The Rust Belt's Brain Drain Expressed in Music

Greater Lansing has an amazing music scene, but it’s seldom heard about outside a 100 mile or so radius from the state capital. Probably the best known band to hail from this area is The Verve Pipe, with its memorable #1 hit single “The Freshman.” Frontier Ruckus, The Hard Lessons, and Autumn Lull (among others) have also made a decent amount of buzz outside of their Greater Lansing roots.

Source: soundcloud.com

The Greater Lansing area alternative rock band Elliot Street Lunatic recently released their album Ghost Town Lullabies, and it’s simply superb! I cannot give it a high enough rating–it is literally off the charts for those of us who like alternative rock or indie music.

If there is any downside to the album, it is the sense the listener gets that the band feels it will eventually have to leave Mid-Michigan for the limelight and better opportunities elsewhere. This melancholy feeling is most clearly evident from some of the lyrics contained in the last two tracks, “Shine” and “Lullaby.”

Shine

“He said

That we are all out of time

As we head to the sky

So pack your bags tonight

 

And I know

That the world is slowing down

And I can tell

That everyone is lost, lost, lost, lost


And I can tell

That we will be on our own

So long

To everything you know

To everything you know.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

Lullaby

“And I know some day we will leave

To find a better place to call our home

And now we’re all alone…

And what if we could change it all

Would we be here watching the sun rise and fall

I thought we knew it all.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

As it turns out, two members of the band are already moving on. At the CD release party, it was announced that one is leaving for Denver and the other for graduate school. One can perceive the conflicted emotions that come with a move away from one’s friends and hometown roots. This contradiction is most clearly evident in the lyrics in the track “Hollow Tree.”

Hollow Tree

“You left it all behind

To start a brand new life

We could have had it all

But that’s not who we are

 

We live in a hollow tree

That doesn’t bother me

To sleep out in the cold

Is where I want to be

 

But when I hear them say

You could have been someone

I’ll never understand

Cause I know where I am.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

As a parent of three grown sons, all of whom may move away some day (the oldest will be moving out east this summer), these songs and this record really hit home. In Michigan and throughout much of the Rust Belt, the “brain drain” is a very real problem that continues to be difficult to overcome no matter how many cool cities, music venues, placemaking features, and great third places we create or highlight.

Despite efforts to beef up the cultural and economic vibrancy of the region, in the opening song “Ghost Town,” the band’s lyrics reflect a concern that at least some communities remain stuck in neutral.

Ghost Town

“When no one’s around to ever make a sound

When no one’s around to ever make a sound

Cause this old Ghost Town’s going nowhere.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

Whether the band is referring to Greater Lansing or another community doesn’t really matter. The perception among young people growing up in many parts of the Rust Belt is there are brighter lights and greater opportunities elsewhere. It may be as close by as Chicago, or as far away as the east and west coasts. Either way, it is bad news for many communities dotting the Rust Belt.

 

Elliot Street Lunatic - Source: statenews.com

Personally, I hope the two remaining original members of Elliot Street Lunatic will maintain their roots and thrive with their new bandmates here in Greater Lansing. In our digital world, geography has become virtually irrelevant when is comes to finding outstanding music like Ghost Town Lullabies.

 

Rick Brown

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Filed under Art, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Headline

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