this video and the fourth one is the version you see. A friend of mine (she's wearing a yellow shirt) is in the swing dancing bit at the end.

I hear they chose American Pie because of the "dying city" thing but the correlation isn't very clear to me.

I would have gone downtown to stand on a bridge or something to be in the video but I never heard boo about it being filmed. I didn't even know GR was doing this until I saw the youtube video. I don't listen to local radio and I don't watch local news. That is probably where I would have heard about it. I think many people are in my boat - would have gone and participated had we known.

As for the lack of women in the video - I noticed that too. Kind of strange. But there were more women towards the end, I suppose.

I love GR. If we could get an H&M and a Trader Joe's I'd never have to leave this place.

And just as an aside...most of my close friends from college had to move away to get jobs. So I can see why our population is declining. But those of us who are left have a lot of pride in our city. But yea, don't come in the winter - it sucks.
posted by morganannie at 12:36 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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