Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

If breakthroughs keep occurring
let them in
– Death

By the year 2100, Detroit was know no longer as the Motor City. Few people called it Motown. It became known, at least among its own, as City of Cans.

In the 21st century, once the housing crisis became a permanent feature of North American life and no one could any longer afford a mortgage or rent, the Can Craze commenced. Detroiters sough out box cars, shipping containers, and dumpsters. They occupied semi trailers, campers, and tool sheds. Any can or container that wasn’t tied down -and even those that were- was seized and converted into a domicile.

Municipal, state, and national governments claimed they were powerless to tackle the rampant real estate speculation that set home ownership out of reach for everyone save the very rich. Soon, the traditional housing stock of almost every North American city was hollowed out, Detroit’s among them. In Motor City, local pensioners, mostly former autoworkers, lost their homes because they could no longer pay the land tax.

But this did not mean that Detroiters skipped town because, frankly, there was nowhere else to go. Motown’s infamous White Flight was now beside the point.

The young, the enterprising, and the desperate, all of those folks who could not enter the housing market formed a new class of people who abandoned the dream of owning an estate, 2 cars, and a yards of manicured Kentucky Blue Grass. They took to cans and containers, to envisioning their future through the lens of repurposed aluminum and steel. And they took their cans where they could find them: dumpsters squatting in weedy lots; shipping containers down at the port; even the old People Mover that had collapsed onto Woodward Avenue.

Detroiters became walkers. They no longer drove. The local auto industry went belly up. The city converted into 139 square miles of trails and foot paths. When the road pavement cracked it was not replaced. The city retired its bus fleet which added to the new housing stock.

Detroiters became gardeners. They welcomed bees and other pollinators, refusing to cut the grass, mandating that everything flower. They learned to forage for wild onion, mushroom, cabbage and mustard and they farmed worms for their truck gardens.

Depending on your perspective, what was happening in City of Cans was either a “green revolution,” a “libertarian revolt,” or, as the national government was calling it, a form of “leftist terror,” an assault on market freedom. These criticisms served as a warning: dark forces were gathering along Detroit’s frontiers, forces that intended to squash the city as a radical outlier; a rogue republic, a polis so arrogantly attuned to an ice free world plagued by disruptions to the food supply and violent, rising sea fleeing migrations. Everything Detroit did was viewed as insult/insurrection.

And so it was that, in the City of Cans, that the Black Lightning Brigades were born.

The brigades were an accident. It just so happened that at their first concert, held in the lobby of the former headquarters of General Motors, the power trio, Black Lightning, discovered that their music induced a ferocious energy in its audience. The music, performed in 30 second sonic bursts, was a novelty to listeners. It was music that returned to the old ways of guitar, bass, and drums, instruments that had gone out of fashion during long decades of compositions generated by computers. Black Lightning reintroduced the concept of musicians using their hands, their arms, their legs and their feet to perform fills, maintain a beat, strum and arpeggiate. In a do-it-yourself town, the music of manual dexterity won out. But a surprising offshoot was the violence, the feats of strength the music induced.

At that Black Lightning concert, dozens in the audience were injured when the crowd began to thrash about. The music’s impact upon the body was compared to the influence of Phencyclidine (PCP): audience members became so frenzied and strong that they began tearing out elevator doors, balustrades, and overturning booths and barricades with apparent ease. Taking note, Black Lightning introduced social distancing measures at future performances.

When Detroit was finally threatened with invasion, when armies of statists pledging fealty to the national authority showed up along the perimeter of the city, Black Lightning sent brigades of its fans to defend the City of Cans, to protect Detroit’s way of life, to ensure their little republic remained free.

The brigades lined upon along Wyoming Road, 8 Mile, and Alter. They barely knew that they were going to combat the gathered hosts. What they did know was the power of the music, of what Black Lightning did to their nerves, their muscles. And even though the Brigades were unarmed and outnumbered 5 to 1, and many of their members practically shit themselves when they saw what they were up against, still they won. Black Lightning and two of its protégé bands performed as they battle raged, injecting their listeners, their fans with a a ferocity that led to an undisputed victory, a day known locally as “The Battle of the Amplifiers.”

For months afterwards, the national government, the families of the slain, battle witnesses, and so many others in the City of Cans wondered how it was that Black Lightning’s music only impacted the fighting style of Detroit’s defenders, that it did not catalyze the actions of the invaders. There appeared no answer until one day, the bassist of Black Lightning declared,

“If you were from Detroit, you’d know.”

Nothing: not neglect, not economic collapse, not even an invading host could efface a city whose people had always found reasons to beat the odds. The trio’s bass provided the pulse, music-as-galvanic force; a unique source.

Black Lightning was the admission that Detroit’s inner groove was its weapon.