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Monday, November 04, 2002

The Other Eight Mile

I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Eminem movie, “Eight Mile,” which is scheduled for release this weekend. The old rebel in me is looking forward to seeing the young rebel on the big screen. I hear that there are those who say it’s too late for that, the rebel days are over now that M has hit a certain level of acceptance and a movie contract. They say he’s entering the Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii period.

I don’t believe it, and my sons certainly don’t buy it. They hold Eminem in the same awe and respect that we held Dylan. So I’m hoping the movie will help bring me more up to date on this most interesting artist.

So I’m sitting on the deck, enjoying my lunch in the toasty autumn air, classic rock radio station in the background, thinking about the movie (“Eight Mile” is the name of the thoroughfare that divides the white suburbs from the black inner city), and all the misfortune which has befallen my old city of Detroit .

I lived there as a little boy in the forties when my Dad worked double shifts in one of the auto plants converted to tank-making for the War effort. We lived near Six Mile, which in those days was a perfectly nice neighborhood of big, well-crafted, turn-of-the-century houses on tree-lined streets. In fact, Detroit was a solid and vibrant city in those days. Today, Six Mile resembles Berlin circa 1946, a landscape of complete desolation. When I recall my pleasant days there, it’s hard to fathom.

In the middle of this reverie, if I can call it that, the radio comes forth with another eight-mile reference—in this case, the great Byrds’ classic, “Eight Miles High.” Some songs are so compelling, so revolutionary to your ears the first time you hear them, you can recall in an instant what you were doing at the time.

It was just after my birthday in mid-March, 1966. One of the first nice spring days. I was a fresh-faced young sales rep, calling on advertising executives. The job sucked but I got to meet some very bright and hip folks who helped keep me in the loop. One of these was John Marino, a prince of a guy, on whom I was calling this particular afternoon, just after lunch.

John said, “Fuck the office. Let’s go down to the Sausalito waterfront.” (The work ethic was different in those days, folks). The client calls the shots, so I dutifully replied, “Sure, John. If you say so.”

We repaired to a great waterfront joint called Zack’s (Bay Area old-timers will probably recall it). On the way over, John pulled out a couple of fat, pre-rolled joints to start the afternoon right. “The shit that a salesman has to put up with, right Tom?”

While John and I were putting away our third or fourth beer on the sun-splashed deck, the juke-box vendor stopped by in the bar to install some of the latest releases. (Do they still make the rounds like that? Not being a denizen of juke joints any longer, I wouldn’t know). The juke-box guy punches up the new stuff, and out comes this incredible minor-chord guitar mélange and the following lyrics:

” Eight miles high and when you touch down
You'll find that it's stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you're going
Are somewhere just being their own

No-where is there to be found
Among those afraid of losing their ground
Mean grey town known for its sound
In places small places un-bound

Now the squares of moving storms
Some laughing some just shapeless forms
Sidewalk scenes and black limousines
Some living some standing alone”

John raised his bottle and proclaimed, “Tom, popular music is never going to be the same. 1966 is going to be an amazing year.”

How right you were, John. This was the overture to the psychedelic period--when, BTW, our esteemed prez--and then frat rat--George W, lost interest in the Beatles. (The Byrds? He probably never heard of'em).


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